First of all, I'm not about to propose any specific changes to the way things are done today in major college football and basketball. My purpose is simply to provide some thought provoking numbers and let you make your own decision on whether and how things could be improved. I'll start with college football. Currently, the football programs at most schools have to earn or raise money to pay the school for the value of the scholarships they provide their players. If you believe most administrators, this is supposedly a significant hardship. Really? I'll be conservative in my example, so that I can't be accused of using extremes, like Alabama or Michigan.
My assumptions for this exercise are as follow: A power conference school, average ticket sales of 50,000 per game, seven home games a year and average ticket price of $40. Most can agree that in the majority of cases, those numbers, with the exception of the of home games, can be much higher. So in an average season, ticket revenue alone is $14 million. Now let's say this same school has a total cost of attendance, the new value that is provided the athlete, of $40,000. Once again, for most public institutions, that number is high, but I'm trying to make sure I don't use values that clearly skew the results in the favor of my thesis.
So at 85 scholarships, the maximum allowed under NCAA rules, the football program owes the university a whopping $3.4 million. On ticket revenue alone, the school still earns a profit of $11.6 million after accounting for the cost of their labor pool. Oh, but wait, we have to pay the coaches. Okay, once again, I won't use the big time programs as examples, because those coaches make, on their own, more than the entire cost of the scholarships of the players they coach. But let's say the head coach makes $1 million, and the rest of the staff makes another $2 million. We're still $8.6 million dollars in the black in gross margin. Travel costs to away games, even at $1,000 per play per game, is less than $500,000. I'll say it once again...Really?
It's even better in basketball. Once again, conservative numbers here. 8,000 a game, 15 home dates and $25 a ticket. That's $3 million in revenue. Twelve scholarships with a $40,000 cost of attendance is an almost impossible amount to afford of $480,000. Coaching staff salaries of $1.5 million and we're still ahead by over $1 million. Both of these scenarios are before television money, other advertising revenue, booster contributions and bowl or NCAA tournament shares from the conference are taken into consideration. I'll let you be the judge, but it doesn't take a tremendous leap to get to exploitation, especially when the people getting all of the money also have all of the freedom to go where they please in the system. Coaches can move around without restrictions from the NCAA, the so-called ruling body with the student-athletes' best interest at heart. However, if the coach that recruited a player into a particular system, provided him playing time, etc. leaves and a less favorable coach is hired that hurts said player's chances at success, the player can transfer but has to not only sit out a season, but loses a year of eligibility in the process.
A case in point is Christian Hackenberg, the former Penn State quarterback who started his career under Bill O'Brien, a coach who had a pro-style offense. O'Brien left for the NFL's Houston Texans and was succeeded by James Franklin, who instituted a spread offense that was not conducive to utilizing Hackenberg's skills. O'Brien gets a great NFL job, Franklin gets to move from Vanderbilt to a Big Ten school, and Hackenberg gets shafted. The two coaches in this example made a fortune, yet Hackenberg will most likely lose a significant amount of career income as a result. It's patently unfair and something needs to be changed. And given the economics that I outlined earlier, there is no way for the college athletic system to be able to justify the status quo based on financial hardship.