Written by Joe Kleinsasser Wednesday, 14 May 2008 14:02Maybe it’s not all about the money, but when it comes to sports, the almighty dollar still has plenty of clout.
Perhaps there’s some consolation, albeit miniscule, that rising gas and food prices won’t render major professional athletes or coaches among the working poor anytime in the near future.
Consider that New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez makes more this year than his entire hometown Florida Marlins team.
A-Rod tops the major league baseball salary list at $28 million, according to a study of contract terms by The Associated Press. The 33 players on the Marlins’ opening-day roster and disabled list total $21.8 million.
For the first time in baseball history, the average salary tops the $3 million mark. The Marlins’ highest earner doesn’t even make the average.
A record 434 players made $1 million or more, breaking the record set in 2001 and matched last year. And there was a big boost at the top, with 85 players reaching $10 million, up from 66 last year.
And then there’s the NBA minor league system, also known as NCAA Division I universities. Every year, the nation’s top freshmen appear in front of TV cameras announcing how difficult it was to decide to leave college for the next level.
The frequency of college freshmen turning pro, such as K-State’s Michael Beasley, has led to the designation of these student-athletes as the One and Dones. These are the athletes who say, “I’m ready to take my game to the next level.”
Gene Wojciechowski on ESPN.com puts it into the proper perspective: “While we’re at it, no athlete is allowed to say, ‘It’s not about the money,’ because dude, we know it’s about the money.”
Why go back to college when you can afford to buy one?
The only reason players like Beasley spend a year in college is because athletes have to wait until they're 19, or one year removed from their high school graduation, before they can declare for the NBA draft.
The benefit for the NBA is obvious. Scouts get a whole year to evaluate the players against college, not high school players. An additional benefit from the “can’t-turn-pro-until-19” rule is that it has allowed the NCAA and the media turn next year’s draft choices into media stars. Michael Beasley will sell far more NBA tickets next season than he would have if he had been drafted straight out of high school.
“What a deal,” said Wojciechowski. “The NBA gets a free minor league system, and the college programs rent a star player for nothing more than the price of room, tuition and books.”
While we’re at it, let’s not overlook the financial benefits reaped by major college basketball coaches. Remember how nervous KU fans were when they heard that coach Bill Self might leave the Jayhawks for multibillionaire T. Boone Pickens’ money at Oklahoma State?
Self chose to stay in Lawrence, but it’s not as if he will have to sell Amway products to make ends meet. He had to choose between making millions at KU or perhaps a few more millions at his alma mater in Stillwater, Okla.
Here’s what it has come to: A USA Today study found that the million-dollar coach, once a rarity, is now the norm. And the coaching contracts include far more than the base salary. Coaches often receive a variety of perks ranging from personal use of private jets, low-interest home loans, land deals, million-dollar annuities, pricey luxury suites at schools’ stadiums, to use of vacation homes and family travel accounts.
The irony is that in an effort to compete at the highest level, schools feel compelled to offer the moon to coaches, because they know that if they are seen as a top-flight program, the money flows faster than water over Niagara Falls.
On a purely capitalistic level, the salaries paid professional athletes and coaches are understandable.
But on almost every other level, it’s a sad commentary that our society, i.e., individual consumers, are willing to direct unjustifiable amounts of money to circuses—which includes sports and other forms of over-hyped entertainment.