Scholarships are more than fair compensation for college athletes 

After wrestling for nearly two weeks with the HBO “Real Sports” special on the movement to pay college athletes for the work they contribute to the billion-dollar industry of collegiate athletics, I have come to a decision on this controversial issue. I have decided to introduce you to Jason Hindle.

Jason is a close friend of mine who is a proud graduate of a small Midwestern university where he played Division III college football. He is currently earning a decent living as an educator, but his paycheck doesn’t stretch nearly as far for his family as it will in a few years — when he finally makes the last scheduled payment on his education.

Jason earned his degree back in 2001 at the age of 22, and that final check should be written some time in the summer of the year 2016 — when he is 37 years old. For 15 straight years, he will have taken hard-earned money from each of his biweekly paychecks and sent it to the institution that financed his student loans.

He’s not looking for sympathy, and he knows none will be offered. He knew full well going in what the price tag was for the education he wanted, and he knew how hard it would be to pay it off. He has never missed a payment, no matter how many other purchases he has had to delay or pass over because the dollars just weren’t there.

Now let’s go back and revisit the stories of Tyrone Prothro and Ed O’Bannon.

Prothro was an All-American wide receiver at Alabama from 2003-05, and is now a bank teller in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

O’Bannon was an All-American forward for UCLA in the mid-1990s who now sells cars in Las Vegas. Both were featured on “Real Sports” as examples of college stars who feel they should have been compensated for the millions they helped generate for their respective schools.

“What a great business model,” Bryant Gumbel argues on HBO, pointing out that the universities “make billions, but you don’t have to pay your employees anything.”

Bryant and the crew have talked to Tyrone and Ed. Perhaps they should spend some time with Jason.

“They’re complaining that they weren’t paid?” Jason asked me with incredulity. “Are they serious?”

Jason points out that the average value of a full boat — or full athletic scholarship at a Division I university — is roughly $35,000 per year. It includes tuition for the education that Jason continues to pay for,
10 years and counting after graduation, along with the books he had to buy, the room he had to rent, the meals he had to purchase and the medical care he had to pay for.

“My math tells me those guys were paid between $140,000-180,000,” Jason said, “to play the same sport I played.”

He’s right.

The only difference is that Alabama generated roughly $125 million in revenues during Prothro’s three seasons before a broken leg ended his career, while Jason’s school made next to nothing.

But did one guy work any harder at his “job” than the other? Both spent hours and hours on the practice field, even more in the weight room, the film room and the meeting room. There was no time to pick up a side job and still make it to every class, while doing homework and other assignments.

Yet Prothro, and every other scholarship athlete, received compensation in the high six-figures for their four years of work, while Hindle and the nonscholarship athletes continue to receive bills for the next 15-20 years.

So how, again, are these athletes not being paid?

Rather than asking whether or not big-time university athletes should be paid, perhaps HBO and others should ask what they’re doing with generous payments they’ve already been receiving.

Bob Frantz is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. Email him at bfrantz@sfexaminer.com.

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