Paying College Athletes: Are eSports the future of College Athletics?

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How much longer will basketball or football last at a nationally competitive level in college? Let’s be honest, we can pretend like the NCAA is too powerful to be challenged and as long as the money keeps flowing in, the cycle will never end. The truth is however, there is probably going to be an end. With how lucrative the college sports industry has become, there is no way the NCAA is able to keep the wolves at bay for much longer.

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Here’s the breakdown; college sports, football and basketball in particular, make a shit load of money. During the 2015 fiscal year, the 231 NCAA Division 1 schools with data available generated a total of $9.15 billion in revenue. Texas A&M claimed $192.6 million alone. By 2016 the University of Texas had an athletic revenue of $182 million. A vast majority of that money comes from football, with basketball a fairly distant second and a nearly complete drop off for any other sport in terms of revenue. The average division 1 school will generate nearly $32 million in football and $8.2 million in men’s basketball. Any other collegiate sport will be lucky to break $2 million.

The threats the NCAA faces with these jarring stats are the potential alternative leagues seeking some of that revenue as well as retaining the top athletes for these sports. An obvious hot-button issue over the past few years is college athletes not receiving payment. Rather, the schools claim to pay these athletes in free tuition, meals and living expenses. Essentially paying their cost of living as well as offering an extremely expensive diploma. While this argument has absolute validity, the best of these athletes will likely become professionals in basketball or football and will not need a diploma. In fact, attending class seems like a waste of time when they could be perfecting their craft that will inevitably earn them a much higher salary than a college degree could.

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The real reason these great athletes attend universities is not for education but as preparation for their professional career. With excellent coaches, great facilities and more importantly, national exposure, college basketball or football is currently the best option for these extreme talents to get drafted in the NBA or NFL. The NCAA will obviously fight tooth-and-nail to retain their lucrative empire but the fact of the matter is, it might already be too big for one organization to hold. The ever-so-fun LaVar Ball has already proposed a basketball league targeted at college-age players who would prefer to be paid prior to the NBA rather than attend class. This will likely be the spark in a wave of similar proposals until the majority of revenue from pre-professional basketball is swept away from colleges almost completely. Football will undoubtedly follow suit but may take longer, as it earns much more money. Other than completely broke, where will this leave college athletics? My suggestion; right into the hands of the computer dorm nerds with their surprisingly lucrative eSports world.

The Lucrative World of eSports

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College eSports is actually already a thing and it is bigger than you may suspect. With more than 90 million viewers watching the eSports finals in 2016, the world of professional video gaming is becoming increasingly dominant in worldwide popularity. The average age of a professional gamer is 21, putting universities right in the mix of the top talent. The best part is, a lot of these talented gamers are already in college. Tespa, a collegiate gaming league, already boasts more than 65,000 members with 220 chapters at more than 1,200 schools. While Greek life is in a decline at universities nationwide, gaming clubs are picking up the slack for a new generation.

The National Association of Collegiate eSports (NACe) is also a collegiate gaming league that accounts for 50 teams from 50 different universities as well as a multitude of other college leagues. Universities such as Georgia State, California – Irvine, Western Kentucky and the University of Utah have already begun offering gamer’s scholarships as well as elaborate training facilities. This is bad news for the NCAA if they ever choose to expand beyond their comfort zone and look for lucrative alternatives to their possible money loss in football and basketball. By 2016 the eSports industry rose from a $194 million value to $463 million and is expected to break $1 billion by 2019.

The eSports arena opens at UCI.photo:  steve zylius/UCI

While the NCAA is currently fighting with all their might to retain full privilege of the extreme lucrative college football and basketball industry, an internet sleeping giant has risen from the basements of the vast majority of youth that didn’t make the football team. This millennial revolution has happened right under the nose of the NCAA and has even gain the attention of ESPN. If the NCAA doesn’t move quickly, they will likely miss out on this instant cash grab that is eSports as they watch their most lucrative industries slip away.

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