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Jay Paterno: Pay Student-Athletes? They're Already Getting a Great Deal

by on June 02, 2011 5:52 AM

At the last meeting of Big Ten coaches, athletic directors and administrators, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney threw out an idea that has been tossed around the NCAA for decades: paying college athletes. In light of the recent situations involving players at numerous schools selling personal memorabilia, some have advocated paying the players as a way to avoid such problems in the future.

The idea is that paying an athlete's "cost of attendance" – in some cases up to $10,000 on top of their scholarship – would be fair since big-time football and basketball players generate so much money for their schools.

Let me start the argument by making a proposal to parents and students alike. I am going to ask you to work no more than 20 hours a week for 21 weeks – with at least one mandatory day off every week. For another 23 weeks you'll work no more than eight hours a week. You'll get eight weeks off. (These are all NCAA-mandated time limits).

You will receive fall, spring and both summer sessions of education, plus room, board and all fees paid. For the 604 hours you put in, you'll get an education valued at $33,976 in state and $50,286 out of state (using last year's numbers from Penn State, the latest available). Keep in mind that number does not include several hundred dollars per semester for books and supplies, which are covered under the NCAA scholarship.

At those rates, the student-athlete on full scholarship to Penn State will earn $56.25 per hour if he is an in-state student and $83.25 per hour if he is an out-of-state student.

As a bonus, this full scholarship allows you access to tutors and computer labs and player lounges – all free to you, the student-athlete. Any medical costs incurred beyond your insurance are covered. You can be flown home at the school's expense for funerals or family emergencies. There can be bowl gifts of several hundred dollars as well.

If you and your family have financial difficulties, this scholarship also allows you to receive any Pell Grant money you are qualified for up to the federal maximum of $5,550 per year. There's also a needy student fund allowing for several hundred dollars a year to buy clothes.

When it comes right down to it, this pay package looks pretty good to most of America. An opportunity to attend some of the top universities in the country and graduate with no student loans to pay off looks good when you consider the average college student in this country starts off with $24,000 in debt the day they graduate.

We haven't even begun to discuss the hundreds of thousands of extra earnings you can realize over your lifetime with a college degree that you wouldn't make without one.

Lest we forget, the "job" you'll have is playing football or basketball – a sport you love. If you have the ability and the drive, you will have a chance to play professionally after graduation at a starting salary better than anyone else in your graduating class.

But forget the NFL or NBA for a moment. If I offered that deal to every parent in this country, how many would grumble and say that it isn't enough? But no one discusses this side of the argument. Even members of the media will say this whole thing isn't really about education.

There is the rub. There is the problem. No one sells the student-athletes on the idea that they are getting paid more than $80 an hour for a part-time job. No one tells the student-athlete to go talk to other students on campus who work 30 or 40 hours some weeks and will still owe tens of thousands of dollars when they graduate.

It is all about perspective. The reality is that a few hundred more dollars or even a few thousand dollars to help cover the cost of attendance isn't going to erase the cheating that goes on. The cheating that's going on is for a lot more money than the cost of attendance.

The problem is what society sells to big-time athletes and their families. Society sells lights, camera, the NFL or NBA. Those are sexy products. What isn't being sold is education, studying and a chance to enrich the mind and get rich in the classroom.

While I applaud the idea of evaluating what we can do to help student-athletes, the truth is that the package they are getting is a strong pay structure. Schools, athletes and their families need to be reminded of what they are getting and how they can get the full value of the pay package they're receiving.

If a student-athlete demands the educational opportunity he is entitled to for his work on the field or the court, then he has received the most valuable pay he could get. Ultimately they control how much value they get from the university.

If they fail to see it, they should walk through campus and ask around to see how many other students would gladly take the deal that the full-scholarship student-athlete is getting.



State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JayPaterno
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