Wednesday, November 14, 2007

American college football

Michael Lewis analyzes the (largely racist) economics of American college football (emphasis in red):



“College football’s best trick play is its pretense that it has nothing to do with money, that it’s simply an extension of the university’s mission to educate its students. Were the public to view college football as mainly a business, it might start asking questions. For instance: why are these enterprises that have nothing to do with education and everything to do with profits exempt from paying taxes? Or why don’t they pay their employees?


This is maybe the oddest aspect of the college football business. Everyone associated with it is getting rich except the people whose labor creates the value. At this moment there are thousands of big-time college football players, many of whom are black and poor. They perform for the intense pleasure of millions of rabid college football fans, many of whom are rich and white. The world’s most enthusiastic racially integrated marketplace is waiting to happen.


But between buyer and seller sits the National Collegiate Athletic Association, to ensure that the universities it polices keep all the money for themselves – to make sure that the rich white folk do not slip so much as a free chicken sandwich under the table to the poor black kids. The poor black kids put up with it because they find it all but impossible to pursue N.F.L. careers unless they play at least three years in college. Less than one percent actually sign professional football contracts and, of those, an infinitesimal fraction ever make serious money. But their hope is eternal, and their ignorance exploitable.”


and:



“Last year the average N.F.L. team had revenue of about $200 million and ran payrolls of roughly $130 million: 60 percent to 70 percent of a team’s revenues, therefore, go directly to the players. There’s no reason those numbers would be any lower on a college football team – and there’s some reason to think they’d be higher. It’s easy to imagine the Universities of Alabama ($44 million in revenue), Michigan ($50 million), Georgia ($59 million) and many others paying the players even more than they take in directly from their football operations, just to keep school spirit flowing. (Go Dawgs!)


But let’s keep it conservative. In 2005, the 121 Division 1-A football teams generated $1.8 billion for their colleges. If the colleges paid out 65 percent of their revenues to the players, the annual college football payroll would come to $1.17 billion. A college football team has 85 scholarship players while an N.F.L. roster has only 53, and so the money might be distributed a bit differently.


‘You’d pay up for the most critical positions,’ one N.F.L. front office executive told me on the condition that I not use his name. ‘You’d pay more for quarterbacks and left tackles and pass rushing defensive ends. You’d pay less for linebackers because you’d have so many of them. You could just rotate them in and out.’


A star quarterback, he thought, might command as much as 8 percent of his college team’s revenues. For instance, in 2005 the Texas Longhorns would have paid Vince Young roughly $5 million for the season. In quarterbacking the Longhorns free of charge, Young, in effect, was making a donation to the university of $5 million a year – and also, by putting his health on the line, taking a huge career risk.”


Professional athletics requires a development system.  Football has a system that puts the cost of player development on students, who generate the income to pay for the system.  What American pro football should have is a system like baseball, a minor league professional system.


 

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