Brad Humphreys

According to Professor Brad Humphreys, if college football players were paid according to what they generate for their university each year, some may make hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, the NCAA has made it impossible for college athletes to see the money.

Managing Editor Jennifer Gardner sat down with Humphreys to talk about this issue and why he believes student athletes should be paid.

Q. What do you find interesting in sports economics, currently?

A. Some interesting topics I think in sports economics right now are whether or not college athletes should be paid or compensated for the use of their names and images and likenesses, or even just paid like the employees of the University. Also, why we subsidize sports facilities. That is sort of public economic idea. We spend all of this money—taxpayer money—to build these palaces for NBA teams and NFL teams. What is the justification for that, and should we be doing that?

Q. Do you believe student athletes should be paid?

A. I think they absolutely should be paid. I think there is no grounds under which college athletes, in the revenue generating sports, should not be paid. The NCAA is a terrible institution. They have this premise of amateurism, that as fans, we are not going to get the same enjoyment out of following college sports if the players got paid. That’s ridiculous. There’s research that suggests if you have a football player who is good enough to get drafted in the NFL on a college team, he is probably generating in revenue somewhere between $200,000-$300,000 a year. So if he was paid according to how much money he generated for the University, it would be hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. They are getting nothing.

Q. How is it that institutions get away with not paying student athletes?

A. Student athlete, a term we use all the time, was a term invented by the NCAA in the 1960’s because they didn’t want college athletes to be considered employees because they would then be open to workers compensation suits for injured on the job. If they have an injury and it eliminates the possibility of a professional career for them, they’ve lost a lot of money.

Q. Is there any argument to take sports out of educational institutions?

A. Yes. It doesn’t further the academic mission of the University. As someone who has worked in an environment where there is big time sports, and there’s not, I can see the point. It’s the way that our university system developed but it’s hard to make an economic argument for why. Not very many intercollegiate programs make money. Most of them have to be subsidized by the university. From an economic perspective, the whole idea that universities have these giant athletic programs is sort of difficult to rationalize because, contrary to popular belief, they are not profit centers from the universities.

Q. What about the athletic program at WVU?

A. Now, WVU’s athletic program does have to be self-sufficient and they’ve even got to have the money to cover the scholarships. That’s not the case at every university. I am a big WVU sports fan—I have season tickets to football and basketball—but sometimes I say to myself "this is crazy because the University has no business operating this." We could take that money and provide need-based scholarships to people, and not on the basis of athletic ability, because that isn’t related to their academic experience.