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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Part III: Financial barriers block path to paying college athletes

Editor's Note: This is the third of a four-part alligatorSports series in which we examine whether college athletes deserve to be paid for their athletic efforts.


Even big schools like UF have struggled financially in the past.

In all, UF's athletic program brought in $106 million in 2007-2008 against $98 million in expenses.

Administration and the general costs of running the University Athletic Association used 22 percent of the budget. The operating costs of the football team were 16 percent of the budget, and money for scholarships occupied 8 percent.

Although the revenues outweigh the expenses now, this has not always been the case. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the UAA spent more than it had coming in. Throughout the 2000s, the UAA broke even with its budget.

Only since 2006 has the UAA had a surplus of revenue to work with, according to the budget summary.

With Florida only recently turning a profit on sports, athletics director Jeremy Foley said there's no chance other schools would be able to afford paying their athletes.

"You'll never see that rule passed," he said.

Dr. Ruth Alexander, a former UF professor and an expert in sports management and finance, said 80 percent of college football programs lose money, including 60 percent of Division I schools.

"Revenue to a college program depends on many factors which change every four to six years," Alexander said in an e-mail. "So many colleges are struggling to just pay scholarships to athletes, let alone salaries."

With such an unpredictable source of income and a large outstanding debt, it would be difficult to generate a fair system of paying student-athletes, even for schools with a surplus in income. It would be impossible for the schools that do not make an income to be able to pay their student-athletes.

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If college athletes were to be paid, there would be several hurdles to clear. First, the NCAA would have to amend its laws, which Tampa sports talk radio host Dan Sileo said are outdated.

"This is not like 1956 when the first NCAA rules and bylaws were put in," said Sileo, who played football at the University of Miami in the 1980s. "Back then, coaches were making $15,000 a year and it was a cute business. The education then still outweighed anything the coach did."

Currently, college athletes are not classified as employees, leaving the NCAA and its members free to reap the rewards from their players' labor. If student-athletes were ever ruled to be employees in court, they'd gain the right to unionize and take part in collective bargaining under the National Labor Relations Act.

In lieu of such a ruling, many proposed payment systems would only pay the athletes who made money for schools, but generally the only sports that make money are football and men's basketball.

To only pay student-athletes on teams that generate revenue would violate educational amendment Title IX, which states that female athletes must have the same opportunities and benefits as men.

Sileo believes only athletes on revenue-generating teams should be paid and that Title IX needs to be revised.

"I think the kids who are on the women's basketball team, they're lucky they have programs like Florida football and Florida basketball," he said. "They're getting a scholarship out of it, and they're lucky they're even in the building because if it wasn't for those football and basketball teams, they wouldn't be there."

Sileo said paying players a stipend of a few hundred dollars per month would be doable for programs like Florida, and it would help curtail the under-the-table payments he witnessed while playing for UM.

Despite the fact that larger programs would have the ability to pay more than smaller ones, Sileo doesn't think it would create a recruiting advantage beyond what already exists.

"When Central Florida goes to the Liberty Bowl and Florida goes to the BCS National Championship Game, $17 million is going to Florida while $1.2 million is going to UCF," he said. "There's already a built-in economic imbalance in the type of bowl games they go to. South Carolina got $3 million to go to the Outback Bowl, but a team from a smaller conference gets much less. It's already going on, just not with the players."

Melissa Rodgers contributed to this report.

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