ESPN the Magazine recently teamed up with MIT researchers to determine the value of college athletes at Florida University. (The article can also be found here through ESPN’s Insider service.)
The results shouldn’t be surprising to anybody who knows the realities of college athletics: the football players were worth substantially more than any other athletes, and the men’s basketball players were the only other athletes in the positives. In other words, athletes from other sports, including all women’s sports, are costing the university money.
At first glance, a story like this might seem problematic; quantifying young collegiate athletes, especially in dollar amounts, seems directly contrary to the purpose of college athletics.
But, as a member of the media – not of the NCAA, ESPN is well within its rights to criticize the institution of college sports. In fact, it may even be helpful.
While it seems that monetizing collegiate athletes would be completely antithetical to the health of college sports, that is what the NCAA does every year with things like bowl games and March Madness. And this is potentially a much bigger problem. As an outsider, ESPN is simply bringing light to the financial realities of collegiate athletics.
It might seem that this article tacitly reinforces the monetization of student-athletes, but it also provides valuable knowledge and insight into that process for a larger population. Importantly, it also points to a wide imbalance in the relative value of certain athletes under the current system.
This sort of tangible proof is important ammunition for critics of the NCAA. If the NCAA and its member institutions are well aware of the financial benefits that they receive from student-athletes, their opponents should be as well. Defining these benefits, as ESPN has, should only help to clarify and solidify any anti-NCAA arguments.