One of the hardest starting points in the debate over whether college athletes get enough is agreeing on what they get right now. There is not even widespread agreement on whether college athletics results in athletes getting a net positive or costing them money. Depending on how you look at it, the value of what athletes receive could be anywhere from positive millions of dollars to negative millions of dollars.
Positive $1 million+
Someone who goes to college and has a degree stands to earn about $1 million more over their lifetime than someone with just a high school diploma. That goes up by another $1 million for doctoral degree-holders. Many athletes are given that opportunity or can afford that opportunity only because of their athletic ability.
This would be a rough estimate of the value of the scholarship plus all the additional fringe benefits of being an athlete, including coaching, use of facilities, high-level competition, clothing, meals, travel, etc. over four years.
$200,000 is a good number to use for the value of the scholarship itself. Obviously this number fluctuates radically depending on which school an athlete goes to but will rarely be less than $75,000.
$30,000 represents the value of a full grant-in-aid for one year. Until recently, this is all an athlete was guaranteed at any one time. Even with the removal of the restrictions on how long scholarships can be for, most are still only one year.
Any walk-on or partial scholarship athlete in an equivalency sport might be getting anywhere from nothing to a large portion of a full grant-in-aid.
The NCPA would argue that being a full scholarship student-athlete actually means taking on a liability to the tune of roughly $15,000 over four years. That represents the gap between a full grant-in-aid and a full cost-of-attendance scholarship.
When asked what athletes should receive, there seems to be a lot of consensus around approximately $1,000 per month. Pocket or spending money. With a nine-month school year, we can round up to about $10,000 or $40,000 over four years.
The plaintiff’s expert in the O’Bannon case did the math and found that if athletes received 50% of television revenue, then football student-athletes would each receive approximately $40–50,000 per year. Over the course of a four-year career, that would equal about $200,000.
Negative $1 million
$1 million over four-years could represent both market value, or the calculations of the O’Bannon plaintiff’s expert for what men’s basketball players stand to earn over four years.
Negative $10 million+
An athlete has few good options outside of college athletics because of NBA and NFL draft limits. So athletes are forced to play in a different system, delaying free agency and the valuable second or third contracts. These delays could costs athletes millions when they try and sign another contract at 29 or 30 instead of 27 or 28.
Everyone in the debate will pick the point they believe in. But understanding the other points is valuable because this is not a black-and-white, yes-or-no debate. The person who says athletes get an invaluable opportunity to earn a degree needs to understand that there are not just people who think that is worthless, there are people who think it costs some athletes incredible sums down the road.