There are an estimated 500,000 men and women competing today in collegiate athletics. Out of that number, only about 1 percent — or 500 athletes — will become professional athletes after their college careers.
That number — 500 — is important because it is a measure of the minimal extent to which California’s recently adopted Fair Pay to Play Act would benefit the vast majority of student athletes. If all states were to adopt the act, only about 500 college players could expect to gain anything.
That’s according to Cody J. McDavis, a full-ride basketball player at the University of Northern Colorado from 2012 to 2015. McDavis asserts that only the most popular and well-known student athletes would stand to gain anything from the Fair Pay to Play Act, while the other 99 percent risk seeing their sports disbanded for lack of donor support.
The Fair Pay to Play Act has been described as a measure to give college athletes a slice of the millions of dollars in TV contracts, donor support and ticket revenues. We agree that college sports — particularly football — attract mountains of revenue and the athletes on the field are the main attraction. However, the Fair Pay to Play Act would benefit only a handful of athletes whose “name, image and likeness” can be monetized. We can’t see second-string players’ names and faces on T-shirts and posters.
Unfortunately, big donors and corporations will flock only to the popular, famous players whose images and endorsements will enhance advertising and promotional messages.
When most of the money goes to just a handful, the rest of the athletes won’t be paid, and it’s likely support will dry up for the low-revenue sports.
What would happen to the rowing, rugby and wrestling teams when supporters take their money elsewhere? Those and other less popular sports could lose so much support that it becomes impossible for the university to maintain them and the scholarships that help student athletes compete in them.
As Nebraskans we understand how a single extremely popular program can support the rest, but most other universities don’t sell out their football games and don’t have the resources from big TV contracts, donors and season ticket holders. At those universities, low-revenue sports certainly would be endangered by Fair Pay to Play.
Today’s diversity of sports is good for athletes and the universities they attend. Why risk losing a good thing for the sake of making a handful of athletes rich? After they graduate, those same athletes stand to pocket big money as professionals.
Fair Pay to Play isn’t the answer. It ignores the fact that most student athletes compete for the love of the game and for the opportunity to earn college degrees. Fair Pay to Play would reward only a few while potentially eliminating the low-revenue, non-football and non-basketball sports that provide scholarship opportunities for female athletes and those who compete in less popular sports.