Friday, 20 September 2013 14:47

Pay to Play or Play for Pay

By Damian Fantauzzi | Sports
Many school districts across the country are having budgetary problems that affect teaching jobs, special needs programs and extracurricular activities. Sheer lack of money has caused severe cuts. Athletic programs are not a sacred cow with the downsizing of sports programs using a scaled-back offering of teams, such as the elimination of different levels of school teams, like modified and freshman levels. On the other side of the coin is the collegiate level, where there is talk to pay the college athletes. The suggestion is made by some in the sports media who say there is an exploitation of the athletes by the colleges for making millions of dollars off of their superstars. After reading an anonymous complaint in a local newspaper, a disgruntled subscriber felt his or her school taxes were too high. This certain individual complained that there needs to be some changes made in education, especially with extracurricular programs like scholastic sports, in order to lower his contribution to the local school district. This person especially mentioned that scholastic sports need to consider the pay-to-play concept. I felt I had to address what was being suggested because there seems to be a selfish philosophy in this theory that would hurt the youth of our schools and what a “can of worms” this would open if this theory ever becomes a real thing. Across the country there are many athletic programs implementing an athletic participation fee to cover the costs of sports. This concept has forced kids from lower income families to the sidelines. Pay-to-play fees are only one part of the school sports costs because there are added costs for child sports, which include equipment, uniforms and additional team fees, such as booster club memberships that solicit parental contributions. In a survey of interscholastic sports from Forbes magazine, written by Bob Cook, he says that across the nation over 60 percent of children who play sports had an athletic pay-to-play fee with only 6 percent of that percentage receiving waivers from the fees because of economic shortcomings. Part of this study showed that only one-third of lower-income parents reported their child participates in school sports, while more than half of higher-income parents had a teen play school sports. In lower-income households, nearly one in five parents reported a decrease in their child’s school sports participation due to cost. Billions of dollars have been cut in public education across the country. School districts in Ohio, Michigan, Texas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, California, Florida, Illinois and others have had major cuts in their educational budgets and over 90 percent of their public schools scholastic sports programs are fueled by pay-for-play. As an example, Cook mentions a two-year cut to education in Ohio totaling 1.8 billion dollars. I said billion, not million! With many of our nation’s schools suffering from failing infrastructure, oversized classroom enrollment and defunded programs, that’s ludicrous. Plus, there are numerous surveys that show the benefits of physical and organized sport activity for students, both for their health and for improving academics. Pay-to-play would and has already changed some of America’s interscholastic athletic programs from the land of opportunity to the land for those who can afford the price of admission. Who would want to coach under these conditions, with the pressure that these kids have paid, so they need to play and get the best for their buck? That’s a real hot potato! At the collegiate level there is a whole new theory brewing for athletics. Just recently Johnny Manziel appeared on a recent Time magazine cover—posing for his Heisman Trophy award from 2012, along with the words, “It’s Time To Pay College Athletes.” The problem with that idea is that we, the fans, don’t look at college athletics as a business. We instead look at college sports as something different, other than money. But, here are some statistics I picked up from Time magazine: Texas A and M’s, Manziel’s school, estimated retail value from merchandise last year was $72 million. The coach had a pay raise from $1.1 million, before Manziel’s recognition of fame, to now where he’s making $3.1 million. There was a $37 million profit for the Texas school through media exposure. So the feel, from the media and other sources, is that the money being made by many of these big time college programs is coming from their high profile athletes. Even the suggestion of exploitation has been mentioned. I find that interesting and it actually has some merit, but I don’t see any justification for the move. It’s my feeling that the college athlete should not get paid a salary. Maybe there’s another way to reward them for making their schools lots of money. If that philosophy is used, how do the universities and colleges determine who gets paid and how much? Realistically, how do you measure performance of each athlete? Imagine what would happen. It’s just like the free agency scenario of professional sports. Kids in high school could be offered hundreds of thousands of dollars to play for a Division I school. Makes you think that maybe the amateur athletic status will only be at the interscholastic and lower levels. I see that whole scenario as a low blow for the world of amateur sports—I vote no!
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