Coaches and athletes dedicate countless hours to their sport, but the financial benefits they receive are disproportionately small compared to the operating budgets of the schools they represent. This article seeks to shed light on this disparity, drawing upon the recent changes in the NCAA’s name, image, and likeness (NIL) rules as a comparison, while also proposing solutions to ensure fair compensation for those at the heart of Canadian collegiate sports.
The Athletes’ Story
1. Financial Discrepancy:
Canadian universities and colleges generate significant revenue from sports, with ticket sales, merchandise, tuition and even broadcasting rights contributing to the financial pool. However, the athletes themselves see very little of this benefit relative to the school.
Unlike in the NCAA, where athletes can now monetize their NIL, Canadian athletes are left without this opportunity. For example, a star basketball player in a Canadian university might draw crowds and media attention, boosting merchandise sales and ticket revenues, but they are unable to profit from their personal brand while still in school. Meanwhile, you will see their image on promotional material for the school, plastered around towns, and all over the digital media of the school. In fact, most schools require that athletes sign away the right to protect their own image in order to receive scholarship.
If two students sign up because of promotional material that contains an athlete, the school has now paid off the potential full tuition and fess scholarship AND made 100% profit. If that student is paying international fees, the numbers increase exponentially.
2. Limited Financial Assistance:
While some student-athletes receive scholarships, the amount is often not enough to cover the full cost of tuition, let alone living expenses. In Canada the maximum offer is referred to as “full tuition and fees”. This version of “full scholarship” covers tuition and administrative fees to attend but cannot cover living expense (even in school owned residences), books, food, or other costs.
This financial strain can negatively impact an athlete’s performance both on the field and in the classroom and still leads to debt (in spite of the scholarship). The stress overall regularly impacts student well being.
In 2023 and beyond, it is clear that the housing market will continue to drive the strain up as there is extremely limited ability for the average student-athlete to find affordable housing.
Why does it dis-proportionally impact athletes you might ask? A student athlete has classes scattered through the week, often without consideration of their practice schedule, in addition to practice, competition, meetings, film sessions, workouts, etc. This forces the athlete into three potential options:
- Live close to campus which is often the most expensive housing.
- Live away from campus in cheaper housing but need to buy a vehicle or use public transit and manage that schedule.
- Live away from campus and spend entire days on campus regularly. Potentially from a 5am workout until practice finished at 9pm.
3. Campus Mental Health Support is Woefully Low
Many schools tout the fact that they’ve added more on campus counsellors, programs, and other supports as significant. The problem? The ratios are still off. It’s clear that far too many campuses have ratios higher than 100:1 for students to counsellors. Waiting lists are long, accomodation offices are overworked, and counsellors might be able to see you once a month if you’re lucky.
The complacency in campus mental health in North America is astounding. It’s time to hire 20x more counsellors on our campuses.
After all this, athletes are expected to get good grades, perform in their sport, and maintain good mental health with a balance of social-emotional wellness.
The Coaches’ Story
1. Inadequate Salaries:
Coaches in Canadian collegiate sports are often paid significantly less than their NCAA counterparts, despite having similar workloads. The average salary of a head coach in Canada is significantly lower than that of an NCAA head coach, even after adjusting for currency differences. This is also highlighted by a significant cost of living increase.
2. Lack of Job Security:
Many coaches in Canada work on contractual bases, leading to instability and uncertainty in their professional lives. Some don’t receive a healthcare plan, pension, or any professional development funds. This lack of job security or support makes it difficult for coaches to plan for their future and adequately support their families.
Canadian sport is littered with examples of Head Coaches, Assistant Coaches, and other athletics staff that lose their jobs for a multitude of reasons. More commonly, institutions will choose public opinion over exploring a coach’s best interest which often leads to coach terminations as opposed to situational investigations.
3. Poor Wellness:
There’s a way to coach without it consuming your life where you don’t miss you family all the time, eat terribly, drink more, have high stress levels, and poor all around wellness. But many don’t know how to do it that way, and don’t have institutionalized support to learn how.
Solutions for Coaches
1. Increase Salaries:
To address the financial disparity, Canadian universities and colleges should increase the salaries of coaches to reflect their workload and contribution to the sports program and the institution as a whole.
2. Provide Long-term Contracts:
Offering longer-term contracts with comprehensive benefits can help to provide job security for coaches, ensuring that they are able to focus on their roles without the constant worry of financial instability.
3. Mental Support on Campus Specifically for Coaches:
Anyone who has coached a sport at any level knows it takes a toll on those who do it. Their mental health, addiction, sleep, and all around wellness often is some of the worst in the professional world but their workplaces often provide limited or no direct support.
…that’s it. That’s the point.
Solutions for Athletes
1. Allow NIL Monetization:
Following the NCAA’s lead, Canada should amend its rules to allow athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness. This would provide a much-needed source of income for student-athletes, helping to alleviate financial strain even if it’s not to the same degree as those in the USA.
2. Modernize Scholarships:
Universities and colleges should increase the amount and availability of scholarships for athletes to ensure that they are able to fully cover tuition and living expenses.
Yes, it’s easier said than done. However, covering living expenses and attaching places to live to scholarship offers is well within reach.
3. Prioritize Counselling Support For Athletes
They have much higher mental performance requirements and a sport/performance psychologist should not be playing double duty as a therapist.
Just Get More Money For Canadian Coaches and Athletes
The obvious solution to many of these problems is to just get more money in order to give more money to the coaches and athletes who deserve it. But if you talk to any Athletic Director in the country, they’re already doing just about everything they can to tap into all financial resources they have.
The unpopular way to get more money where there isn’t any now is to take one of (or all of) the following actions:
- Reduce Quantity of Sports Significantly: Canada doesn’t have the luxury of having scholarship varsity sports that don’t generate revenue. It’s time to convert them to “pay to play” sports or remove them. Even in the NCAA, only schools with highly profitable football/basketball programs make money, and that’s largely due to TV deals. We need to be more selective about what sports are offered.
- Sell Buildings and Build New Partnerships: There are many facilities that are relatively close together in our country, which belong to multiple schools. The Clippers and Lakers share one, the Rams and Chargers share one. You can share a facility too.
- Time for Canadian Broadcasters to Step Up: We’re looking at you CBC. A CBCU channel would forever change the landscape of sport in this country. It could be regional, it could sell ads, and it would change. a lot. Put those tax dollars to use.
- Leaderships Mindset Shift: Lean on student-athlete and varsity sport as primary recruitment and marketing avenues. Canadians are notoriously poor at celebrating success and bragging about it. There are much larger leverage opportunities to have athletes as spokespeople, promotions, etc than are currently being used. However, refer back to NIL rights as well.
- Ad Space: Sell ad space on jerseys, on backboards, on nets, and anywhere else you can. It’s time. Don’t be a late adopter on that opportunity.
The exploitation of coaches and athletes in Canadian collegiate sports is an issue that cannot be ignored.
The financial disparities present in the system must be addressed to ensure that those who dedicate their lives to collegiate sports are fairly compensated.
By increasing salaries, providing job security for coaches, and allowing athletes to monetize their NIL, we can create a more equitable and supportive environment for all involved in Canadian collegiate sports.
In fact, a proper shift in these decisions will lead to more money for institutions overall, while also improving the happiness, wellness, AND performance of the people involved.
1. “Is the grass greener in NCAA?” https://www.brandonsun.com/sports/local-sports/2021/02/26/is-the-grass-greener-in-ncaa
2. “The NCAA’s New NIL Guidance: What Do You Need to Know”, https://www.lawinsport.com/topics/item/the-ncaa-s-new-nil-guidance-what-do-you-need-to-know
3. “Inside the Mental Health Crisis at Canadian Universities”, https://education.macleans.ca/feature/inside-the-mental-health-crisis-at-canadian-universities/
4. “Student-Athlete Mental Health Action Survey”, Boost Innovation conducted a student athlete mental health survey in 2021 that collected responses from athletes across Canada and the United States. This article contains data/findings from that survey throughout.