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The College Connection

My great good friend Michael Rosenberg has a wonderful knack of writing things that strike powerful disagreement inside me. It is one of his many gifts. This is not to say that I always, or even often, disagree with Michael. I don’t. I think Michael’s one of the best sportswriters in the country and we see things the same way the vast majority of the time. Maybe that’s why when I DO disagree with him — like I did with a Tiger Woods column he wrote a couple of years ago or the let’s pay the stars of college sports piece he wrote this week — it’s a pretty strong emotion, the sort of emotion that pushes me to mumble to myself and to start a new file on my computer.

There is something I have wanted to say for a while about big-time college athletics, but it is one of those weird thoughts that is both blindingly obvious and strangely difficult to put into words. That’s why I had never written it before. It was reading Michael’s piece, and this sentence in particular — “If we wanted to be completely fair, then football and basketball players would not be forced to subsidize non-revenue athletes” — that opened the door. It has been a long time since I read a sentence I more strongly disagreed with.

And that led to the words that form the heart of this piece … words that, I have to say, surprised me: “College athletics are NOT about the players.”

You are more than welcome to stop reading now.

* * *

What is the question here? Let’s talk about this for a second here before moving to the big point. Most people frame the question like so: Should the best college athletes in the most successful sports be paid for all the hard work they put in and for all the revenue they help generate at colleges across America?

When the question is framed like that, it’s hard to see how there are two sides to the argument: OF COURSE they should get paid. This is America.

But, really, that’s not the question, is it? I hate to bring up this old bit, but to get where we are going I must: Big time athletes do get paid. They get free college tuition. We all used to believe that was worth something (parents of college aged kids know that it’s worth something). They get room and board. At the kinds of schools we are talking about, they get incredible facilities to train, the best coaching available (how much does it cost just to send your child to one of these coach’s CAMPS?), public relations machines to help them build their brand, national exposure, free travel, the best doctors, direct access to the professional ranks, youthful fame that can open doors for the rest of their lives, priceless experiences and so on. How much do you think parents would pay to send their son to play four years of basketball at Duke for Mike Krzyzewski? Is there a price tag you could put on that?

I’m not saying this to make any point except that the question has to be asked the right way. The question is: Should big-time college athletes (in the revenue producing sports, of course) get paid MORE than they do now?

I have long thought: Yes. They should. I’ve never believed in amateurism for amateurism’s sake. I’ve never bought into the notion that by keeping money away from players you are doing them favors. The arcane rules of the NCAA drive me mad, just like they drive Andy Staples and everyone else made. The occasional story that comes out about schools getting in trouble for paying the plane fare to send a player home to him grandmother’s funeral, or anything like that, makes me so angry I wish the whole system was burned to the ground. I have long wished they could at least give players a stipend or something.

But here is my problem: Every time I read another story about WHY star players should get paid more — and remember, we are almost always talking only about the stars, almost always talking about a few dozen players scattered across America — I come away feeling more and more like they should not. The biggest argument for paying the athletes comes down to this: College players (those stars especially) are the reason why these schools are generating so much money and so they deserve a much bigger piece of the pie. These sports are ABOUT them.

And you know what? I totally, completely, utterly and thoroughly disagree with that.

Ask yourself this: What would happen if tomorrow every single player on the Auburn football team quit and re-formed as a professional team called the Birmingham Bandits. Who would go to their games? Anyone? How much would those talented young men get paid?

Ask yourself this: What would happen if all the ACC basketball schools dropped their players and replaced them with Division II talent? Would North Carolina-Duke suddenly play in empty arenas?

Ask yourself this: Say the first, second and third All-America Teams in college football tomorrow went into the NFL. They just left. How many fewer fans would the college games draw? How many fewer people would watch Texas and Tennessee and Iowa?

Ask yourself this: Why do we care about college football? We know that the skill level in college football is vastly inferior to the skill level of NFL teams. Heck many Heisman Trophy winners are not even NFL prospects. Yet, by the millions, we watch. We cheer. We buy. We rejoice. We gripe. We wear. We eat. We live it. Many of us even argue that we PREFER the quality and style of college to pro, we LIKE watching those games more. But is it the quality and style we prefer or is it passion, youth, exuberance and that we feel closer to the game?

No, college athletics is not ABOUT the players. College athletics is FOR the players, but that’s a different thing, and that’s a distinction we don’t often make. College football only works on this grand scale, I believe, because it’s about the colleges. The alumni connect to it. The people in the town connect to it. The people in the state connect to it. People are proud of their connection to the University of South Carolina and Clemson, they are inspired by Alabama and Auburn, Penn State and Notre Dame and Stanford, they identify themselves through Missouri and Wisconsin and Florida and Texas A&M. The players matter because they chose those schools, they play for those schools, they win for those schools and they lose for those schools too. Everyone, of course, wants them to be the best players available, and some are willing to cheat the current system to get those players. But soon the players move on, and the love affair continues, just as strong, just as vital. The CONNECTION is what drives college football.

Otherwise, without that connection, it’s just football that isn’t nearly as well-played as the NFL.

Big-time college football … big-time college basketball … these are about the schools that play them. They are about the institutions, the campuses, the landmarks, being young — the front of the jersey and not the back, as coaches love to say. This connection — fan to college — is at its strongest with sports. People might get irritated when the alumni fundraisers find them at their new address (how do they always find me?). They might not want to send in money to build a better library. But they’ll buy sweatshirts, and they’ll buy tickets, and they’ll travel to bowl games, and they’ll pay for pay-per-view, and they’ll take a chartered bus to a subregional in Tulsa. This direct line to sports is how they support — and how they love — their school.

So it seems obvious to me that the money from football — revenue-driving basketball too — should go to offer more and better opportunities at those colleges. That should be its singular purpose. The money from football — as much of it as possible — should pay for talented young tennis players to go to that school. It should pay to give opportunities to gifted swimmers, dedicated runners, hard-working volleyball players and so on. The point is not how many people watch those athletes play, or how many people care about the sports they play. The point is about opportunity and education and developing people and creating a richer environment at the school. My friend Mechelle Voepel was just telling me about Caton Hill — have you heard of her? She played basketball at Oklahoma. She’s now a flight surgeon in the Army, and she says basketball helped her get there. How many stories are there like that from softball and track and lacrosse and all the rest. If football is pulling in all this cash and is not offering those kinds of chances, if it is not making the colleges better places, then who needs it?

Michael in his piece does not say that the schools should pay the players — at least for now. No, he makes the argument that basically they should allow boosters to pay the players, and allow the players to take whatever money and benefits and endorsements they can get. I can only imagine a college sport where high school kids hire agents and send them from school to school to cut the best deal they can make with various car dealers, CEOs and tattoo-parlor owners. I can only imagine how many people will take the money they normally give to the school and instead spend it to get a running back they can call their very own. Maybe they can have the players wear a little patch on their shoulders with the name of the booster who gave the player the money to come to the school. That touchdown was scored by Tommy Tutone and brought to you by Bob’s Trucking.

But, even that doesn’t bother me much. I’m all for the NCAA loosening up on the rules. No, it’s the larger point. Schools are drowning NOW. I have good friends, both of them have good jobs, both of them have saved responsibly, and they have no idea how they can afford to send all three of their kids to college. No idea. And their kids are smart, they’re getting some scholarship money, but the price is still overwhelming. Look around: Schools are slashing sports. They are raising tuition prices. They are cutting scholarships. Meanwhile college football and basketball — especially football — has become an arms race, with insane salaries being paid to coaches, and cathedrals built for weight training, and video equipment that the Pentagon would envy.

I’m not sure how you stop that. Maybe you can’t stop it. Maybe you don’t even want to stop it … that’s a whole other topic. But paying the stars seems to be sending college football careening away from anything close to the point. College football is not popular because of the stars. College football is popular because of that first word. Take away the college part, add in money, and you are left with professional minor league football and a developmental basketball league. See how many people go watch that.

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91 Responses to The College Connection

  1. Josh says:

    Those coaches who love to say that sports is about the front of the jersey and not the back — does anyone know if they get paid?

  2. tarhoosier says:

    Why should a college team require players to be students? I have never understood that. Just have the university find the best players they can, compete in recruiting PLAYERS, and if a few want to be students, great. But put on a team with players who represent the university, without the requirement they be students (which many of them are not now anyway), pay them, make it honest and real and go from there.

  3. Mike says:

    Awesome post, Joe. You really changed my mind about this.

    College players need the colleges more than the colleges need them. College basketball didn’t collapse because LeBron James skipped to the pros. Ohio State found ways to lose bowl games without Maurice Clarett. There are only a handful of players who would get more money on a “free market” than the cost of their scholarship. I see no reason to burn the entire edifice down for their benefit. For almost all college athletes, athletics are an opportunity for education, not vice versa. Graduation rates for athletes are high outside of the money sports (which don’t actually make money for most schools; they lose money). Why should a few hundred kids not get scholarships so that Can Newton can make a few million?

  4. Robert says:

    I largely agree with you, Joe…but college football isn’t REALLY about the alumni and their deep-rooted connection to the schools. What drives big money in college football is winning and supplementing your 25,000 die-hards, the folks that are there in the rain when the team is 2-7, with thousands of fans that have no connection to the school outside of perhaps geography. Winning leads to donation dollars and big ticket prices. The need to win leads to building training palaces and great housing for the athletes, and it doesn’t take long to spiral into the arms race of today.

  5. Robert says:

    Also, paying players would do more harm that good, but the college level in general does need to maintain a minimum standard of play. How many national finals played as poorly as UConn-Butler would it take for casual fans to start tuning out? If the TV money goes, the whole system breaks.

  6. matt says:

    Players should be students. Otherwise, what’s the point of having it be a college team? Then it’s no different than a local club team. I’m all for having players getting endorsements and the like, but I see no reason to strip them of the education part. The fact that many college athletes don’t want to be students is a totally different problem.

    Colleges need to adapt to the fact that the best athletes aren’t going to be around to graduate (for the most part). I think colleges could easily put in an athletic associates degree that was more geared for what high profile athletes need to learn (i.e. extreme money management, PR, broadcasting, etc) rather than having “undeclared” senior football players, who have no interest in graduating (or dumbing down other majors so that they’re more accessible for big time athletes, who have to deal with a 40+ hour commitment on the side). Then schools would be giving athletes tools they *need* instead of pretending that the education is worth so much.

    My other point is colleges can lower the cost of non-revenue sports. There’s no reason the softball team needs to fly around the country every weekend. Conferences are getting more and more spread out. That’s fine for football and to a slightly lesser extent basketball. Those sports bring in enough to justify inanely high budgets (but even with all the money football teams bring in, most lose money going to bowl games…but that’s a different story). But there’s no reason that sports should be cut when they could just be cut back. If that means there’s only one national swimming meet a year, so be it. Most swimming powerhouses are concentrated in two geographic locales anyways (California and the southeast).

    The bottom line is I think reducing the costs of non-revenue producing sports would help balance the budget of most athletic departments. I also think college athletes should be able to get sponsored and represented. The biggest problem with agents and college athletics currently is that everything happens under the table. Because it’s against the rules, people operate in sketchy handshake cash and promises instead of legally binding contracts that would clean up the sport (and ironically, make it easier to monitor).

    Schools shouldn’t pay athletes directly, but the NCAA shouldn’t keep a local business from putting an athlete on a TV commercial (or coming to an event and signing autographs). How does that hurt college athletics?

  7. Justin says:

    Naturally, and as usual, you nailed it, Joe. I would add only a couple of alternative ways of looking at some of the points you raise:

    1. Any discussion of whether college athletes should be compensated should begin with an acknowledgement of the fact that college athletes receive free room & board and a free college education, and ask whether college athletes should receive additional compensation. (And should acknowledge that most colleges lose money on their athletic programs.)

    2. Any discussion of whether college athletes should be compensated should begin with an acknowledgement that college athletes are college athletes and ask whether public institutions of higher education (such as the University of Alabama, where I teach) should be in the business of fielding professional sports teams. That the answer to this question is “no” is so obvious that there is no need to even discuss where the money would come from. Institutions of higher education should be in the business of creating a educated, well-rounded graduates. Athletic programs are clearly a part of this, but not at a professional level. Any such use of any funds for professional athletics would be a misappropriation of scarce financial resources.

  8. David Tokarz says:

    I don’t really comment here much, but I figured I’d give it a shot on this issue in particular.

    Last year, Wake Forest had a conference called “Losing To Win”, which was about college athletics and race. You can imagine it was pretty diverse, but the panel that stuck with me featured Alphonso Smith (’09), cornerback with the Lions. He brought one of the sheets that Wake used to recruit him; it featured graduation rates for Division 1 football players. Duke led the ACC at 100%, Wake was second with 92%, and the rest were… let’s just say less than acceptable. If we were going on pass/fail rates (like the kinds I faced in class) only about a third of ACC schools would pass.

    So my question: we may be paying these kids to play in the form of training and coaching, but even Joe’s perspective acknowledges that the college education is a pretty big part of that salary. And yet most colleges don’t care whether their players go to class or graduate (at least evidenced by those rates). So how are these colleges helping to create well rounded graduates if the time that goes into keeping athletes on track for graduating is minimal?

  9. Chris W says:

    Joe, I’m sad to see you take up the argument that being given something for free that costs other people money should be considered “getting paid”. Especially considering that based on NCAA football and basketball rules a lot of players aren’t going to college as a service to themselves, but as a service to the NCAA.

    It would be like if coming out of college, the most highly pursued “amateur sportswriter” in the nation were forced to work for 1-3 years with no financial remuneration, but for room and board and a Country Club membership. Would you call that “getting paid” by the publication they work for just because some people pay 40k a year to belong to country clubs? No way! Now imagine that

    A.) the publication they work for OWNS that country club and thus allowing the sportswriter to join it doesn’t really cost the publication 40k since there is really no opportunity cost tradeoff, just the minimal upkeep costs associated with one extra member

    B.) if that sportswriter weren’t forced by the rules to work for free, any publication in the country would be willing to pay him hundreds of thousands of dollars to write for them.

    It really saddens me to see you touting this “scholarships are the same as getting paid whatever tuition costs” nonsense and I hope you’ll reconsider your position on it.

  10. Chris W says:

    Also, your argument that college sports are not about the players…while it is true, is flawed as well.

    Even without the benefit of an above the board “open market” the demand surrounding the top college players is so overwhelming that people find ways to pay them below the board. Sure, if they all quit, the show would go on, but that is only because the NCAA has created an artificial monopoly on 18-21 year old, eg, football players.

    With the labor struggles in the NBA and NFL this really shows the absolute strongarm of the NCAA in a ridiculously glaring light. NFL players, we can agree, are the most replaceable of all American pro sports. If during thr lockout all NFL decided to quit, the NFL would be back to normal within the decade, most likely.

    But what would happen if those NFL players quit? Most likely Brees, Brady, Manning, et al would find a way to start a smaller professional league that would have a fighting chance to compete with the NFL. It would probably fail, but it would be their right to try and fail.

    So what we’re looking at is a situation where college football players are clearly worth huge amounts of money to their university, since boosters will pay them that despite the boosters being under no obligation to AND not really being allowed to. And the way you refute that importance is to beg the question “the ncaa hamstrings the players so they can’t go anywhere else and so if they went anywhere else as a threat to the ncaa, the ncaa would find new player to hamstring.”

    That strikes me as a particularly weak argument

  11. Mike says:

    One other thing: the NCAA really needs to adapt a de minimis rule for violations in which they would basically ignore violations that are trivial in value (< $50). A recruiter giving kid a ride is no in the same league as someone buying a kid a car.

  12. Jim M says:

    Jay Bilas speaks on Twitter about this a lot, and basically says that the NCAA should adopt the Olympic model of amateurism. If a college athlete can get an endorsement deal, that athlete should be able to get paid for it.

    Also, there are many students on full ride academic scholarships that are allowed to take money for projects, like the example Rosenberg had in his article about a USC film student being paid to direct a movie. If that film student was on a full scholarship (tuition, books, room/board) just like a football player, why is the film student allowed to profit and the football player is not?

  13. Levarkin says:

    You say the real value in college athletics comes from the school (its tradition, stature, etc.), not from the players (“No, college athletics is not ABOUT the players.”). You might be right. But if you are right, and the players are completely replaceable, is it not strange how much the top schools compete for them? How much they funnel under the table, how much they risk to get not just A guy but THE BEST guy? If anyone who can throw a football is worth millions in a Texas A&M jersey, then you’d think they’d spare themselves the trouble.

    But let’s say you wanted to know for sure: is this about the school or the players? Well, how do you find out? An open market, with competition over wages, just like there’s currently competition over every other form of compensation. I’m pretty sure the school won’t pay more than they have to.

  14. Tim says:

    You make some good points, Joe–but Chris W, above, makes better points. I can’t say it any better than he did, so I won’t try.

    In addition, I’d like to make another (probably unpopular) point. Post-secondary education is a losing proposition for many people, not just the players who are unable to leverage their talents during prime earning years. James Altucher makes the point well on his blog:

    “I won’t be spending $104,000 per child when my children, ages 10 and 7, decide to go to college. College costs have historically gone up much faster than inflation. Since 1978, cost of living has gone up three-fold. Medical costs, much to the horror of everyone in Congress, has gone up six-fold. And college education has gone up a whopping tenfold.”

    And my favorite post here: “So it disturbs me when people cling to the notion of going to college like its the holiest water down from God, come to bless them. Seriously, you could walk around and say, “Jesus never lived,” and people nod their heads and say, “ok, there is religious freedom in America and what he just said is fine,” but if you say “kids should not go to college” its like you breached the highest, holiest, divine hymen of American religion.”

    -3rd Period Points

  15. Miles Grant says:

    You do realize that the touchdown scored by Tommy Tutone is currently and for decades has been brought to you by Bob’s Trucking, right? It’s just that the schools cash the check. I don’t get how we’re supposed to think the schools cashing the check is our last line of defense against moral turpitude, while players cashing the checks would turn college athletics into a wasteland of corruption.

  16. Bill says:

    By the way, as a college athlete I can say that athletes can legally get a pretty decent stipend (it’s technically in lieu of the expensive meal plan, since most don’t want to eat cafeteria food for 4-5 years), along with money for things such as clothing allowances.
    Your point about the association of the teams with the school is true; it’s the main factor that allows the NCAA to support college athletics at such a high level, far beyond what any other country offers. The rest of the world essentially follows the Birmingham Bandits model with club teams, and it’s quite a different system. Some of the large clubs Barcelonas) can have good financial and fan support, but most are much more modest.

  17. LD says:

    Lots of misplaced values in these comments. You go to college to prepare you for adulthood, when you presumably have learned enough skills to begin your career. It just so happens that a small percentage of these athletes are good enough to be paid professionally for their skills, which by definition means adulthood should begin for them in college. Except, we have this patronizing NCAA infrastructure … based on anachronistic 19th century Victorian values, by the way … that somehow a college athlete making money is wrong. Bullshit. Rosenberg’s analogy that a screenwriter at USC can sell a film to Paramount and get a nice chunk of change while still enrolled in school is apt. We live in America. If I have a product that someone’s willing to pay for, I’m gonna sell it. If that product is football, then so be it. If that product is a film, so be it. To split hairs because someone is tied to an academic institution is not only intellectually dishonest, it’s immoral.

    Tim Tebow didn’t just make millions for Florida, he made millions for the NCAA, ESPN, EA Sports, etc. I guess that’s OK with a lot of you. It’s not OK with me. I think I think every college athlete should have a trust established in their name, so that if anything in their likeness is sold, they get a cut. Florida’s #15 is NOT being sold because people like UF and can’t get enough of the number 15. No, it’s Tebow. So, pay him. You can make a rule that he can only get some small percentage of that money until some predetermined time (say 30 years old or 5 years after his class graduates), when he has access to all of it. Essentially, annuitize what’s rightfully his. Same rule for volleyball players, basketball players, soccer players, etc. To deny them this money that they earned is pointedly and willfully un-American. Grow up.

  18. Edward says:

    The big issue I have with the pay-for-play conundrum is this: Do we allow students with academic scholarships/grants to work while they’re in school so they can make extra money? Why… yes. Yes we do.

    A scholarship is a scholarship. If Joe Smith with an academic scholarship is studying pre-med and also has a work-study job on campus at the university hospital to make money (and oh, by the way, also get some job experience), how is this different than a tennis player on an athletic half-scholarship who is somehow banned from working, or else they risk losing the scholarship entirely?

    Yes, I know when we talk about this issue, we really mean paying the high-profile players in the high-profile sports. But as has been mentioned, if you’re going down the athlete stipend road, you have to dole out cash to everyone to avoid the class-action lawsuits. Now, if you framed the argument as “We can’t afford to give stipends to all 325 of our college athletes, so we’re not paying anyone,” that’s a different thing. But in that case, Do you punish the athletes who choose to get side jobs so they can go out a couple of times a week?

  19. Pattington says:

    I just wanted to echo what you wrote at the top of the piece: these athletes DO get paid! Tuition, room/board, etc. etc. Every time I hear the argument student-athletes should be paid, that’s what I always scream from the top of my lungs. Joe said it more eloquently, as usual.

  20. Joe, in the last paragraph you write, “I’m not sure how you stop that. Maybe you can’t stop it. Maybe you don’t even want to stop it … that’s a whole other topic.”

    I want to stop it — I think that overcommercialization and overentertainment are killing America. But maybe we can’t stop it, maybe we’re really out of control here.

  21. pokerpeaker says:

    As proof of your excellent point, I was irritated when you left out Kansas. I would not even remotely feel that way about the Chiefs or the Royals.

  22. Matt says:

    It seems silly to me to get all up in arms about the situation, and to say that it’s somehow “morally wrong” to not let college athletes get paid. I don’t have strong feelings either way, other than thinking the NCAA is incompetent and inflexible, but to say that the situation is un-American and morally wrong is silly.

    The players themselves have the choice whether to go to college and play or not, don’t they? If the situation were really so egregious that it was not worth it for them to go to college, then they wouldn’t. They would go train on their own for three years (really, we’re most concerned with football here, since basketball it’s even easier to skip college, and even more so for other sports) and get ready for the pros. Obviously, they don’t, because even with the indentured servitude of the NCAA, it’s still worth it for them to go to college.

    Chris W’s example is a straw man, because the amateur sportswriter is not “forced” to work under those conditions. If he doesn’t want to work for those remunerations, then he is free to find another job! Stuff like Chris W’s example happens all the time — a college grad takes an internship, or starts out at the lowest levels of a law office, with the hopes of someday making bundles as a partner. Of course he is not getting paid his fair share, and the partners are getting paid many times what they should, compared to the work they do. But we understand that this is “how the system works,” as we like to say. The big boys (the NCAA, or the owners of a business) make the money while the underlings do the work. Is not this the American way?

  23. Vidor says:

    Little bit disappointed that Joe comes out in favor of indentured servitude. Disappointed that Joe and others are so willing to force 18-year-old athletes into serfdom, a situation that Joe and others certainly wouldn’t accept for tgemselves.

  24. David says:

    In many parts of the world you have sporting clubs that connect most of the pieces we’re talking about:

    1) Staging games
    2) Generating marketing & TV revenue
    3) Recruiting and developing young athletes
    4) Giving drunken fans a colored jersey to wear

    The only missing piece? THEY AREN’T UNIVERSITIES! A rich guy or consortium of rich guys own them, and everything is simple. It could happen in America, too–just authorize the boosters to field football and basketball teams, instead of the universities, and let them cut a TV deal. Too bad that the NCAA, conferences and TV networks are making way too much money to jettison the long-dead amateur ideal that they’re hiding behind.

  25. Chris W says:


    It is NOT a strawman for that very reason you mentioned. I can’t believe you can’t see that. If a sportswriter is valuable enough to work professionally, you’re absolutely able to find a paying job in your chosen field,provided someone is willing to pay you.

    We know FOR A FACT that the NBA is willing to pay 18 year olds to play basketball out of high school, but the NCAA in partnership with the NBA has put a rule in place that BARS them from playing professionally in their own country when there are clearly people who would pay them to play.

    Let me reiterate my example in the hopes you won’t misunderstand again: it would be like IF THERE WERE A RULE IN PLACE forcing sportswriters to work for free for three years if they wanted to be a professional sportswriters. The fact that unpaid internships exist is an incredibly specious argument, because no one is forced to take an unpaid internship or work in another field. Conversely, if you want to play basketball in this country after high school and someday make a living doing that YOU HAVE TO go to college so they can make millions of dollars off your free labor.


    Giving someone something for free is not “paying them” by any stretch of the imagination. It is compensation, but if someone doesn’t want that free thing, it hardly should be considered compensation. If the rules that exist didn’t exist John Wall would have had no interest in ever goinq to college at Memphis. So since the NCAA restricts his right to make money, we are supposed to play make believe that he is “being paid” when the university gives him something for free he doesn’t want? Give me a break

  26. Rich Cain says:

    Most college fans’ connection to the schools is through the football or basketball team. Most college fans never attended their favorite school. Is this really what college sports should be about or whom it should be for? If college sports are truly FOR the players, then why do the schools pay such outrageous salaries to the coaches? What about administrators who game the system so they can collect five and sometimes six figure bonuses when the football team goes to a bowl game? We can write entire books about the utter corruption of the college bowl system (Oh, wait. Someone has already written that book).

    The colleges have professionalized everything about football and basketball except the players. When the colleges stop acting as professional leagues, then it will be appropriate to stop advocating for allowing players to earn money.

    If it’s simply the CONNECTION that drives college football, then it shouldn’t matter who the coach is just as it shouldn’t matter whom the players are. Coaches love to say it’s about the front of the jersey, not the back. Yet coaches constantly bring attention to themselves with childish sideline antics, emotional outbursts in press conferences, and weekly coaches shows. Many coaches take well-paid speaking engagements too. How much of that money they earn from speaking at the Rotary club goes back into the University’s general fund?

    The argument that allowing players to earn money through endorsements and sponsorships would somehow mean college sports are no longer college sports is specious. If it truly is about the COLLEGE and not the player, then how does a player making money change that?

    I find this view of Joe’s to be an anachronistic romantic notion that is at odds with what is morally right. There is no moral standard that allows for the current system. There is TOO much money involved. A very big reason football is so expensive is because of coaching salaries. These guys don’t even have to be educators anymore. The coaches’ only connection to the schools is that they have to go on campus to do their work. Stadiums are full of advertising. You can’t walk three feet without being hit by some kind of ‘message’. Games are constantly interrupted for the live audience by TV timeouts. Nothing robs a game of excitement more than that. Imagine sitting in a stadium with 90,000 other fans. Your team just intercepted a pass and returned it to the ten-yard line. Exciting! Let’s punch it in, Team! Oh, wait. Everybody sit down for three minutes while our TV ‘partner’ runs some commercials. How many infernal commercial breaks does CBS take during the tournament? The last two minutes of a tournament game take up to 30 minutes to complete primarily because CBS forces timeouts on nearly every dead ball at that point in the game. Is that what college sport should be about?

    Consider this: the scholarship is not guaranteed for four years. The coaches can pull a player’s scholarship at any time for almost any reason including ineffective play. The school is under NO obligation to honor its promise to the player. But the player MUST honor his promise to play. He can’t leave a school and transfer without the coach’s permission. And even then he must sit out a full season before he can play again.

    The colleges have already sold their soles for money in the name of providing opportunity. That is the truly bogus argument. They have taken the easy way out by taking TV money and becoming beholden to ESPN’s and CBS’s scheduling whims. They have forsaken the hard work of real fund raising that could sustain the opportunities of the non-revenue sports. Instead of asking boosters for money to build an unneeded but larger weight room, why not ask those boosters to really show their love for the school by making a donation to fund the field hockey team or the wrestling team?

  27. Rich Cain says:

    Allowing the players to make money outside the university would not tear down the ‘edifice’ as Mike postulates. Schools don’t have to pay star players, Mike. Levelheaded people don’t push for this. We are saying that athletes ought to be allowed to pursue earning potential just like students on drama scholarships or music scholarships or academic scholarships. Nobody restricts what they can earn.

    Schools have to pay graduate students who serve as research assistants. This is a competitive environment in which programs have to compete to get the best students; not very different from athletics. The difference is that these students are paid.

    Regarding the false argument that players already receive free room and board and tuition so they don’t deserve further compensation: any scholarship student, be they academic, music, drama, etc, receives those same benefits. The difference: they can make money away from school. Only athletes are restricted from doing so.

    Justin, I hate to break it to you, but the University of Alabama already fields a professional football team. Your coach makes more money than most NFL coaches. They simply don’t pay the players as such. Everything else about that program is professional in nature.

    Regarding graduation rates: the graduation rates for athletes are actually higher than for non-athletes at many schools. Some schools are better at this than others. Some schools don’t care too much whether their athletes graduate. I would argue that these schools are inferior in other ways as well.

    There should be only these rules for player eligibility:
    The player must qualify academically.
    The player must be a full time student making reasonable progress toward a degree.
    The player gets four years of eligibility to play with consideration for injury adding an extra year.

  28. Chris W says:

    Check that. John Wall went to UK. Rose was at Memphis

  29. Tampa Mike says:

    Awesome Joe! I have been saying this for a long time. The point of amateurism in athletics is for the benefit of the schools and students and isn’t about screwing the players because they can. Football and basketball pay for tennis, swimming, volleyball, etc. Allowing boosters to pay players isn’t a good idea either, because that will stop money coming into the universities that can be used for other good things. I know this has been lost in these days of media hype and everything, but a universities responsibility lies in education and the students and the athletic departments are second to that.

    I think the best part about college football IS the fact that it isn’t about the players. People will support their school year in and year out regardless of who is playing. Auburn would have packed the stadium week after week even if Cam Newton had gone to Mississippi State. They will pack the stadium week after week year after year because people are fans of Auburn.

    I know I am old school, but I would like to see money limits placed on coaches because that money should go to scholarships as well. All the limits on what players can receive are there because boosters would go crazy exploiting loopholes.

  30. David says:

    If we asked Manchester United to field a world-class astrophysics department, people would call it ridiculous. And they’d be right. Outsource “Oregon Ducks” football and basketball rights to Phil Knight, and everything would go on as usual in the minds of most fans without the divided duty that is really hurting educational institutions.

    Oh, and Chris–until you’ve worked in newspapers I wouldn’t lean too hard on that analogy. Being an entry level reporter makes indentured servitude sound good. At least they get fed.

  31. Chris W says:

    All, I’m saying, David, is that although many journalists are forced to put in hard work in no-paying gigs, if a college kids draws the attention of the New York Times, eg, there is no rule that says he HAS to work for free. OTOH, the John Wall’s, Kevin Durants and Grego Odens of the world would habe been making millions out of high school if there weren’t a rule forbidding them from taking the money pro teams would have been lining up to pay them.

    I think it’s a fairly lean-onable analogy

  32. Linus says:

    Matt said “It seems silly to me to get all up in arms about the situation, and to say that it’s somehow “morally wrong” to not let college athletes get paid. I don’t have strong feelings either way, other than thinking the NCAA is incompetent and inflexible, but to say that the situation is un-American and morally wrong is silly.

    The players themselves have the choice whether to go to college and play or not, don’t they? If the situation were really so egregious that it was not worth it for them to go to college, then they wouldn’t.”

    This comment is silly. A situation can be horrible, and morally wrong, and STILL be better than the alternative. The fact that it’s better than the alternative (not going to college) doesn’t mean everything must be hunky-dory.

    I don’t think the schools ought to pay extra, but I do think it’s wrong to forbid the student-athlete from being paid by a 3rd party when other students are not so forbidden. “Well, that just means the boosters around the country will get into a bidding war…” Boo hoo. So what? There are already recruiting battles, this just adds money as a factor. So what? This money will actually go into the pocket of the student being recruited, rather than accrue to him in some mystical way, the way “tradition” and state-of-the-art facilities do.

  33. tomemos says:

    “What would happen if tomorrow every single player on the Auburn football team quit and re-formed as a professional team called the Birmingham Bandits. Who would go to their games? Anyone? How much would those talented young men get paid?”

    Rather than an argument for not paying college players, this seems like an argument for not paying professional players. After all, people go to Yankees games in part because of the Yankees brand. Why should the players get compensated for the value the Yankees brand gives them?

    But in fact the quality of play self-evidently makes a huge difference. Otherwise there wouldn’t be schools that used to be big in football or baseball but now are no longer (because they no longer play well), nor schools which never had big programs but now do (because recently they’ve been playing much better).

    And, as others point out, to endorse your argument you basically have to believe that coaches are paid millions of dollars for no reason whatsoever, since people would come to the games regardless.

  34. tomemos says:

    (“football and baseball” should obviously be “football and BASKETball”; baseball is no cash cow)

  35. Mark says:

    Wow! The BRs are in great form today.

    If I may throw something out there, lets say Joe’s point is correct – that the draw of college football is the COLLEGE itself, as opposed to the players. People will always root for Auburn, no matter who is playing for them, because of the “connection” between the school and groups like alumni, locals, tv fans, etc. Do I have that right?

    If this is true than colleges can save a ton of money tomorrow. Eliminate scholarships.

    Get rid of them.

    Can someone please explain to me why, with colleges now trying to survive the worst financial crunch in their history (even in flush times, as several perceptive BRs pointed out, most athletic departments routinely run deficits – the problem now is the college itself cannot balance its books)that they are shelling out god knows how much money in athletic scholarships for ENTERTAINMENT not EDUCATIONAL purposes?

    So get rid of them. Having a winning football team is no part of a college’s academic mission. The cost savings would be enormous. And that money could be used to help deserving, but poor, students get a chance at a higher education.

    Obviously, this would effect the quality of play on the field. And it would not stop the cheating in big time sports that goes on now. But so what? If what Joe says is true, it won’t make any difference. The alumni will still contribute, fans will still come, fans will still watch. Would Michigan-Ohio State be any less compelling without scholarships?

  36. Paul Franz says:

    At the end of the piece Joe gets to the real heart of the problem: American Colleges and Universities are dying in an over-commercialized educational landscape. We’ve shifted, as a nation, away from the philosophy that a critical-thinking education is a right and, what’s more, something that is important for citizens to have. Instead we’ve come to understand that education is something you only deserve if you can afford, and that the goal of education is not to become learned, but to have a degree for better job placement. The college athlete pay question is only a small part of the picture.

  37. Jamie says:

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, Joe. A friend of mine works in fundraising for a small Midwest university. Before that, she worked for a much larger Big Ten school in the same capacity. You know who RARELY donates money to the school…athletes. Yes, I am aware my evidence is anecdotal. The larger point is, these kids are already getting paid. And Tim Tebow is doing quite fine for himself now that his college days are a distant memory.

    Why aren’t we talking about paying future high-quality teachers or engineers or hell, doctors or researchers or whatever, while they are in college. Some get scholarships and grants…but they don’t get paid.

    I was never a star athlete, neither am I a rocket surgeon. But I am pretty sure I am smart enough and love sports enough to recognize that these athletes eventually get what they have coming to them. However arcane and flawed the NCAA is, at the very least, the entity gets this piece right.

  38. Chris W says:

    And if Tim Tebow had gotten injured his senior year in a sport where career ending injuries are incredibly common, he would have been left with nothing but a partial college education. Now, you might say that is no different from your average non-athlete, but the difference is that non-athletes are generally not in high demand to advertise products or play games for big money, nor are non-athletes forced to turn down these selfsame opportunities.

  39. Ed says:

    @Chris W:

    I agree with you that the rules banning players from going pro straight out of high school in basketball and football shouldn’t exist. If a player wants to try to go straight from high school, let them! And I also think they should be allowed to get endorsement deals.

    However, the arguments in favor of actually having the universities (or even boosters) paying college football and basketball players (as long as they are allowed to go straight from high school) don’t make any sense to me. They are getting adequate compensation with their scholarships, and their facilities, and the training they receive in what they are hoping will be their profession. Since they would be free to try to go pro if they wanted, nobody would be forcing them to the college system, and so the claims of “indentured servitude” would be absurd.

  40. Vidor says:

    “Since they would be free to try to go pro if they wanted”

    But they aren’t, and the same people who are against compensating them fairly, or allowing them to earn outside compensation, are also against allowing them to bypass college.

  41. jim says:

    “Ask yourself this: What would happen if all the ACC basketball schools dropped their players and replaced them with Division II talent? Would North Carolina-Duke suddenly play in empty arenas?”

    I don’t think the answer to this is nearly as obvious as you rhetorically imply. While I’m only speculating, I imagine most UNC/Duke “non-revenue sports” (including women’s bball) are played to essentially empty arenas. I don’t know how many show up for the big, annual UNC/Duke men’s football game, but I know one thing that doesn’t show up: ESPN Game Day. Or virtually any national media presence. You say people care about the “revenue sports” because its a connection to the school. This seems like a reasonable hypothesis. But if UNC/Duke was a Division II rivalry, I imagine alums would simply choose some other connection to the school. And that the teams would, in fact, play in front of empty arenas. Look at e.g., the Ivy Leagues. Lots of school spirit, lots of active alums. Virtually all sports played in low capacity gyms (gyms! not even arenas).

  42. huskercub says:

    Not sure if someone posted this already – I didn’t see it while glancing through the comments – but I believe that athletes receive a $300 stipend a month IN ADDITION to getting their education paid for. Now, not every player in every sport gets a full ride (college baseball has something like 11.7 scholarships a year), but each athlete on scholarship is getting quite an opportunity to take advantage of a discounted or even free college education to prepare for life after college or professional sports. We should all be so lucky. Yeah, some people are making a killing off all the revenue from the football and basketball especially, but how is that different from any large corporation making money off its employees? The players are being well-compensated even if they can’t see it in a paycheck.

  43. Rich Cain says:

    The music major on scholarship gets a great opportunity for an education and is getting ‘paid’ with a scholarship, room/board, etc. But that person isn’t barred from making extra money with his or her talent. Nobody stops a music major from playing for money on the weekend. Why should athletes be any different?

  44. Chris W says:


    The difference is that if you are working for a large corporation you CAN see it in your paycheck. And if you don’t like how much it’s showing up in your paycheck you can work for another company that wants you more than your current company and will pay accordingy.

    NCAA athletes are RESTRICTED from going to those other companies that want them more and will pay them more (whether it be another college, whose boosters are willing to buy you a house to go to their school or the professional leagues who–at least in the case of the NBA–have shown themselves more than willing to take players out of high school if they have the talent)

  45. Chris W says:

    I think what bothers me most about Joe’s POV here is that he’s saying “Sure, I admit it’s patently unfair and probably unethical, but it’s not QUITE as immoral as some peope think, and anyway, the NCAA has them iver a barrel, so why fix things?”

    Kind of an uncharacteristic perspective coming from the most thoughtful and evenhanded sportswriter in the country

  46. Unknown says:

    I am having a hard time sharing the outrage from Chris W. over the situation. It is not the NCAA that is preventing the NBA from paying 18 year olds (and in fact the NCAA could not legally stop this.) It is the NBA, in conjunction with its own players union, that has put in its own rule to disallow this.

    That still leaves an 18 year old with the alternatives to NCAA basketball of:
    – Play professionally in the NBA D league
    – Play professionally overseas
    – Spend the year hanging out at the local Y shooting hoops while paying for food, coaching, training facilities, medical insurance, etc..
    Or they can choose to play for a college, and agree to the terms of the agreement. If you totally discount the value of the education and just focus on the other benefits ( free room and board, coaching, training, publicity, etc..) then in any given year there are a handful of guys who are worse off by playing in NCAA. And again they are all free to be like Brandon Jennings and get paid somewhere else.

  47. Chris W says:

    First, the NBA is doing this in conjunction with the NCAA.

    Second, all your alternatives are valid but beside the point, which is that the rule says they are not allowed to work at a job they are qualified for and which wants to hire them. Further, ask Brandon Jennings about how seriously the NBA takes going to Europe as a viable alternative. It costs him millions he likely would have had if the rule had not forced him to go overseas to make a living (and just listen to that phrase…go overseas to be paid)

    Finally I’m not outraged. How could I be. These players make more in a year than I will in my life. But I’m not going to pretend defacto requirements to play for free in order to eventually get paid the money they command is fair, nor am I going to pretend that giving them a service that they want is paying them just because other players who are not them might desire that service

  48. Chris W says:

    Pardon me…a service they DON’T want

  49. Tim says:

    Chris W-

    I’m with you. This has bothered me all day. I love Joe and respect his opinion, but he is just SO casual about denying young people the right to (in most cases) lift themselves out of poverty at the first opportunity that I can’t get my mind around it. It’s unethical no matter how you slice it. Yes, it could be worse. Yes, they do receive a scholarship, stipend, etc. No, it’s not even remotely acceptable to limit a person’s earning ability during what could be their only healthy, productive years in order to fuel a sports machine that makes other people wealthy under the guise of “amateur” athletics.

    Please Joe, you just have to be on the right side of this. Don’t fall victim to such obviously fallacious arguments. I don’t know why I’m pulling my hair out over this, but it really bothers me. I’m tempted to write hyperbolic and offensive things such as, “You know, the slaves got room and board along with an agricultural education, too.” Don’t make me do it, Joe. Please reconsider.

  50. MR says:

    Chris W, I don’t disagree with your premise that the age rule may be unfair to exceptionally talented 18 year old basketball players, but the NCAA is not the cause of this. There are many people in the NCAA who do not like the one and done rule and would prefer those players skip college all together or make a longer committment. But this is ultimately an issue with the NBA.

    The NBA used to be able to draft players out of high school. After doing so they concluded that this lowered the quality of their product, and changed their rules. Yes the presence of the NCAA alters whether or not drafting high schoolers is good for the NBA, but if the NBA thought they benefited overall by drafting high schoolers they would. So while they may in fact be qualified to work in the NBA, it is a stretch to say that the NBA wants to hire them. If they really did, they would remove the age rule.

    Apparently the NBA player’s union would like to remove the age restriction in the upcoming contract so it will be up for negotiation again.

  51. KHAZAD says:

    This is obviously an issue that brings out passionate responses.

    I agree with Joe that these people get an education, as well as room and board.

    I Really disagree with Tim. Likening this to slavery is beyond stupid. Players are not forced to do anything. They are given the opportunity to go play a college sport. If they have a better or more desirable opportunity somewhere else they are free to pursue it. If they wish to be professional athletes, they might have to spend some time in school, just like thousands of other professions. Hundreds of those other professions also have required low paid or unpaid internships as well.

    While I would not actually pay these guys, I would allow them to do endorsements AFTER their first year. (The restriction is to limit the effect of endorsement deals on recruiting.) No, I am not talking about your sponsored touchdown scenario, just an ability to earn money in regular commercials or endorsements. The school should be able to veto these before they are signed on a case by case basis, only for PR reasons-as a professional team might do as well. (You don’t want your running back endorsing the local head shop) Lastly, if the school sells memorabilia with the players name or picture on it, they should get a percentage.

    On a slightly different point- Football money DOES pay for the other sports.

  52. Tim says:

    Khazad, It’s almost like the slavery comparison is hyperbolic and offensive. I should have prefaced with that. Apologies.

  53. Tim says:

    The NCAA, NBA, and NFL have formed a cartel that forces some athletes from pursuing employment on the open market. The point of the slavery comparison was to use a ridiculously fallacious argument to (not) prove my point just as so many others, including you and Joe, are doing. No, it’s not even close to slavery–just as running backs and power forwards are not even close to doctors, lawyers, and accountants. Colleges also form a cartel with regards to other professions. Some of these may be beneficial, others not so much. Famously, Abe Lincoln didn’t attend law school, for example. I’ve spoken to attorneys that believe that, with some changes, the bar exam should be sufficient evidence for one’s ability to practice law even today.

    All that is really beside the point. The idea that because some other groups have certain limitations on their professions that other groups should be subjected to similar constraints is simply wrong, fallacious, and otherwise harmful. How can people not see this? I know college, and college sports in particular, are sacred cows, but we’re talking about a person’s livelihood and freedom to make a better life for themselves and their families. We’re not talking about keeping incompetent doctors and lawyers from harming clients due to incompetence. It’s basic logic and ethics at work. Subjects on SHOULD learn in college. No, scratch that. Logic and Ethics should be taught in high school. College didn’t teach me how to think. Reading Plato, Sun Tzu, and even Posnanski did. I didn’t need to be forced to read the classics. I read them, or some of them, because I thirst for knowledge. College, IMHO, had very little to do with who I am or what I know. Then again, I didn’t want to be a doctor, lawyer, or accountant–and neither do most athletes.

  54. Tampa Mike says:

    @Tim – “he is just SO casual about denying young people the right to (in most cases) lift themselves out of poverty at the first opportunity that I can’t get my mind around it.”

    Whoa, settle down there. You could argue that by going to school on a full ride and actually going to class and graduating while playing football would be a better plan out of poverty.

    The thing most being lost in this argument is the enormity of the NCAA. There are 120 division 1A schools and thousands and thousands of athletes. Only the elite of that group are going to make any kind of money in the get rich realm. The vast vast majority will never play a down in the NFL. Do you want to deny them their education? You are talking about undoing the entire system so a few dozen players can get rich at the expense of thousands. Yea, that seems like a good idea.

  55. tomemos says:

    “You could argue that by going to school on a full ride and actually going to class and graduating while playing football would be a better plan out of poverty.”

    You could, if Division I football and basketball graduation rates weren’t so poor. And if players weren’t being pushed into the least challenging classes, to preserve their eligibility and leave more time for practice.

  56. tomemos says:

    “If they wish to be professional athletes, they might have to spend some time in school, just like thousands of other professions. Hundreds of those other professions also have required low paid or unpaid internships as well.”

    Your argument, and that that “at least they get a college education,” would be more convincing if the requirement were, say, that a player needs to get a college degree before going pro. Instead, it’s just an arbitrary age requirement.

    Plus, there are people graduating high school who are ready to play in the NBA or NFL. Is that true for other professions?

    Finally, to my knowledge nothing forbids, say, a med school student from being paid a certain amount of money to attend a med school. If people want to pay young players to come to their college, why should that not be allowed?

  57. Tim says:

    @Tampa Mike- You could argue that, but you’d be wrong. Americans, particularly older Americans, have a skewed POV re: the value of a college degree in the modern economy. Our school system, at all levels, was designed for the industrial revolution–to churn out corporate drones and middle managers. The economy no longer values the same attributes. The country and the world economy as a whole demands innovative, entrepreneurial, creative individuals. I would argue that college is just as likely to stifle these qualities as cultivate them.

    This is a world in which one can learn math all the way through calculus online with excellent results:

    A person can teach themselves to think like a programmer with free help from a forum of volunteers:

    A person can find most of the world’s accumulated knowledge in one virtual place WITH a complete history of the changes, arguments, and unresolved controversies for each entry, along with links to citations and further recommended reading. It’s not perfect, but it’s an amazing starting point and remarkably trustworthy, all things considered:

    A person can download all the classics (in the public domain) free of charge and take them with you via e-reader.

    The system is broken. Not just the NCAA, but the American education system as a whole.

    That’s still not the crux of the issue, however. I’m not suggesting that the entire system be torn down. I’m suggesting that a person be able to earn a living as an adult without some antediluvian forced remuneration–a scholarship that is, in some cases, unwanted. If some athletes can earn 7 figures playing football, they should be able to without a forced apprenticeship as a “student-athlete.” Even if it’s only 20 players per HS graduating class that can turn pro, that’s 20 too many ADULTS (according to the law) without the ability to leverage their talents on the open market. There’s only one employer (NFL) available with the funds to offer these men lifetime security at the age of 18, and they’re being shut out of that market. It’s unethical and…

    You’re right, I should settle down. I just feel very strongly about this. 😉

  58. jim says:

    @tomemos said “If people want to pay young players to come to their college, why should that not be allowed?”

    I get what you’re saying, but it is hardly obvious that there are really universities eagerly attempting or wanting to “pay players” (i put it in quotes because i understand a scholarship and the perks that go therewith are a form of payment). This is one of the things that seems so difficult about the issue to me. Surely schools could not be required to pay athletes if only because most (I suspect all) schools’ athletic departments do not make (any/) enough money to pay all athletes. And even if schools were merely permitted to pay athletes I’m skeptical that this would help much. As far as I know, antitrust laws do not apply to universities; my guess is most (all) would simply decline to offer any payments (i.e., the schools, or conferences would say: we’re going to decide, as a school or conference, that this is not permitted at member schools.). Or at least decline payments above certain “de minimus” payments that we often here about: e.g., stipends for pizza and beer money, plane tickets, etc.

    So it seems like we’re left with “implicit payment” options. The most intuitive one being to end the prohibition on athletes receiving benefits (including the “de minimus” benefits mentioned above). If you are given a tattoo, or car or house payments, or money for pizza and beer and a movie, or perks at da club, or whatever: fine, we, as the NCAA, are no longer going to inquire into that. If individual schools or conferences want to continue doing such investigations, fine, but as a matter of policy, the NCAA will no longer forbid it, or inquire about it.

    This might set off an arms raise in the gray/black market for third party payments, but this seems like a difference in degree, rather than kind, to the arms raise that currently exists with athletic departments.

  59. Thanks, Joe! I’m totally with you on this one.
    1. Sometimes the colleges make just as much money for the student as the student does for the college.

    For example, Jimmer Fredette made lots of money for BYU, but you could also argue that BYU made lots of money for him. Jimmer owes college for making him into the brand that he’s become. Without college, he doesn’t make millions in the NBA.

    A lot of people have been arguing that the best athletes should be able to go straight to the pros, but I think this is separate issue/argument and it only applies to a select few. For most college athletes, college is exactly like that underpaid (not unpaid) internship that people in almost every career takes. It’s a tryout for a big check later on.

    For the superstars that ‘make the colleges money’, they are benefiting just as much from college (by their check to come) as they are worth.

    2. It’s only a matter of time.

    I’m surprised how upset people are getting in behalf of a few athletes that only have to wait a year or two to get their millions of dollars. Yes, there are injuries, but you can get insurance policies these days and most will sign for millions in spite of their injuries (see Greg Oden and Kyrie Irving).

    They’ve won the lottery, and we’re up in arms that they have to wait one or two years to cash the check? Doctors go into massive debt to get a payout later on, why can’t athletes wait two years?

    The ones that perhaps are underpaid are the non-superstars, the ones that will never get a check from the NBA. They put a lot of work into a dream of making the NBA that never pans out. They’re like the entrepreneurs whose business idea work out as well as they hoped. For every wildly successful business, there are many more that never made it. Should every businessman that tried hard get paid?

    3. Yes, I want my school to win (which means good players RELATIVE to the other players), but I cheer for my school.

    If ‘the best’ players leave early, I will still love the players like Jimmer, who maybe don’t have those raw athletic tools, but they dominate the available competition and represent my school.

    When my school wins, then I win by association. When a random player plays great, that’s nice, but I don’t get the psychological boost of being associated with winning.

    4. No player is an island. You can say that a player makes millions for his school, but he can only make millions for the school if… there are enough fans of the school/NCAA
    there is competition from other schools/players
    there is TV and marketing to promote these kids

    If the players were truly making the money for the NCAA, not just profiting from a system that will find stars because SOMEONE has to be the best each year, then they could be just as successful in Europe or getting Nike to film them playing pick-up games.

  60. Vidor says:

    “I love Joe and respect his opinion, but he is just SO casual about denying young people the right to (in most cases) lift themselves out of poverty at the first opportunity that I can’t get my mind around it.”

    I agree. I find this column bitterly disappointing. It’s one thing for the usual hacks to write nonsense in support of the NCAA cartel, but when a writer of Posnanski’s caliber and sensitivity writes that athletes should be taken advantage of because–well, because fans don’t care about them, it’s awfully disappointing.

    It certainly casts all his writing about Buck O’Neil and the Negro Leagues Museum in a different light. Guess a commitment to equality and fairness only goes so far.

  61. Government subsidies create inflation. Look at what government subsidizes the most. That is what is hyperinflationary (e.g. education, health care). Look at what has been deregulated; that is where price cuts to families go (e.g. telecommunications, air fares). Things where the government does not meddle (much) (e.g. internet purchasing) also provides families more for less. If people want to cut tuition, they need to get rid of government subsidies to colleges. I know this is not intuitive, but the evidence is overwhelmingly available.

  62. Joe your comment about how the fans would cheer for the teams no matter who was playing can be used in many facets of life and is not a good argument to build your case around. Should the NFL not have tried to fix the lock out and just found another 1000 players to fill in their teams rosters. Most fans wouldn’t of known the difference and while we would no longer have the Manning’s and the Brady’s of today’s NFL there would be other players that would eventually fill those voids.
    While i do not necessarily agree that all players should be paid i do think there could be some type of common ground between the athletes, universities, and the NCAA that would enable them to pay the players and everyone would come out looking like a winner. One suggestion i have always said was the these schools should make trust funds for their players and only award those funds in the case that the player graduates within an appropriate amount of time. If said player does not graduate then all the money goes back to the school. This system would allow the players to keep their amateur status and would also allow the 99% of the players that do not get to play professional sports an opportunity to have some money once they finish school which speaking as someone that didnt have 2 nickels to scratch together after college would be greatly appreciated by most. The high profile athletes that leave school early and go on to play for the millions of dollars would not get these funds as most never go back to graduate but since they are making all that money i doubt many would care. My idea isnt the best but i am sure that there could be similar and better ones out there that can be a win win situation for all involved.

  63. marshall says:

    I don’t get these comments making the NCAA out to be the bad guys here, and shame on Vidor in particular for trying to twist Joe’s comments on this issue to tarnish Joe’s work with Buck O’Neil.

    Is it the NCAA’s fault that there are not better options for 18-year old althletes than to play for a university with minimal compensation? People seem to be saying that it is unethical for the NCAA not to pay market value to its players, but as far as I can tell, there is no real “market” for these players to begin with. To me, the “fault,” if there is any, lies with the professional leagues for creating rules that prevent teams from drafting recent HS graduates.

    The NCAA has made a choice that they do not want professional athletes to comptete in collegiate sports, and I think there are reasonable arguments to be made for that choice that don’t have to do with the NCAA being greedy and unfair.

    Given that the NCAA has made that choice, it’s up to the 18-year olds to decide whether to take the NCAA’s offer (and play by their rules, which includes restrictions on compensation), or to take what the “market” will give them. That nobody is offering a better deal does not seem to me to be the NCAA’s fault. Is the NCAA better off because the NFL and NBA have effectively eliminated the market for these players? Of course. Does that obligate the NCAA to pay their players a hypothetical market wage? I don’t think so.

  64. Vidor says:

    “shame on Vidor in particular”

    Shame on Posnanski for supporting the exploitation of 18-year-old athletes.

  65. tomemos says:

    “I get what you’re saying, but it is hardly obvious that there are really universities eagerly attempting or wanting to “pay players” (i put it in quotes because i understand a scholarship and the perks that go therewith are a form of payment).”

    But is perfectly obvious that there are boosters eager to pay players, because they are already doing that. That’s Rosenberg’s argument, as I understand it–why not let boosters pay players?

  66. jim says:

    @tomemos. yep, agreed; that was the latter point of my comment. i suspect universities will find the idea too tacky or untoward to affirmatively endorse, but it seems like the most workable solution to the “crisis” that is taking over college sports. the “crisis” of kids trading tacky trinkets for shitty tattoos.

  67. College baseball doesnt have this problem because the top tier (and even the 2nd tier) baseball players coming out of H.S. have another career option besides college. They can enter their profession immediatly, begin training and get paid to do it. I see one of the major problems, is these athletes, especially football, arent offered another option. If you are a talented H.S. football player, you HAVE to go to college or your career is over. Eric Swann is the only exception I can ever remember. Colleges are like free minor leagues for the NFL and NBA. If some of these players who have ZERO interest in college were given another option, it would eliminate the problem. That way you would know exactly what you were getting into in accepting a college scholarship because, like baseball, you had other options and you by passed them knowing that getting paid directly was not part of the deal…..

  68. Adam says:

    I started writing this rebuttal last week, but just back back to it. Sorry to be late to the party. Here are some counterarguments:

    1. Joe argues that the players aggregate talent level don’t matter because people actually just care about the schools (i.e., “Ask yourself this: What would happen if all the ACC basketball schools dropped their players and replaced them with Division II talent? Would North Carolina-Duke suddenly play in empty arenas?”).

    It’s an interesting thought experiment. But instead of just imagining what would happen, let’s try to think about actual examples that are similar:

    -The Ivy League-

    From Wikipedia, “In the time before recruiting for college sports became dominated by those offering athletic scholarships and lowered academic standards for athletes, the Ivy League was successful in many sports relative to other universities in the country. In particular, Princeton won 24 recognized national championships in college football (last in 1911), and Yale won 19 (last in 1927). Both of these totals are considerably higher than those of other historically strong programs such as Alabama, which has won 13, Notre Dame, which has won 12, and USC, which has won 11…”

    The Ivy League was the ACC of college football for the first third of the 1900s. Princeton and Yale were the Duke and UNC. Due to changes in the sports, the Ivies eventually moved to I-AA (not even as low as Division II talent like Joe’s example). Could teams with these illustrious histories possibly play to empty arenas? After all, it’s the colleges people want to root for, not the talent level, right?

    I only looked up Yale (feel free to look up the others and prove me wrong), but their average attendance last year was less than 15,000 in in a stadium with a capacity of 64,246 (built in 1914). The Ivy League has a contract with Versus to televise 3 Ivy League games per year. I couldn’t find any $’s anywhere online so I’m assuming they are getting paid peanuts.

    The level of play went down, and now no one cares. It might not have been immediate. They might have maintained some popularity as the talent level of the Ivy league thinned over the 20s, 30s, 40s, … but over time the impact of inferior talent was devastating to their national popularity.

    -NBA Age Limit- I think the general sentiment among college basketball fans is that a one year increase in the NBAs age limit would be a good thing for college basketball (which is basically just an increase in the aggregate talent level) because it would give star players another year in the NCAA. If Joe’s theory were true, people wouldn’t care about seeing higher quality basketball players.

    Speaking for myself, I know that when the age limit first came into play it made me more interested in the college game. I cared about Texas and Ohio State in 2006-2007 because Greg Oden and Kevin Durant were in college and not the NBA. Die-hard Ohio State and Texas fans might have watched the games regardless, but there’s no question that many casual fans watched games because of the talent of those 2 players.

    -NFL Replacement Players- This one is not college, but it goes along with the same theme of whether the aggregate talent level of athletes matters to a sports popularity. In 1987 the NFL played with a substituted lower level of talent when they used replacement players. Average attendance was 24,000. I couldn’t find the league-wide average attendance for 1986, but I did see attendance numbers for several 1986 preseason games which generally ranged from 35,000-60,000. If realize this is pro sports and not college, but I think the generally principal is still relevant. Based on Joe’s theory, one would assume fans cared about the teams more than the players, but this wasn’t the case.

    (continued below)

  69. Adam says:

    (continued from above)

    2. Joe is looking at CFB at an aggregate level to say that the players don’t bring value. I think that’s wrong looking at examples from 1 above, but another way to think about it is from the perspective of each individual school. Joe says,

    “Ask yourself this: Say the first, second and third All-America Teams in college football tomorrow went into the NFL. They just left. How many fewer fans would the college games draw? How many fewer people would watch Texas and Tennessee and Iowa?”
    Let me twist it another way. Instead of quitting the NCAA, imagine if all the All-Americans instead of going to the NFL decided instead that they were all going to play for K-State. Would more people watch K-State? Would ticket prices go up? Scholarship money increase? Big 12 TV go up? Admissions increase?

    If people only cared about college football because of the schools, K-State wouldn’t get more popular and other schools wouldn’t care. In reality, fans care about wins, which are exactly what talented players can bring to a team (hence players are actually valuable).

    Joe is basically arguing that college football fandom is driven by the connection of fans to schools like Alabama, Notre Dame, Nebraska, Penn State, etc. I think this gets the causation exactly backwards. Schools like Alabama, Notre Dame, Nebraska, Penn State, etc. aren’t popular because of how many people have connections to these schools. If that was the case, Arizona State and Minnesota would be the 2 most prominent national football programs (huge enrollments!). Schools like Alabama, Notre Dame, Nebraska, Penn State, etc. are so popular is because those schools have consistently had great players that have won many games and national championships (and continue to have great players or at least great players in the eyes of their fans in Notre Dames case). Great players resulted in winning, which resulted in lots of fans loving those football programs.

    (continued below)

  70. Adam says:

    (continued from above)

    3. Joe says, “So it seems obvious to me that the money from football — revenue-driving basketball, too — should go to offer more and better opportunities at those colleges. That should be its singular purpose. The money from football — as much of it as possible — should pay for talented young tennis players to go to that school. It should pay to give opportunities to gifted swimmers, dedicated runners, hard-working volleyball players and so on. The point is not how many people watch those athletes play, or how many people care about the sports they play. The point is about opportunity and education and developing people and creating a richer environment at the school. “

    Joe’s point is that money that could go to football players should go to offer better opportunities for everyone else. I think this is fundamentally unfair, but also don’t understand the arbitrary distinction being made. If you are going to make this argument, why should it just apply to the players and not everyone else associated with college football that gets paid market wages? Shouldn’t Coaches, Athletic Directors, Sportswriters / Bloggers, etc. that are cashing in on the sport have their wages capped as well (maximum of tuition and a nice meal plan?)?

    4. Joe makes the point, “Meanwhile, college football and basketball — especially football — has become an arms race, with insane salaries being paid to coaches, and cathedrals built for weight training, and video equipment that the Pentagon would envy.”

    I think this completely misses the point as to why college football has become such an arms race. From the perspective of player compensation, the NCAA is basically a cartel with all the different schools joining together to limit players wages to a limited set of benefits. Banning cash payments doesn’t change the underlying economics of college football. Great football players are still very valuable to Universities. Because cash isn’t allowed, schools have to use other methods (like a cathedral-like weight room) to attract the best talent. The rules that prevent players from being paid cash, ensure the arms race that Joe is complaining about.

  71. yoyodyne says:

    Dear Mr. Tokarz – You write, misleadingly:
    ‘Last year, Wake Forest had a conference called “Losing To Win”, which was about college athletics and race. …it featured graduation rates for Division 1 football players. Duke led the ACC at 100%, Wake was second with 92%, and the rest were… let’s just say less than acceptable. ‘

    I guess a callous disregard for the facts exists off, as well as on the Internet as well.

    Miami won the national award from the football coaches for the highest GSR in 2009 [tied with ND, iirc]

    In 2009, Miami and Duke were the only two ACC teams in the top 10% of the NCAA’s APR for football. [along with Brown, Harvard, Stanford, NW, etc]

    Miami finished there as well last year.

  72. yoyodyne says:

    ‘But if UNC/Duke was a Division II rivalry, I imagine alums would simply choose some other connection to the school. And that the teams would, in fact, play in front of empty arenas. Look at e.g., the Ivy Leagues. Lots of school spirit, lots of active alums. Virtually all sports played in low capacity gyms (gyms! not even arenas). ‘

    This is absurd. Penn v Princeton plays to a overflow crowd every year for multiple decades now. Etc.

  73. Broken Yogi says:

    Joining this thread ridiculously late after catching up on Joe’s backlog I’ve missed recently. Loved most everything, except this one.

    Why? Joe asks the wrong question. The real question isn’t whether college athletes should get paid or not, whether it’s fair or not, etc. The REAL question is:

    Should college athletes be prevented from being paid, as they are now?

    I think this question changes the whole outlook, since it’s the only question that acknowledges the reality. Right now, the situation is that colleges and their alumni are just dying to pay their star athletes in order to attract them to their college and keep them happy. They are prevented form being paid by the NCAA, for a number of reasons, some of which might even be considered legitimate, but most of which are sheer horseshit. I’d like to see Joe actually address this reality, and defend those reasons.

    I bet he can’t do it. Why? Because Joe’s not an idiot, nor an ideologue, and I think he’s willing to admit that there’s a huge difference between requiring that college players get paid, and not allowing it to the degree of outlawing the practice.

    There’s really no need to set up some kind of payment plan for college athletes. Most of them really do get a great deal by getting a free ride at school. There should be no minimum salary, and no structured salary, just a free market without restrictions. If colleges don’t want to pay their athletes, then don’t. Colleges that do will probably attract the best players. And then we will see if Joe is right, that people go watch Notre Dame regardless of the quality of the players they put on the field.

    If Joe is right, he’s got nothing to be afraid of. But I think Joe is smarter than that, and knows that he’s wrong. Which is the real reason behind this ban on paying players. It would upset the traditional structure of college sports, which depends on exploiting the very lucrative power of the top talent, upon which the rest depends.

    If colleges want to play top players top money, then fine, let them. If alumni want to give players extra money to play for their school, let them. If top players want to play for less money to go to a favorite school, then let them. If they are happy with a free ride, let them be. If the school wants to spend lots of money to recruit top high school talent, give them free trips and meals and gifts and whatever, let them. Let it be a free country. Let freedom ring. Let the cash registers ring. Don’t require the colleges to do anything. Just get rid of all the rules that forbid them from paying the players anything other than tuition and room and board.

    What exactly is wrong with this proposal?

  74. Kobe Bryant says:

    I think this completely overlooks the point as to why institution sports has become such an hands battle. From the point of view of person settlement, the NCAA is generally a cartel with all the different colleges becoming a member of together to control people income to a restricted set of benefits. Prohibiting money bills doesn’t change the actual financial aspects of institution sports. Great sportsmen are still very useful to Universities. Because money isn’t granted, colleges have to use other solutions (like a cathedral-like weight room) to appeal to the best ability. The regulations that avoid people from being purchased money, ensure the hands battle that Joe is moaning about. WOW Gold Runescape Gold Cheap Tera Gold

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  76. […] years ago he wrote a typically long and rambling (and smart) piece about the biggest issue facing college sports right now, whether or not college athletes should be […]

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  91. jade says:

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