The U.S. Department of Education calls the analytics website it avails to the public to review how college athletics are financed the “Equity in Athletics Data Analysis Cutting Tool.”
A more accurate name would be the “Inequity in Athletics Data Analysis Cutting Tool.”
For example, I punched into the tool Clemson University, which last week awarded its football coach, Dabo Swinney, the largest contract in college coaching, $93 million over the next 10 years. It was his reward for leading the Tigers to the national championship in January, his second in three years.
Here was what I found: For the most recent reporting period, 2017-18, Swinney’s football team brought in a little more than $52 million in revenue against $46.3 million in expenses. According to the Greenville (S.C.) News, $6.5 million of those costs went to Swinney’s nine-man assistant staff. USA Today reported $6.2 million more went just to Swinney.
Of course, others who work for Clemson football were paid, too, from secretaries to recruiting coordinators to the graphics design coordinator and performance chef.
But Swinney’s edge rusher Clelin Ferrell, who led the defense in sacks and tackles for loss and who smothered Alabama’s high-scoring offense in the title game, isn’t going to show up on any salary list.
It is, as we know, against the rules of college athletics to pay athletes much more than tuition, room and board for their blood and sweat. Swinney happens to be a particularly outspoken proponent of such indenture.
“We try to teach our guys, use football to create the opportunities, take advantage of the platform and the brand and the marketing you have available to you,” Swinney was quoted five summers ago in the Charleston (S.C.) Post & Courier as part of an Al Jazeera America investigation. “But as far as paying players, professionalizing college athletics, that’s where you lose me. I’ll go do something else, because there’s enough entitlement in this world as it is.”
Interestingly, when Swinney uttered those words, he already had trademarked his unique name, which his players are forbidden from doing, and was about to register one of his famous encouragements, “Bring Your Own Guts,” another choice his players can’t make. You can get one of Swinney’s BYOG T-shirts for less than $25. The company states that its proceeds support Swinney’s All In Team Foundation aimed at education and health issues in South Carolina. That’s nice.
What’s foul is that if you equally divided the revenue for Clemson football by 85 — the number of scholarships Football Bowl Subdivision programs are allowed — Ferrell and his 84 full-ride teammates are each worth far more than a four-year Clemson education. At a minimum, they each were worth $611,764 in revenue annually.
That’s called fair market value. That’s what football and men’s basketball players mean to the billion-dollar college athletics industry that says it can’t cough up money to pay them despite making dozens of their coaches such as Swinney multimillionaires 10 times over. College balance sheets suggest they can share the wealth and that the value of their athletes is undeniable.
Ferrell was selected fourth in the NFL draft last week. He had one more season of eligibility to play in college. Instead, he chose next football season to be remunerated more like the head coach, Swinney, he helped make a multimillionaire, or the defensive coordinator to whom he reported, Brent Venables, who made $2 million last season. Ferrell should get a four-year NFL contract that Kurt Badenhausen of Forbes hypothesized would be worth about $31 million, with two-thirds guaranteed by a signing bonus.
This is why some state legislators are exploring paying college players someway, somehow. People finally are catching up to what Nebraska legislator Ernie Chambers started arguing nearly 40 years ago: “When the university turns a handsome profit and merchants, hucksters and boosters make a mint off anything labeled with Nebraska’s Big Red, a fundamental inequity results when the players who produce so much wealth for others . . . [are not] fairly and openly compensated.”
“Public universities, at the end of the day, should be looking out for the interest of their students, more than the interests of the NCAA,” Maryland Del. Brooke Lierman recently told the Pew Charitable Trusts news service Stateline about a bill she sponsored to allow college athletes in Maryland to collectively bargain their scholarships, health insurance and pay for appearances. “State legislatures charter and have control over the public universities. If schools themselves feel they can’t stand up to the NCAA, then legislatures have to do it.”
Of course, the NCAA advertises that college athletes receive invaluable higher education without tens of thousands of dollars of debt. But the truth at so many places where they bring in so much money is that they aren’t even getting that promise in return. Another website tool tells that story. It is the NCAA’s Graduation Success Rate site. On it, I punched in Clemson, again, and this is what I found: The graduation rate for Clemson football players since Swinney took the reins in 2008-09 went down to the latest reporting period on the 2011-12 freshman class. And for black males such as Ferrell, who predominate the game despite being a trivial portion of the undergraduate enrollment, graduation rates have declined and are the worst.
The NCAA also doesn’t highlight injuries those players suffer that can haunt them for the rest of their lives without any long-term health coverage or workers’ compensation — because they aren’t deemed workers despite their exchange of labor for the cost of attending college — from the schools for which they toil. It is blinded by the money.
So much keeps getting slathered on these games. ESPN just dumped another $40 million on the Big 12 to continue to broadcast its football championship games. Swinney’s contract was preceded by Alabama football coach Nick Saban’s $74 million over eight years and Texas A&M football coach Jimbo Fisher’s $75 million over 10 years.
Maybe it’ll require the first $100 million coach’s contract to bare as a lie that the college game can’t pay its laborers, too.
Kevin B. Blackistone, ESPN panelist and visiting professor at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, writes sports commentary for The Washington Post.