Today, millions of Americans will make the trek to modern-day coliseums in places like Ann Arbor, Tallahassee, South Bend, Knoxville, Iowa City and Blacksburg. Tens of millions more will spend the day on the couch focused on the same thing: college football.
As everyone knows, fannies in seats and eyes glued to television sets equals money -- and lots of it.
College football is big business. In 2010, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Education, major college football generated $2.2 billion in revenue and brought in $1.1 billion in profit.
Just yesterday, the Big 12 Conference announced a 13-year television agreement with ABC/ESPN and Fox to broadcast football and men's basketball games. The deal is worth $2.6 billion. Not only is this a payday for the schools in the Big 12, but it also means that the TV networks expect to rake in billions, as a result of the deal.
All that money is great news for colleges with big-time football programs.
The website Business of College Sports combed through financial documents filed with the Department of Education to determine the profit generated by major college football programs in 2011. The University of Texas led the way, pocketing $68.8 million.
Some familiar teams to Chattanooga-area college football fans made up much of the rest of the top ten. The University of Georgia came netted a profit of $52.5 million. Alabama earned $40.8 million after expenses. Despite its recent woes on the field, Tennessee's football team cleared $39.2 million last year.
Universities and TV networks aren't the only ones getting rich off of college football. The average annual salary of a public university football coaches is $2 million, according to Duke economist Charles Clotfelter. University of Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley's contract guarantees a salary of $1.8 million for six years. Georgia coach Mark Richt pulls in about $2.8 million a year. After bringing the University of Alabama its second national title in three years, coach Nick Saban was rewarded with a contract worth $5.62 million a year through 2019. And they all deserve the money because of the tens of millions of dollars their football teams bring in to their schools. (Well, maybe not Dooley who has shown all the coaching ability of a blind, one-legged turkey.)
But what about the people who actually earn coaches those massive salaries, fill college football stadiums and justify those multibillion dollar TV contracts?
They don't get a dime.
Sure, most football players get a free education. But that doesn't put gas money in their pockets. College football players' strenuous class (wink-wink), practice, workout and travel schedules mean they can't work a part-time job to make a few bucks like most college kids.
Sports economist Robert Brown discovered that college football players eventually drafted into the NFL generated revenues for their college that ranged from $187,760 to $2.59 million. But many of these young men who make so much money for their universities can't afford to take their girlfriends out to dinner.
So why not give these football players a stipend of a few thousand dollars a year to help make ends meet?
Many people believe Title IX, the federal requirement aimed at increasing female participation in college sports, would prevent football players from earning a stipend. They argue that stipends would have to be doled out evenly to participants in all sports, not just athletes in profit-generating sports like football and men's and women's basketball. That argument, however, is incorrect.
Title IX requires equal spending on athletic scholarships for males and females in relationship to the population of men and women students at a given college. It doesn't, however, require equal funding. That's how a college football team can have a state of the art $30 million workout facility, while a women's fencing team can be relegated to doing jumping jacks in a parking lot. It's also how it's possible for University of Texas football coach Mac Brown to make $5.2 million a year, while Texas rowing coach Carie Graves earns $97,000 annually.
So what is preventing the NCAA and universities from coming up with a system to offer football players stipends? There are frequent statements about the desire to maintain the sanctity of amateur athletics. But the hypocrisy of such a declaration is laughable when the NCAA and the universities, along with TV networks, apparel makers, sports bars, and casinos make millions on the backs of these young athletes.
In the end, it seems the only thing keeping college football players from receiving a modest stipend is the greed of the NCAA and university presidents who want to make sure they squeeze every dollar possible out of college football.
Calling the current system of requiring the labor force of a multibillion industry work for nothing but a scholarship "slavery," as some have, is too extreme. But there's no doubt that college football is one of the most exploitative, unfair businesses in America today.