Sunday, November 2, 2014

Let's Fix It: College Athletes - To Pay or Not to Pay?

Currently, I am watching the University of Georgia Bulldogs renew their annual rivalry on the “gridiron” with the Florida Gators. Sadly, they are being somewhatoutclassed. It just so happens that the “Hairy Dogs” are without the services of their difference-making Heisman trophy hopeful running back Todd Gurley. Gurley is absent from the proceedings because he is serving a multi-game suspension for allegations of violating NCAA rules. Those rules preclude college athletes from profiting from the commerce of their own name or likeness.
Mr. Gurley is accused of exchanging his autograph for money, which for some reason when transcribed onto various items makes them more valuable. The college or university is free to sell certain items bearing the players name and number (sans the players autograph) as they see fit. The essential reason that the players are prohibited from profiting from such transactions is because they are classified by the NCAA as “amateurs”. That is because they don’t play for the existing professional leagues. Instead they play for academic institutions that reward them in-kind with potentially infinitely valuable free educations at some of the best institutions in the world.
So the simple question here – is that fair? In my opinion the answer is yes. Of course many people disagree. Luckily, I propose a solution to the problem which should settle this endless arguing – whew.
I will limit my discussion of the solution to college football. However, the plan would work for college basketball and any other sport as well. Before I continue I will mention a couple of the reasons why I am against the idea of paying athletes involved in the major revenue sports at the major schools. Simply put, it is because it diminishes the value of playing other sports and of getting an education at smaller schools. I think that it also further devalues the importance of Women’s athletics.


Dollars or Sense – You Play the Game to Win
The essential issue here is the classification of players as amateurs. They are unpaid despite the fact that they play on teams that earn large amounts of financial revenue from their efforts. Proponents of paying players argue that the school, coaches and merchandisers make helmet-loads of money by exploiting these young people's talents. Some players have even alleged that they have to find creative ways to just get enough food to eat every day.
Yet the issue here really isn’t whether students deserve to get paid to play. The issue is why did they choose to play college football in the first place? They could simply attend school and devote their full attention to academics like most college students in America. Because it is also a fact that out of almost 70,000 NCAA football players, only about 250 will be drafted into the NFL each year. So the question arises, is the young man playing football for the love or the money?
However, the value proposition for the school is very different. A college football team may carry 85 scholarship players. The cost of housing, feeding, outfitting and educating each of these young men can be as much as $125,000 a year. While young master Gurley may be earning his keep and then some, I assure you that all 85 of these competitors won't be “stars”. In addition, the team can also utilize the services of as many as 40 other non-scholarship players. These athletes also receive some of the benefits of the program.
To fans, it may seem prudent to at least pay the true “money-ballers”. Yet in reality, a system would have to be created that assigns an equitable value to all players. Each athlete possesses different tangible and intangible talents. How would you fairly price each of their services in a “non-professional” market environment?
The answer I believe is that the onus for making this decision should reside with the players, not the program. Along with his support system, the player should assess his value and chances of playing at the ”next level”. It should be his decision as to whether he came to college to have fun while playing a little ball or whether he is pursuing a career path towards becoming a professional football player.
In my opinion, it would be unfair to force the pressures of performing to earn a living on every already heavily burdened scholar-athlete. A better way of doing things would be to create Student-Athlete and Athlete tracks which would empower each player to choose their desired path. Under the new Student-Athlete Track vs. Athlete Track, players would declare themselves as one or the other (Student-Athlete or Athlete) as of their first day on campus.


The Student-Athlete Track vs. The Athlete Track
The Student-Athlete Track would work essentially as it does now. You decide to treat athletics as an integral part of your college experience. However, you are just as committed to excelling academically. The Student-Athlete could also choose to convert to The Athlete Track if he decides later that he has a greater chance of going pro than he first considered. He may also opt to change tracks if he decides academics are too difficult or getting in the way of his pro’ football dreams.
This brings us to the Athlete Track. The young man who chooses the Athlete Track carries zero academic requirements. He is an employee of the Athletic Department. Those who choose this track will devote all of their efforts to becoming professional football players.
The fa├žade, temptations or impediments of being a Student-Athlete would cease to exist. You come to work as a football player and you are compensated as such. Your off-the-field life is yours to manage as you see fit. Also, if by chance you either see the added value of pursuing an education or your prospects of becoming a professional player become less likely, you can chose to switch to the Student-Athlete Track.
The Bottom Line of Scrimmage
So how much would an Athlete earn? I'm glad you asked. Each participating school would contribute a proportionate share to a fund used by the NCAA to pay "salaries". Every participating player would earn the same amount at any school. Also, the NCAA would enforce a zero-tolerance crackdown on the payment of any additional compensation or fringe benefits by the school.
In both cases. you may only switch tracks one time in your career. Under the new system, current NCAA eligibility requirements would stay the same. I believe that such a system would alleviate the pretense and potential corruption that comes with young men pursuing athletic careers, while pretending to pursue academics at the same time. I also believe that despite the public outcry for paying players, most young people will choose to pursue the Student-Athlete Track.
If you value the education, then you receive it and it doesn’t detract from the possibility of succeeding on the field. If you value the opportunity to prepare for a career in professional football more than an education, then you are allowed to regularly improve your skills in near-professional level contests. You get to train for your future career under the best possible conditions that exist outside of the professional leagues. I believe that this is a true win-win proposition and would satisfy proponents and critics on both sides of this issue.
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