The arguments against compensating college athletes are becoming less and less credible. Former CBS Sports President Neal Pilson, who is the go-to source for sports television executives from generations gone by, predicts that the television ratings for college football would decline around 15 to 20 percent if college athletes start receiving extra compensation in conjunction with their already-paid college fees.
Pilson, who served as president of CBS Sports for 14 years, released this statement as a part of the NCAA's rebuttal to the Ed O'Bannon image and likeness lawsuit. As a former TV executive, Pilson now serves as a media consultant and professional witness in high-profile cases like this. The NCAA is paying him $825 an hour for his services. This just happens to be a bit more money than any college athlete makes per hour.
According to AL.com's Jon Solomon, "Pilson's estimate referred to a report by J. Michael Dennis, a market research expert the NCAA hired, that found 68.9 percent of respondents were 'opposed to paying money to student-athletes on college football and men's basketball teams in addition to covering their college expenses'…The survey also found that 37.7 percent of respondents would be less likely to watch, listen to, or attend college football and men's basketball games if athletes were paid $20,000 per year."
This is an archaic argument from a TV executive who witnessed a ratings drop in 1984 when the Supreme Court decided that the NCAA's football TV rights violated antitrust laws. The problem with citing that historical anecdote is college football and college sports in general are at their peak in popularity. College football is the country's second most popular sport behind the NFL. There is an incredible amount of platforms and broadcasters who would jump at the chance to carry college sports.
The NCAA is a decrepit organization clinging to the last piece of power they have left: Paying college players would not hurt football, or any sport. Paying college players wouldn't change a single thing on the field.
The Alabama Crimson Tide averaged a 3.9 rating and 6.465 million viewers per game for 10 rated games. The 2013 Iron Bowl garnered an 82 percent share in Birmingham. That means 82 percent of the city was watching a football game. I know this argument from Pilson is presented to rebut the claims made by O'Bannon's expert witnesses, but does Pilson really think that fewer people would watch Alabama games because the football players are given a little extra money? People in Alabama skip weddings, shun family members and reschedule potentially important events based on Alabama football games, and paying players would not affect that level of crazy.
And then we reach the "integrity" segment of the argument: Why should players be paid extra to play football? They should just be there for the tradition and heritage of the program and the honor of playing college football. Because that's what was happening back in the days of the Pony Express, right?
Per Solomon: "The idea that college athletes 'play for the love of the game' is the core notion of college sports, Pilson said. 'To the extent that the viewing public believes in this ideal, paying student-athletes would undermine the cornerstone of the viewing public's belief that student-athletes play for the love of the game,' Pilson wrote."
Wrong. Those tired platitudes are created and disseminated by universities and the NCAA so their profit margins stay where they are. Paying players would be such a nuisance for them, but the argument is losing its traction. College players would still be playing "for the love of the game" even with additional compensation. This isn't the NFL, they won't be making millions of dollars. Some players come from less than privileged backgrounds, and this money might allow them to go out to eat or see a movie. Would that really be a sign of evil that drives away fans? I don't think so. If anything, the NCAA trying to hold onto the revenue from their television contracts while players continue to get nothing may hurt them even more in the public relations battle, no matter what surveys they site.
The other argument against paying players is that they will become a minor league team, only out for the money and themselves and not playing as a cohesive unit. But I'm sure the NFL gets such low ratings and low revenue because the players are only out for the money and aren't playing for the integrity of the game.
College sports will remain popular, regardless of whether or not the players are paid, or what three decades old logic dictates. The NCAA is in for a rude awakening if this O'Bannon case goes against them and this is their best defense.