On a typical Tuesday, Jake Abraham wakes up at 5:30 a.m. in order to attend a dawn workout. After lifting, he attends morning classes. If he is lucky, he will have an hour or two of free time before afternoon practice, during which he can do schoolwork. From 2:30-7, he attends meetings and practice with the rest of the Georgia Southern University football team. Such a schedule equates to a 13-hour work day, and for Jake, it is routine during the fall. So, how much does he receive for the amount of time that he spends? Not a cent.
Jake is a walk-on football player at Georgia Southern. Unlike many other athletes who are on scholarship, he and his family are responsible for all of the normal costs of attending college, such as tuition, books, meal plans, and housing. In addition, he must pay for daily necessities like school supplies and clothing. Many students are able to cover some of these costs with part-time employment, but for student-athletes, this is not an option. “It’s hard and very expensive considering I have no time for a real job,” Jake said.
Every year, collegiate athletics generate billions of dollars in revenue. Some of the money pays for athletic scholarships. The rest goes to media outlets, individual universities, athletic conferences and the NCAA. Recently, former athletes and administrators alike have been voicing the opinion that athletes deserve a bigger piece of the pie.
In July 2009, former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon filed an antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA. The case has been ongoing and seeks to guarantee that student athletes receive compensation for the commercial use of their images after graduation. Electronic Arts Sports recently announced that it would discontinue its popular NCAA Football video game to avoid any further legal troubles. The next day, EA Sports reached a settlement with the O’Bannon plaintiffs that will allow thousands of former student athletes to make financial claims. With the settlement of the EA Sports case, it is expected that the vast pool of television revenue created by the broadcasting of college sports will be the next battleground.
Among those who believe that athletes should receive additional financial compensation, there is still a disagreement over how much money should be distributed, and to whom. Some commentators have suggested that athletic scholarships do not cover the full cost of attending college, thus leaving athletes without basic necessities like food and rent. One person to make such a claim was former Tennessee running back Arian Foster, who admitted that he accepted money from boosters in order to pay for food. Duke head football coach David Cutcliffe, who coached Foster at Tennessee, responded to the claim on the David Glenn Show in late September. “We’re not letting people go hungry. Arian wasn’t hungry,” said Cutcliffe, “There have been a lot of successful people that have come through college athletics, and I would say the majority of those people would say that they were not cheated out of their fair share.” Some current players believe that athletic scholarships are more than enough, and that poor financial choices are the source of shortages. Athletes on scholarship often receive checks to pay for housing, but according to Florida football player Drew Ferris, some individuals “use their rent check for other things like tattoos, drugs or clothes.”
Football players have been the focus of the debate, but they make up only a small number of collegiate athletes who are on scholarship. But as a result of the O’Bannon v. NCAA case, athletes who play other sports may also soon be eligible for financial compensation. Morgan Batey, a Pace alumna and womens basketball player at Vanderbilt, weighed in on the issue: “I think it is too difficult to determine which athletes deserve money, if some athletes deserve more than others, and if it is even necessary to pay athletes since you can argue athletes are being paid in the form of tuition, books, meals, housing, gear, and so much more,” said Morgan, “Until universities can come up with a universal way to distribute this money back to their student-athletes, I think athletes should not be paid.”