Baylor Bears

The simplest reason you can’t pay college football players

NCAA Football: Texas at Kansas State

Next time you’re drunk with your buddies at your local watering hole having another endless and mindless debate over whether or not universities should pay college athletes, make the argument simple. Bring up these latest revenues versus expenses numbers provided by USA Today for the 2015-16 season.

Texas A&M has the biggest revenues in the country with $194 million, while they spent $137 million, for a profit of $57 million. Solid. In the #2 spot, the Texas Longhorns, who pulled in $187 million, but spent $171 million, for a net profit of only $16 million.

Now for the rest of the Big 12: 

Oklahoma Sooners (#6)

Revenues: $150 million
Expenses: $127 million
Profit: $23 million

West Virginia Mountaineers (#26)

Revenues: $105 million
Expenses: $86 million
Profit: $19 million

Oklahoma State Cowboys (#37)

Revenues: $93.7 million
Expenses: $92.9 million
Profit: $800,000


Kansas Jayhawks (#38)

Revenues: $90 million
Expenses: $86 million
Profit: $4 million

Texas Tech Red Raiders (#42)

Revenues: $83 million
Expenses: $79 million
Profit: $4 million

Iowa State Cyclones (#48)

Revenues: $79 million
Expenses: $79 million
Profit: $0

Kansas State Wildcats (#49)

Revenues: $78 million
Expenses: $70 million
Profit: $7 million


So there you have it, folks. The margins for these Power 5 conference teams are much smaller than many of you probably expected, huh? That’s because while we all get caught up in the tens of millions of dollars being dished out to these programs for their television deals, that money is paying for everything from football to swimming, cross country, volleyball and every other sport on campus that isn’t turning any kind of a profit, and in fact, are losing a ton of money in scholarships, coaches, travel, etc.

If you take a closer look and go through some of the biggest programs in the country, Penn State is ranked 12th in revenues, but is only turning a $3 million profit. Florida State ranked 18th and actually lost $2 million during the 2015-16 season. Washington lost $2 million as well, while UCLA barely broke even.


So next time your pal is 8 Coors Lights deep and starting bemoaning the injustice of college athletics and the idea that schools should pay college football players, point to these numbers. Make it simple for him or her.

If you think reducing coaching salaries is the answer and giving some of that money to the players, you’re missing part of the bigger picture. At 85 FBS scholarships and let’s say, for the sake of discussion, $50,000 each, that’s $4.25 million. Or, more than the large majority of FBS coaches make in a season.

So, would you pay some players, but not all of them? Pay them all but different amounts on a scale basis? Oh, and then there’s the whole Title IX issue and angle to this.

Now as was noted in this Forbes article, the U.S. Court of Appeals has supported the NCAA’s massive pay gap between men’s coaches and women’s coaches in college, largely based on whether or not the sport produces revenues.

Thus, courts have upheld greater pay for male coaches where the male coaches’ work has been found to involve greater “skill, effort or responsibility.”

While the terms “skill, effort or responsibility” are rather opaque, the ability to generate revenue is one factor that seems to fall reasonably within this criteria.  For example, in Stanley v. University of Southern California, 13 F.3d 1313 (9th Cir. 1994), the U.S. Court for Appeals for the Ninth Circuit noted that it may be permissible for the University of Southern California to offer higher pay to its men’s basketball coach because the men’s team generated far greater annual revenues.

That being said, even if you could pay college football players significantly more than women’s volleyball players, it still sets up a situation where hundreds of student athletes are added to payrolls that can barely profit (if at all) based on the current revenues and expenses of these programs.

Now if these players want to be able to make money off their likeness in things like jerseys and autographs. Well, let’s save that conversation for our next trip to the bar.

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