Why the NCAA needs to pay college athletes

Why the NCAA needs to pay college athletes

November 25, 20192 min read

College athletes risk serious injury, some with lifelong complications, to play a sport while the university and coaches make millions. The potential for career-ending injury alone is enough of a reason to allow college athletes to receive compensation and Tua Tagovailoa’s case is the perfect example.

Alabama standout quarterback Tua Tagovailoa suffered a season-ending injury last Saturday that likely ended his collegiate playing career. Tagovailoa, in his junior season, suffered a dislocated hip in a lopsided victory over Mississippi State and underwent successful surgery on Monday in Houston.

Although doctors anticipate a full recovery, Tagovailoa’s college season is over and his NFL stock value is considerably lower. Once a definitive top draft pick, Tagovailoa’s value is dependent on his anticipated recovery, not to mention getting back into football shape.

Tagovailoa’s devastating injury is just another check mark to add to the list of reasons why college athletes should be compensated.

Imagine if Tagovailoa could have been compensated during his time at Alabama. After all, the Alabama football program boasted a revenue of $111.1 million for the 2018 fiscal year. What would Tagovailoa have been paid if the NCAA rules didn’t restrict his compensation to the cost of attending school?

The major North American men sports leagues tend to shell out about 50% of its revenue to its players. David Berri, sports economist and professor of economics at Southern Utah University, estimated that if Alabama followed this practice, the school would be giving about $55.55 million to its players. With 127 players on the roster, the average player on the Crimson Tide would be paid $437,410.

Of course, the starting quarterback is not an average player. In the NFL, the average starting quarterback is paid 3.81 times more than an average player. Berri calculated that this would mean that Tagovailoa should have been paid $1,666,473 at Alabama.

When you consider that Tagovailoa one of the very best college quarterbacks, his estimated value goes up even higher. The five highest-paid NFL quarterbacks are paid 10.18 times more than an average quarterback. Berri comments that this means that Tagovailoa could arguably have been worth $4,455,591 prior to his injury. 

While it may be unrealistic to assume that Tagovailoa would be a top-five quarterback in the NFL, it is not unrealistic to realize that his potential earning capacity has been substantially lowered due to his injury playing college football where he was not able to earn any money at all. 

Dr. Berri has spent the last two decades researching sports and economics, while publishing works on a variety of topics including the evaluation of players and coaches, competitive balance, the drafting of players, labor disputes, the NCAA, gender wage gap in sports, and distribution of wealth and power.

Connect with:
  • David Berri
    David Berri Department Chair and Professor of Economics

    Specializing in evaluations of players and coaches in sports, gender issues in sports, and competitive balance in sports

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