On Thursday I spoke to Andy Schwarz, a leading anti-trust economist, for some straight common sense about about the NCAA, college sports and paying athletes. His words should be CliffsNotes for everyone watching March Madness.
On why NCAA athletes should receive some sort of monetary compensation:
I always say the question of whether they should get paid is the wrong one. I think the question is, “If the NCAA weren’t colluding against them, would they get paid?” And the answer is, “Yes, they would.” We all should have the right to earn what we’re worth, to go in and ask for it, and if we’re not worth much, we won’t get much. The fact that the NCAA is so adamantly insisting on enforcing a rule to prevent anyone from getting paid I think is a good sign that if the rule weren’t there, they would.
On what kind of system would make the most sense:
I think the simplest system is almost no system at all. Or if you insist on having some rules, have them at the conference level.
The best system is one where teams make their own decisions. In college, if you had each of the ten football conferences or thirty-two basketball conferences competing, they could make their own rules. They could set a level of parity among the schools within the conference and then go off and compete for talent in such a way that if a school up in Minnesota or Maine or Massachusetts thinks hockey players are worth something, then they would get paid. In most places, football and basketball players would get paid. I went to Stanford. Women’s basketball players would be in demand there. Probably at Connecticut as well.
On whether paying athletes would be either a legal violation of Title IX, or wreck women’s sports:
Both of those things are 180 degrees wrong. Title IX is really specific to what it does and doesn’t require. People probably think that Title IX requires that men’s sports and women’s sports get equally funded and it doesn’t say that at all. In 2009–10, Alabama spent $43 million on men’s sports and $13 million on women’s sports, and they weren’t in violation of Title IX because all Title IX says with respect to money is that, however many men you have playing sports, the money they get has to be proportional to the ratio. So if you’ve got 60 percent male and 40 percent female athletes, then the money that they specifically get in scholarships has to be 60:40, plus or minus a tiny margin for error. Now you have a system where the player “pay” is capped and the way that schools compete for talent is to pay coaches more and more to get them to recruit, This shifts money away from areas where Title IX does apply—the money that goes to players—to areas where it doesn’t apply. So if we change the system and we allow schools to compete for talent with pay, you’d see coaches’ pay go down, you’d see male athletes’ pay go up. But every time you increase the male athletes’ pay by a dollar, and it’s not quite a dollar in matching, but there would need to be, under the law, a matching payment to women.