College Pay for Play: Worst. Idea. Ever.

Hell. No.

Look I’m not going to mince words here.  The idea that college players should be paid a portion of their college’s athletic revenue is one of the worst ideas in a long history of terribly bad ideas.  Not to mention it’s insulting and it spits in the face of what little educational value we have left in this country.  I mean to be frank, I’d probably call you an idiot to your face if you supported it because, well… it’s idiotic.  At least I can sleep comfortably knowing that it will never happen no matter how much people whine and cry about it.

While the idea of pay for play is not restricted solely to Football, unfortunately that’s where the topic of conversation keeps arising.  Anyone who has ever attended a major college university knows that athletes involved in the “mainstream” sports rule the campus.  I, myself, attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln from 2003-2007.  Being from Texas where Football is God, I can say this without blinking:  You will not find a city or state where College Football is more revered, loved and worshiped than Lincoln, Nebraska.  Even with the Huskers having trouble living up to the powerhouse they once were in the 90s, Lincoln becomes the largest city in the state on game days.  Our team could be (and has been) total shit, and people would still turn out in droves, hordes, and en mass.  Shops close down, other cities turn to ghost towns; it feels like every person in the state is there trying to get as close to Memorial Stadium as they can.  For four years I was one of those people.  I got to witness the insanity that was Husker Football game day and it was glorious.

Anyway, if you know only one thing about me it’s that I love football.  I used to joke with my dad that I was the son he never had.  Even on my wedding day, during the father/daughter dance portion of my reception, I couldn’t help but make the joke, “It must be awkward dancing with your son, huh?”  My husband calls my football knowledge, “impressive,” and tells me that he marvels at my ability to put certain guys to shame.  If I could, I would coach.  But I fear that will have to remain a dream as no one would ever take me seriously.  And I couldn’t live with the fact that my vagina might keep me from being the best at what I do and from the ultimate prize:  Coaching in the NFL.  But I digress… point being?  I love football.

Some people might think my stance on this matter makes me “anti-player,” but that’s simply not true.  I love and respect the players.  While I might disagree with how much money the professionals make when our teachers and factory workers are starving… that is a discussion for another time.  Despite all of that, I secretly envy them.  From high school to the NFL, they get to live out the glory, the fame; they get the opportunity to be role models for millions of kids and loved by the fans (while some of them might not actually accomplish those feats).  To be in such a position of power and the opportunity to enact change within the community and your country is something that most people would probably envy.  I guess the money ain’t bad either…

The Money Argument

But the players have to start their journey to the NFL somewhere, and along the way they have to pass through the world of the NCAA.  I don’t think I need to explain to you or anyone else with half a brain that college football is a huge money making business in this country.  Yes, I said business.  I make no excuses for the colleges in this country, they are and probably always will be a business – sports or no sports.  And a very profitable one at that.  Drastic tuition increases over the last decade aside, the football programs are by far the biggest revenue generating operation among most of the universities in this country.  In the 2009-2010 season the top 5 schools in pure football profit were as follows:

Rank School Revenue Expenses Profit
1 University of Texas (Football) $93,942,815 $25,112,331 $68,830,484
2 Univ. of Georgia (Football) $70,838,539 $18,308,654 $52,529,885
3 Penn State Univ. (Football) $70,208,584 $19,780,939 $50,427,645
4 Univ. of Michigan (Football) $63,189,417 $18,328,233 $44,861,184
5 Univ. of Florida (Football) $68,715,750 $24,457,557 $44,258,193

(courtesy of The Business of College Sports)

This is some serious money.  There’s no ignoring it.  Some people argue that the players are the reason that this money comes in and therefore they’re entitled to their share, but I offer a different angle.  Collegiate sports draw huge crowds; loyal alumni and legacy fans.  Let’s face it, obsession with celebrity and sports is the American way.  We champion it, we love it and most importantly we crave it.  The universities are quite aware of this fact and they capitalize on it.  Can you honestly blame them?  It’s no one’s fault but our own, but it’s just something that can’t be helped.  America worships football.  Sure, without the players, who would we watch?  But without our obsession with the sport and our loyalties to our alma maters, I can guarantee you no one would be begging for a piece of such a small pie.  So before you go feeling all entitled to certain bits of profit just remember that without the fans, there wouldn’t even be a profit worth fighting over.

Sure, you can sit there and say, “Well, 99% of college students don’t help bring in the profit to the universities like the athletes do.”  So because we choose to pursue a non-athletic path in our collegiate careers, I guess we are less deserving of any sort of aid or stipend in our suffering through the pangs of debt, “living below the poverty line,” and the stress of keeping our GPAs up.  Hooray American values.

Some of the pay for play supporters argue that we just want them to have a little extra cash.  How does the saying go?  You give a mouse a cookie and he’s going to want a glass of 100 year single malt whiskey and a Benz on the side?  … yeah, something like that.

The silver lining to all of this is that even if the court of public opinion agreed that college athletes should be paid, there’s no way it would ever be implemented because for liability and legal reasons the mess would be catastrophic.

Rules? Pffft. I scoff at thee!

The Legal Argument

Enter that pesky NCAA Title IX.  “All for one, and one for all.”  If you pay the “manly” sports, you must pay the “girly” sports.  Have fun trying to balance that checkbook when you have multiple programs – male and female oriented – bringing in the same amount of profit.  In line with that, should the big time stat producers get paid more than the bench?  Does the star, Heisman candidate QB get paid more than the Blue Chip Free Safety?  How on earth would you be able to justify paying certain players more than others without completely creating an “amateur NFL”?

How on earth would we regulate this?  Contractual agreements between the NCAA and the players?  You think tuition is expensive now?  Just wait until they need us normal campus attendees to pick up the tab for next year’s recruits.  What about endorsements?  If we’re opening the floodgates of revenue sharing with collegiate players, there’s no way you’d be able to argue against them receiving benefits, endorsements, etc.

And why stop at athletics?  What about the educational branches of the universities that also bring in grant money and profits to the college?  Why aren’t they getting a cut?  Ohhh, that’s right.  Because no one cares.  But they WILL care when they get sued for discrimination, breaches of contract, unfair revenue sharing and the like.

I hope everyone can see where this is going.  You implement this and you might as well just put up a sign that says, “Free lawsuit settlements.  Please sign up at the front office.”

The Moral Argument

And then comes the most insulting argument for paying college players in my personal opinion:  The argument that players are actually getting nothing.    Some players argue that they’re being cheated out of money they’ve earned.  Oh, how quickly they, their parents, their coaches and supporters of pay-for-play forget that these kids are being allowed to attend some of the best colleges in the country absolutely free.  Spit in my face why don’t you.  Spit in the face of the millions of kids who will never graduate high school, much less receive a college education.  These universities forfeit MILLIONS of dollars allowing a select few gifted athletes to attend their schools free of the cost of tuition, fees, and room and board.

In September of this year the National College Players Association released a report stating that, “the average Football Bowl Subdivision player would be worth $121,000 per year, while the average basketball player at that level would be worth $265,000.”  Fine, I won’t argue with the sheer math of their numbers.  But then they further argue that schools should go above and beyond paying for room and board, student fees and tuition.  They state that when you add in the extra expenses of college (e.g., trips home, clothes, booze, etc.) each student on full athletic scholarship is paying out of pocket around “$952 to $6,127, depending on the college.  That leaves [these] students… living below the poverty line at around 85 percent of the schools…”

… are you fucking kidding me?  When I read this I thought to myself, you can’t be serious…  this has got to be a joke, right?  I mean, they ACTUALLY made this statement while in the same breath admitted to not calculating in money these kids receive from home, family or any jobs they may have.

OMG, I'M SO POOR. WAAAAAAAH!

First of all, boo. freaking. hoo.  You just described the life of about 99% of college students.  Oh, what?  Don’t have money for new clothes?  Do more laundry.  I’m sorry?  Don’t have enough money to go out to eat?  Take your ass down to the special “athletes food court” and eat one of your free four course meals.  What’s that?  Don’t have money to fly home?  Get in your damn car and drive.  Do you know how I got back and forth from Lincoln, Nebraska to Houston, Texas?  I DROVE my ass 16-18 hours, over 4 states, most of the time in a single day just to get home to my family and friends and back again when it was time for classes.  Trying to make us feel sorry for these poor, unfortunate souls despite their free collegiate education is like trying to say that we should feel sorry for Veruca Salt because she didn’t get her golden goose (look it up).  It ain’t happening.

Secondly, how much more of an ungrateful message can you send to these kids?  “Screw education, values and morals, PAY ME MY MONEY” ??? Let’s be brutally honest with ourselves here, half these athletes wouldn’t even be going to college if it wasn’t for Football or whatever sport they happened to excel at.  Oh, but never mind that they’re getting to traverse through highly reputable educational programs and coming out debt-free on the other side, a luxury that very few collegiate students get to enjoy.  How is it ANYONE else’s fault if they choose to squander that opportunity to focus on their chosen sport?  Newsflash:  It isn’t.

Some people argue that if we would simply pay them a small salary or stipend that the corruption would stop.  The elaborate secret parties, the giving of money to the players behind closed doors, the prostitutes, the free meals, cars, houses… it would all stop with a tiny little check.  I mean, there’s just no need to even argue that point because it’s so idiotic that it doesn’t deserve discussion.  Those people can call me when they get back from la-la land.

I just hate that this is always brought up every seasons and it’s usually following some story of corruption.  However, at least with the NFL back in gear and the College Football season wrapping up, the talk seems to have died down quite a bit.

In the end, my biggest fear?  That college sports loses its integrity completely.  That it loses what makes it almost better than the NFL in the first place:  the fact that these guys are playing for nothing but sheer school pride and grid-iron glory.  Not money.  If the day ever arrives where pay-for-play finally happens?  I have a feeling there are going to be a lot of people standing around asking, “What the hell happened to college sports?”

Posted on December 13, 2011, in NCAA Football. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I don’t think it’s the worst idea ever. Look at Nsync.

    Still, I tend to agree with you. However, you didn’t address the one point that, to my mind, gives the argument a scintilla of legitimacy: the fact that the athletes are disallowed from working.

    Yes, lots and lots of students have to pay their own way, and many of them do so through a combination of loans and working. What they have through that work, however, is some, if nt much, walking around money. Anoth thing these kids l earn, however, is a work ethic, and how to live in the real world (hard work, often tedious). You can argue that athletics teaches these things as well, but it doesn’t. It teaches how best to improve your body physically, and no more.

    What happens if the player has a career ending (assuming there even is a career in the sport) injury? How about the 90%+ that will never play at the professional level? There should be provision for these kids to go wait tables, or whatever.

    Wll there be some level of favoritism played? Yeah. Will there be examples of people hiring someone because he’s the QB and then paying him for no work, because he’s the QB? Yeah. But will that happen with anything beyond the top 10% of big sport athletes? Probably not. Those kids will get an education I the real world which will serve them wonderfully, and by extension society, for the rest of their lives.

    So yeah, pay for play will unalterably change the landscape of sports like college football and basketball, in a negative way. But allowing NCAA players the freedom to support themselves by hard work, like other students, would undermine the last logical argument for it.

    I mean, we let the academic scholars, who enjoy a similar level of financial support, work. And that’s a good thing.

  2. While it may vary from school to school regarding certain restrictions, you do realize they’re allowed to work, right? I know because I’ve seen it first hand. I’ve seen them working at local business, restaurants and shops. Granted it was a very rare occasion but they’re definitely not prevented from working if they really want to.

    I also know because the proposition allowing it happened like 13 years ago. It might be highly discouraged by the athletic higher ups and coaches, but it’s certainly not prohibited. They’re just more limited because of their extracurricular activities taking up a lot of their time, but they are definitely free to go out and seek a job.

  3. My mistake, I could’ve sworn that there were rules against it. I stand corrected.

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