Instead of getting what they're worth, the players receive athletic scholarships that don't cover the full cost of attending school, leaving many of them living below the poverty line, says the report, "The Price of Poverty in Big Time College Sport."
A national college athletes' advocacy group and a sports management professor calculate in the report that if college sports shared their revenues the way pro sports do, the average Football Bowl Subdivision player would be worth $121,000 per year, while the average basketball player at that level would be worth $265,000.
The Associated Press obtained a copy of the report ahead of its official release, scheduled for Tuesday.
Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA linebacker who heads the National College Players Association, wrote the report with Drexel University professor Ellen J. Staurowsky. The association is an advocacy group for college athletes which Huma says has more than 14,000 members — about half of whom are currently enrolled.
Huma and Staurowsky argue that the players should receive a portion of new revenues, like TV contracts, to be put in an "educational lockbox." Players could tap those funds to help cover educational costs if they exhaust their athletic eligibility before they graduate — or receive the money with no strings attached upon graduating. They also propose that athletes be free to seek commercial deals, such as endorsements, with some of the money from that going to the lockbox, and the rest available for the athlete's immediate use.
They also say that schools should pay for costs beyond the tuition, student fees and room and board covered by athletic scholarships. The report calculates the shortfall for the full cost of attending college — when things such as clothing and emergency trips home are added in — at $952 to $6,127, depending on the college. That leaves students on full athletic scholarships living below the poverty line at around 85 per cent of the schools, the report claims, by comparing the value of the scholarship's room and board to the federal poverty guideline for a single individual.
Huma acknowledged that calculation does not take into account financial assistance students might get from home, or summer jobs, but he said most athletes are pressured to attend voluntary summer workouts, making it hard to get outside work.
The report calls for action from Congress to achieve some of these goals, arguing that federal intervention is necessary because college presidents aren't in a position to take meaningful reform. The NCAA, which puts the athletes' amateur status at the centre of its mission, would oppose much of what the report proposes.
In a statement Monday, the NCAA said it had not yet reviewed the report, but that President Mark Emmert and university presidents made it clear at last month's retreat — a meeting called in the wake of a run of scandals in college football — that they were committed to evaluating an increase to grants in aid that would cover the full cost of attending college. The NCAA added that the Committee on Academic Performance is meeting this week to discuss the issue, and will make recommendations to the Division I Board of Directors next month.
"Dr. Emmert has been similarly clear that paying student-athletes a salary is in no way on the table," the NCAA said.
The report argues that playing big-time football and basketball is a full-time job, and an NCAA study released this year backs that up. It found that players in the Football Bowl Subdivision — the highest level — reported spending 43.3 hours per week during the season in athletic time commitment, while Division I men's basketball players reported 39 hours a week in season.
The report said that players at the most powerful programs are worth far in excess of even the average athlete. The report estimates that Duke's basketball players are worth the most, at around $1 million each, while Texas' football players top that sport at $513,000 each.
Officials at Texas and Duke did not return email and phone messages Monday.
The report argues that the main beneficiaries of preserving the current system for athletes are coaches, athletic directors, conference commissioners and bowl directors, citing, for example, the multimillion-dollar salaries of several high-profile coaches.
"The NCAA's definition of amateurism has proven to be priceless to obscenely paid coaches, athletics administrators, and colleges but has inflicted poverty on college athletes," the report charges. It found that some football coaches' bonuses alone were worth more than the entire scholarship shortfall for their teams.
Huma and Staurowsky argue that compensating players would go a long way to eliminating the black market, in which athletes have violated rules for accepting things of value.
"Rules that prohibit valuable players from accepting benefits above and beyond their scholarships set athletic programs and their players up for failure," they say, citing the case of former USC receiver R. Jay Soward, who told Sports Illustrated last year that he took money from NFL agent Josh Luchs because his scholarship didn't cover his food and rent costs.
"I would do it again," Soward said. "I have four sons, and if somebody offered my son money in college and it meant he didn't have to be hungry, I would tell him to take it."
The recent scandal at Ohio State involved players trading memorabilia for cash and tattoos from a man at the centre of a federal investigation. And the University of Miami is being investigated by the NCAA for the relationship a rogue booster and Ponzi scheme artist had with players and coaches.
Huma, who graduated from UCLA in 1999, said that he struggled to get by on his full athletic scholarship. Even though the school was providing him with three meals a day, he said, he needed to eat five or six times a day because of the calories he was burning playing football. And he wasn't able to get any support from home.
"I got by taking toilet paper and soap at hotels, and taking out the credit card," he recalled, adding that he had $6,000 in credit card debt when he graduated. The school did provide him with team-issued clothing, but not all of it was appropriate for everyday use, he said.
"The bottom line is that players are misled into thinking that their labour will fully pay their way through school, and they are definitely earning much less than their fair market value," he said.