What actually constitutes an honest day’s pay? What is an honest day’s work? Is that relationship connected to how much money is being made?
There have been several disparities between workers and owners in this country. Mining companies were much maligned for their low wages and ruthless side business. “Tell St. Peter I can’t go ‘cause I sold my soul to the company store,” goes the old song. Before mining abused their workers plantation owners kept human beings as beasts of burden. Children were sent to work at a modernly-shocking age for the first hundred or more years of this country’s existence.
These various labor scenarios differ in that some are forced servitude, some become servitude because of subterfuge and some are the results of choices on the part of the workers.
What they do have in common is there is a disproportionately large gap between the paycheck of the worker and that of the owner. And that gap is maintained by artificially low labor costs. Slaves were owned and did not merit paying, children were physically less capable and therefore not worth as much and miners were isolated and had precious few options of places to spend their paychecks. The common outcome is that ultimately money remained or returned to the owner’s pocket.
In the meantime in all of these situations the workers were continually pressed to meet larger production quotas and endure larger safety risks.
What stopped all of this? What gave workers a voice in what they were paid, expected to produce and how safe their working environment is? The answer is unions.
The other side of this is that after time unions outlive their usefulness. Obviously Right-to-Work states such as Idaho are successful in creating a balance between protecting the worker and still allowing the free market to have a heavier hand in determining factors such as sales price and employee compensation.
There are still inequalities that are so mind-bogglingly vast, a union is the only solution. Having a strong collective voice is the only way to remedy the situation. Of course I am speaking of college sports.
It may seem sad to the modern sensibility, but none of the groups I mentioned earlier in the column were totally without compensation. Slaves did receive some type of food and shelter. Miners were given a paycheck (they only had one choice of store to spend it at). The child factory worker did get a paycheck, albeit a small one. According to CNN Money the average yearly cost of college attendance is $15,000 so a four-year degree, on average, is $60,000. Meanwhile the Boise State University Intercollegiate Athletic Department generated $43,440,905 in revenue in 2011 according to USA Today. Of that, $10,841,023 comes from non-athletic-activity subsidies. These are things such as state budget appropriations, student fees and donation distributions.
BSU is estimating roughly 700 students will participate in intercollegiate athletics in 2014. Each student-athlete will earn the school $62,058 (using 2012 earnings). This means each BSU player is worth four times what they are being “paid” in scholarship. Let me point out the glaring problem with my statistical breakdown; that math is based on the assumption that all BSU student-athletes (this number includes Blue Thunder Marching Band members and Mainline Dance members) are on full scholarship; which they are not.
There is the old business adage that an employee must generate three to four times their wage to be of value to a company. So in that respect, giving BSU the best possible benefit of the doubt, an athlete receiving a full in-state scholarship earns $20,346 or $5,346 above the national average and falls into the three times their wage area.
BSU is ranked 57th by USA Today amongst the highest revenue generating athletic departments. The NCAA sets roster and scholarship limits so the 700 student-athletes is mostly standard across all NCAA schools and BSU is almost dead center in the pack. University of Texas the leader at over $123,000,000 or approximately $175,714 raised per student. Yearly cost of attendance at Texas for an in-state student: $21,581. That means a Longhorn athlete is making back over eight times their cost.
BSU athletes are middle of the road and are probably better off than Texas athletes as far as proportional compensation, but there are other considerations to be made as well. This is an opportunity for many of these players to offset the cost of their education. Is a scholarship full compensation? How much do you pay for the toll college level sports take on a human body?
Unionizing college athletics is an idea that’s time has come not only because of the money the athlete is paid, but because of the cost of playing.
Players should have the right to negotiate for better safety equipment and long-term health care. What happens if a player is hurt during a game or practice? How long of an obligation does the school have to that athlete? Does their scholarship end at the time of injury?
Collective bargaining power would answer these questions and many more. There is a large enough gap between what some of these athletes are being “paid” and what they are giving to their schools that better agreement should be negotiated.