Cal football treats players poorly

Xinyu Li/Senior Staff

As Cal football enters its 132nd season of play, the UC Berkeley community — students, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni — should take a long look at the NCAA system the school finds itself a member of and ask: Is this lawful? Is this fair? Is this right?

As a member of the NCAA, Cal ascribes to and enforces the principles of amateurism, which dictate that athletes must not be compensated above the level of their cost to attend school. To be sure, having one’s educational expenses fully covered, provided the education is actually being provided, is incredibly valuable. Unfortunately, for a large swath of Cal football players, educational achievement is an issue of grave concern.

According to the NCAA’s latest graduation data, only 55 percent of Cal football players ultimately earn a degree, and only 34 percent of Cal’s Black male athletes who comprise a large majority of Cal football players make it to graduation. Even though these rates have improved from years past, they are no less sobering, especially given the fact that NCAA athletes’ “compensation” is supposed to be a meaningful education.

What makes this state of affairs all the more troubling are the vast sums of money these players generate for the campus little of which ultimately trickles down to them. In the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016, the Cal football program reported revenues of $41,527,030, according to disclosures filed with the Department of Education. With the team’s total expenses totaling $22,079,265, that means that each of the school’s 85 full-scholarship football players generated $228,979.24 in profit for the athletics department. By rule, however, these players are limited to receiving a full cost-of-attendance scholarship; the UC Berkeley admissions office calculated those costs at $34,200 and $60,882 for in- and out-of-state students, respectively.

The numbers here are just as startling as the graduation figures above. For California resident football players, the value of the direct benefits they receive for their football services is a mere 14.9 percent of the profit they generate on an annual basis. For out-of-state players, the percentage is slightly higher (26.5 percent), but the gap between what Cal football players generate for the school and what they receive in turn is still cavernous. For young men who risk their long-term health to act essentially as marketers for the campus, there is little room to categorize this exchange as fair. Cal football players have earned far more than just a free education.

Many have argued that it is both imprudent to increase college athletes’ pay — because players already get “enough” — and impossible, given the prevailing view that the overwhelming majority of athletic departments are “broke.”

The notion that most collegiate athletic departments have no money with which to pay their athletes directly is a self-serving myth propagated by those seeking to maintain the often-exploitative status quo in college sports. The reality is that athletic departments are not broke and rather have collusively agreed with one another to spend their resources on budget items other than athlete pay. Nowhere is this more evident than at UC Berkeley, which has spent wildly on stadium upgrades and coach salaries over the past several years.

The campus’s now-infamous renovation to Memorial Stadium will ultimately cost the school nearly a half billion dollars — money that could have been put toward increased benefits for athletes. Even taking just a quarter of the money of the money to be spent on the Memorial Stadium upgrades and applying it toward the athletes who will play in it would mean that each of Cal’s 85 scholarship football players could, over the next 278 seasons, be paid $5,000 a year for the institution’s use of their name, image and likeness, otherwise known as “NIL.”

Even since it became apparent that the Memorial Stadium project would be an unmitigated financial disaster, UC Berkeley has still spent tens of millions on its football coaching staff. This includes a near-$6 million buyout for former head coach Sonny Dykes, who was fired in January. Again, just allocating half of that money towards NIL payments to players would mean $5,000-per-year awards could be made continuously for the next 7 years.

Do not be misled: UC Berkeley absolutely has the resources with which to directly pay its football players, but chooses to divert those resources toward gold-plating facilities and lining the pockets of coaches.

As for the argument that college football players already receive “enough” and therefore do not deserve further compensation, there are two key issues. One: this line of reasoning is predicated on the notion that athletes are being paid in an education, which is supposedly more than sufficient compensation for their football services. But, as outlined above, UC Berkeley is failing to provide that education to nearly half of its football players. Moreover, as one sports economist has put it, the only time when “enough” seems to be the standard for compensation is when it’s discussed in relation to charity, children and chattel. For all others, including college coaches, pay is market-driven. If college athletes truly do receive “enough,” let their compensation test the free market.

Where does all this leave many of Cal’s football players? In the unenviable position of having neither a meaningful degree nor any financial gain from the athletic services they rendered to the campus. The institution is not only failing, but exploiting these young men, and campus leaders must reckon with their complicity in this debasement of the academy.

Cameron Miller is a 2016 graduate of Stanford University who lives in Berkeley.

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  • 安德森保罗克文

    Long on rhetoric, baiting comparisons, and annoyingly so. The social value of sport is probably grossly underestimated. At the moment the NFL is still having viewership issues and high-school football is leaving California. Overpaid coaching staff? Underpaid football student researchers? Which is the problem? Poorness can make people miserable. How does this trickle down to the second tier athletes? Not at all, right? Or through the magic hand or the “lucky” job placement? How about allowing players to go lighter on academics until their four year eligibility expires, then letting them take sport management and sport education classes? (Or their other academic interests.) That would let some of them do the advocacy that is not evident in this article.

    Anyway, Re-purposing the Edwards track and field may make the true investment more visible. That is good management. Congrats Chancellor Carol et al.

  • lspanker

    Poor babies. Next time, try getting into college on your grades and SAT scores like the rest of us…

  • Ed Bustamante

    Just an article based on “contrived” facts, to fit an opinion, that was already made.
    This is an NCAA problem. And an NBA/NFL problem.
    Not a Cal problem.
    Colleges programs, are now the minor leagues, for the pros.

    If you were to analyze, programs such as Alabama, USC, Oregon, and yes, O.M.G., Stanford, the economic, and academic, “abuse” of the athletes, would be worse.

    The athletes deserve more, but:
    A very poorly written article, with a headline, I expect, I would see, when I am checking out of the local grocery!

  • Jeff

    Written by a Stanford alumnus to sow dissension among the Cal community! Most football players love to play the game. Agreed that grad rates need to improve and the Athletic Study Center is making significant investments to help student athletes succeed in the classroom. Author Michael Lewis has been making these arguments in a far more persuasive manner for over 5 years – it is an NCAA issue, and the Cal family should not get distracted by this rehash. As for Memorial, nothing could have been built there given the Hayward fault and CA building codes. That ship sailed. Let’s move forward and grow our fan base, our revenues and our endowment. This is the financial answer for all of Cal Athletics.

  • s randall

    According to the link you referenced:

    According to the most recent APR figures, Cal football posted a one-year score of 997, which tied for the highest in the Pac-12. The team’s four-year average rose to 960 – up 19 points from the previous year, representing the program’s highest score since 2008-09.

    To be fair you hate Stanford too.

  • ProudAmericanSJ

    Question to the Daily Californian: Why is this article posted on the Daily Californian? Should this be posted on the Stanford Daily? Perhaps the SD may have rejected this hit piece.

  • ProudAmericanSJ

    This article could have been titled: Stanford football treats players badly, Washington football treats players badly, …

    If this article is an indictment to NCAA exploiting athletes, it may be a fair indictment. The simple fact is that some very popular sports programs carry the weight of supporting athletic programs for the whole school. The NCAA concept is no different than the concept that the top 1% of the US population pays about 50% of the income taxes. The Top 1% also owns more than 50% of the assets. What is fair and what is unfair? The logic that because Cal gets large revenues from football means that Cal football treats its players badly is just stupid.

    Certainly, Cal football could have done a much much better job at graduating its student-athletes. This failure is a travesty to Cal rich history and a disservice to the student-athletes that the school failed to help. Cal has also made bad decisions with personnel and investment decisions. Unfortunately, consequences are being felt and will be felt for years to come by individuals and by all of us, students, alumni, staff, faculty and community. Cal has committed to make changes and some progresses have occurred.

    I do wonder the motivation and the
    agenda of the writer since this article specifically targets Cal Football and was
    written by a Stanford graduate. Stanford with its great football
    tradition does not need the hit job from any Stanford graduate.

  • Man with Axe

    I see the issue quite differently.

    Big time athletics has no place in a serious university. The only way to remove all the corruption and misuse of resources would be to end all recruitment and just choose the teams from players who happen to attend each university as students. All athletes would have to score no lsss than 100 points below the university’s average SAT score.

    But until the Messiah comes (again?) we will have to live with our current corrupt system.

    Whose fault is it that the football players don’t graduate? Their own fault. They should go to a school where they can do the work.

    The average profit is not the appropriate measure of the player’s value. First, he could not produce any value on his own without the institution. Just like a junior associate working for a law firm, the partners pay him, say, $50 per hour and charge clients $250 for his time. Even Berkeley professors make profit for the university. Some of them, anyway.

  • drunkbear

    Oh, cool. A Stanfurd graduate living in Berkeley is now opining on the Daily Cal.

    “…but chooses to divert those resources toward gold-plating facilities and lining the pockets of coaches.” You mean committing money for necessary seismic retrofits, and updating drastically outdated facilities in order to keep up with the rest of the conference, and country? If anything, Cal had been notoriously LAGGING in having cutting edge facilities.

    What a joke of a column.

    • Nunya Beeswax

      I notice you didn’t address the grotesque overpayment of coaches on the UC payroll. When the head football coach is making more even that the chair of the Surgery department at Davis’ medical school, something is out of whack.

      • drunkbear

        No, I didn’t, because this op-ed wasn’t about the problem that is the entire NCAA-amateurism system, but about Cal for some reason. The “grotesque overpayment of coaches” exists everywhere, particularly at football factories, yet this Furdie would have you believe Cal is somehow the poster boy for this issue.

      • Andre Donner

        I’ll bet you that the Stanford football coach makes more than the head of surgery at Stanford Medical School too. If you bothered to look at the $41M revenue stream for football and the fact that Men’s Football and Basketball pay for all of the other sports except all aquatics, men’s rugby, and men’s golf.

        • Nunya Beeswax

          I’m not sure how your second sentence is relevant to what I said. In fact, I’m not even sure that it’s a sentence.

  • Tosh Lupoi

    Very unfair. All programs have the same issues.

    Regarding Memorial Stadium, most of the money went to seismic renovation for the safety of everyone at the games, not to luxury boxes…

    • Nunya Beeswax

      Yes, seismic renovation of a facility sitting squarely on a fault. Very clever.

      • Vince Tancreto

        There were few other options on campus other than a stadium retrofit when you consider the urban nature of Berkeley and limited campus space. An off-campus stadium was a non-starter for most people. This isn’t “The Farm” where vast amounts of space are available, and there wasn’t a single donor who was willing to donate the money to build a cookie cutter stadium like now sits in Palo Alto.

  • rychastings

    the ncaa treats athletes poorly

  • Jean Claude Van Neo

    > rather have collusively agreed with one another to spend their resources on budget items other than athlete pay

    So covering the expenses of all the other non-revenue athletes and sports is money better spent on paying football and men’s basketball? This kind of reasoning is insulting to all the student athletes who put in time to earn and maintain their athletic scholarships. Do you even care about those other student-athletes…or is this just an excuse to complain about football with facile, unsubstantiated arguments to fill a newspaper column>

    • Andre Donner

      Exactly. People don’t understand that Football and Men’s Basketball essentially provide funding to educate hundreds of men and women athletes.