American ingenuity is the foundation on which this country was built. Our society extols the virtues of the American Dream, which is personified through our own capitalistic practices. In every area of our society, free market reigns supreme. Every area that is, except for college athletics—specifically football. Capitalism in college sports does allow schools, administrators, coaches, affiliated conferences and sponsors to enjoy the fruits of labor, but not the cyclical labor force. This is a fact that has often been discussed and debated, but as litigation continues to move forward in a variety of ways, the movement for a full scale change is ambling onward. Though it is the right move for many of the programs that generate massive profits off the backs of free labor to move for compensatory equality, local programs in San Antonio that have been either newly established or recently elevated might again be on the outside looking in.
In 2010, NCAA football profits for the 68 teams that play in the six major conferences exceeded $2 billion collectively, according to the Department of Education. Profits have steadily been on the rise in subsequent years by as much as eight percent. Universities aren’t alone either: Electronic Arts Sports, which has released an NCAA Football video game each year since 1998,has generated more than $1.3 billion in sales in the U.S. alone, according to market tracking firm The NPD Group Inc. Television companies, apparel outfitters and many other corporate sponsors enjoy increasing monetary benefits as well. There’s plenty of substantial commerce generated from college football, yet minimal distribution to the athletes that generate the profits.
There are currently 124 FBS programs in America, including two of the most recent additions: UTSA and Texas State. By 2015 there will be at least five more schools to make the transition, with many more on the path to gaining full FBS admission, including San Antonio’s University of the Incarnate Word. In 2013 12 schools will establish new football programs and between 2014 and 2016, 11 more will be taking the necessary steps to establish a football program. As a commodity, football has shown continuous growth in popularity, and programs across the country are investing major money in order to meet demand. This is especially true for the hotbed of Texas football, where every high school program has athletes ready to contribute at the next level. Athletic departments at local schools such as UTSA, Texas State and Incarnate Word all see the value in football as a vehicle for fundraising and exposure.
Timing could not be worse for UTSA, Texas State and Incarnate Word, as an even large divide is developing between the haves and the have-nots in college football. The programs in the power conferences enjoy growing prosperity, while the remaining programs within FBS Division-1 register in most cases zero profit, or even a net loss.
This chasm between football’s power programs (the ones that generate substantial profits) and the rest of the NCAA is growing larger, especially in light of recent revelations from the major conference commissioners. Admissions that, until recently, seemed blasphemous are now considered a reality forced upon by pending litigation. Former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon has seen his civil suit against EA Sports make its way through various hurdles as it continues to gain steam. While the video game litigation serves as the opening salvo, it’s actually the newly formed concussion lawsuit aimed at the NCAA that could bring radical changes to the college football model. The power brokers are threatening to disband from the NCAA and form their own organization, allowing the richer to operate more established programs to compose a model for compensating athletes. This is a model that the remaining, low profit Division 1 programs would be unable to meet based on the NCAA’s strict bylaws.
The argument that college athletes do not receive any form of compensation is inaccurate . . . it may be inadequate, but compensation nonetheless. Brad Parrott, Senior Associate Athletic Director at UTSA, found that the median cost per tuition, room and board at Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) Schools is $32,250 in pre-tax dollars. Additionally, Federal grants can command an extra $5,500 and athletic departments can provide $500 annually for clothing, travel and other essentials for some of its athletes. This totals an annual “salary” of around $39,000—not horrible considering the 2013 median household income is $51,404. It’s also fair to point out that this is the available annual salary of every college athlete at these universities, and not just the football or basketball players who generate profits.
When the power conferences break away from the NCAA, the bottom half of Division 1 programs will be at an even greater disadvantage beyond facilities and scholastic programs. It’s already difficult for UTSA, Texas State and Incarnate Word to cover all costs associated within their athletic departments; they’re all at an even greater disadvantage because of the open market. It would be awfully optimistic to suggest that those schools were competing for dollars or recruits with the power conference schools—they aren’t—but this new reality only strengthens the power conferences’ hold on profits.
In America, you get paid what you’re worth. The beauty of the free market is that no one gets more than what they are truly worth, since no one pays more than the value of the commodity. College football should (more than likely will) eventually reach a compensatory exchange among its labor force. Everyone gets a slice of the pie, except for the smaller programs left to continue on with the old, outdated model. The smaller program athletic departments now face a similar capitalistic plight to that of the neighborhood corner store and Walmart. UTSA, Texas State and Incarnate Word are all excited about the investment made in football programs to generate revenue and exposure, but they might be coming to the party too late.