Deconstructing NCPA’s “The Price of Poverty in Big Time College Sport”

Posted by nvr1983 on September 15th, 2011

Over the past few months there has been a growing sentiment that college players, particularly those in revenue-generating sports, deserve to be paid in addition to the value of their athletic scholarships. The recently released report (full PDF here) by the National College Players Association (NCPA) and Drexel professor Ellen Staurowsky created a lot of buzz and has been used by many proponents of proposals to pay college athletes as a piece of academic evidence to reinforce the notion that the athletes are getting cheated out of millions, if not billions, of dollars. While the report does a good job of making the case that athletes should be more highly compensated than they are at the present time, it is not without its flaws, which come both from the author herself and the people who have already chimed in to use it against the current state of college athletics.

[Ed. note: we created a sorted spreadsheet of the FMV of each basketball program's players here)

The NCAA Has Come Under Increasing Attacks (Credit: Funcityfinder.com)

Before we go into the actual data, we should clarify that we approached this study with a skeptical eye because it was funded by the NCPA. A study analyzing the under-payment of a group of individuals funded by an entity that represents that group of individuals should always be viewed critically in the same manner that a medical journal article funded by a pharmaceutical company is viewed. This does not necessarily mean that the report is flawed in some way, just like a study funded by a pharmaceutical company may in fact be valid. It is just that you need to dig a little deeper rather than just looking at the figures presented in the executive summary or the lay press. Having said that, let us take a look at what the study says, what it does not say, and what some of the potential implications are for college sports in general along with possible solutions moving forward.

The report is essentially an analysis of the financial state of Division 1 athletes in college football and men’s college basketball (the two “revenue-generating” sports) in contrast to the money made by the schools and the coaches. The major findings of the study can be summarized rather succinctly:

  • “Full-ride” athletic scholarships fall short of “full-ride” academic scholarships as the former are restricted by NCAA rules from covering the full cost of attendance (the figure that schools report to the Department of Education). In 2010-11 they fell short by an average of $3,222;
  • The dollar value of the room and board portion of an athletic scholarship falls below of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services guideline of poverty ($10,890 for a single individual) for 85% of those living on-campus and 86% of those living off-campus with the average athlete on a “full-ride” falling $1874 and $1794 short, respectively;
  • Applying the revenue sharing used by the NFL and NBA last season where players get 46.5% and 50% of revenue generated, the average to calculate the “fair market value” of the athletes indicates that football players and basketball players are worth approximately $121,048 and $265,027, respectively, each year;
  • For players on teams that were in the top 10 highest estimated fair market value in football, 100% received scholarships that were worth less for room and board than the federal poverty line (average $2,841 below), and in basketball 80% received scholarships that were worth less for room and board than the federal poverty line (average $3,098 below);
  • For a set of 21 schools that earn over $30 million in revenue, their players received scholarships with room and board valued on average between $3,070 (on-campus) and $4,967 (off-campus) below the federal poverty line; and
  • FBS schools spend on average approximately $350,000 more per each non-revenue-generating sports team than their FCS counterparts do, which, according to the authors, indicates potential cost-saving opportunities that would enable them to maintain the scholarship opportunities for athletes in those sports while still being able to provide enough money for those in revenue-generating sports, as those cost-savings ($6.3 million per year if one assumes an average of 18 non-revenue generating teams per school) would be able to provide approximately $64,000 per player per year in the revenue-generating sports.
While all of these seem to be compelling arguments on the surface, there are quite a few weaknesses inherent in several of them that we will get to in a little bit.
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