Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Pay for Play? Lucrative TV Deals Push a Simmering Issue into Center Court

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Pay for Play? Lucrative TV Deals Push a Simmering Issue into Center Court

Article excerpt

Pay For Play? Lucrative TV Deals Push a Simmering Issue into Center. Court

by Garland L. Thompson

An intense sub-theme undergirds the traditional March Madness of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) basketball tournament. Call it the cash counterpoint.

As the players and coaches psyche themselves up (or down, if not selected for the annual sports coming-out party,) sports reporters turn into business analysts. Consider the opening of a March 17 USA Today column by Rudy Martzke:

"NEW YORK -- A few minutes before airtime Thursday in CBS' NCAA studio on West 57th Street, analyst Clark Kellogg checked the schedule. 'Nothing really surprising should happen today,' he said. 'It'll hold true.'" But after a couple of upsets, CBS programmers quickly switched regional telecasts to bigger audiences. "So much for surprises. CBS ought to get some for its $215 million."

Martzke next dissected the ratings war between network broadcasts, then noted that, "CBS' resurgence in sports programming, which includes college football in 1996 and the $1.725 billion extension of the NCAAs [1995-2002], will continue ..."

Money Eyed

In late December 1994, another analyst observed that conferences, schools and the 59,726 scholarship athletes at the NCAA's 301 Division I schools had their eyes on the additional $72.7 million a year the NCAA would pocket from its new TV contract. Some sportswriters, such as USA Today's Brian Burwell, say the athletes should get paid, too. Heaven forfend, says the NCAA.

Kathryn Reith, NCAA public relations director, said the NCAA's constitution was written to keep amateurism in collegiate sports. It requires member schools to protect student athletes from commercial enterprises. Moreover, Reith said, most schools in Division I lose money on sports programs.

"Look at football. For the average I-A institution in '92-'93, total revenues were $13.6 million. Expenses totaled $12.9 million. That would be a profit of $660,000, but if you took out the institutional support, which comes from the university's own funds, the revenues would be only $12.8 million.

"But Division I schools have to have at least 14 teams -- football is only one. That's a lot of teams and a lot of coaching staffs, travel and facilities."

Robert McCabe, a staffer at Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society, thinks the NCAA is right. There just is not enough money, despite the big TV paydays.

McCabe said the Center had no official position, but that from his vantage, "the money just isn't there. When you put in the gender and equity issues, there are many more people who want a piece of that pie; the money gets divided between more schools, through the NCAA's new formula; and it's costing more to compete because schools are putting up new facilities, just to keep up with recruiting, all the time."

Moreover, McCabe said, "the most powerful advocates of paying the student-athletes are usually missing important facts about intercollegiate athletics."

But there are other opinions in play. That $1.7 billion, seven-year NCAA Basketball Tournament deal only adds fuel to the fire.

How the Money is Spent

According to the NCAA, after the $1 billion 1989 CBS television contract, which was just extended, officials earmarked $3 million a year for a Student-Athlete Special Assistance Fund, which pays for "such items as emergency trips home, contact lenses or glasses, dental care, school supplies and clothing, for students with financial need." Another $2.5 million was set aside for catastrophic-injury insurance for all 287,000 NCAA student-athletes, from Division I, II and III, during all games, practices and related travel.

Bigger money went for an Enhanced Championships Program: $33 million to permit larger squad sizes, travel parties and per-diem expenses for the 79 NCAA championships in all three divisions. The NCAA says more than 23,000 athletes participated in such contests in 1994. …

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