I wrote a column for Monday proclaiming that college football players are indeed paid. They’re just paid indirectly.
As is the usually the case on this topic, the response from readers was evenly split. Half of them believe a scholarship — plus the perks that come along with it — is indeed adequate compensation for playing the game.
But the other half vehemently disagree and think these kids are being exploited for the monetary gain of others. Since Alabama coach Nick Saban will make approximately $11 million this year alone, the 85 scholarship players on his roster deserve so much more than room and board for doing most of the heavy lifting.
Just like the TV contracts that help line Saban’s pockets, the chasm between the two sides of this argument only grows larger.
Even if programs are raking in more money than ever before — just splitting the SEC Network pie is incredibly lucrative — they’re also spending like sailors on leave. Indoor practice facilities are as commonplace these days as booster clubs.
This is why the pay-for-play crowd wonders how schools supposedly don’t have enough cash left over to put the players on the payroll. Kids don’t need nap rooms and bowling alleys. To quote Bud Fox from “Wall Street” when he’s seen a little too much greed from Gordon Gecko, “How many yachts can you waterski behind?”
To be clear, I don’t believe players should be paid. First and foremost, they’re college students and need to take their education seriously.
Additionally, the value of a scholarship has skyrocketed recently. Not only in terms of free books and tuition — how many run-of-the-mill graduates these days are drowning in student-loan debt? — but the endless handouts along the way.
Nevertheless, what if there were a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? For the most part, when they’re on the football team, players’ needs are met. The best dorms. The best food. Easy access to tutors and trainers, whose sole function is to make them better both on and off the field. All of it has value, although nothing is legal tender.
I’m proposing a cash bonus to be paid by institutions for each player who goes through the program and earns a degree.
For all the three-and-out guys — like Texas A&M pass rusher Myles Garrett or LSU ball carrier Leonard Fournette — it’s a moot point. They’re going to make so much money in the NFL that graduating is less important in the long run.
However, for the more anonymous players who tend to fill the gaps on most college rosters, I bet a check for $100,000 would make for quite a bright light at the end of their eligibility tunnel. That money could be used to pay off loans, make a down payment on a house or maybe even finance graduate school beyond a four-year degree.
In the end, it’s not a lot of money. For every recruiting class of 25 or so, 10-15 actually wind up graduating from there.
So if $100,000 is the figure we’re starting with, that’s about $1-1.5 million annually out of each school’s considerable coffers — a rounding error for many programs. The Crimson Tide just gave Saban a $4 million signing bonus.
Now is it easier for ‘Bama to set aside that cash than, say, Mississippi State? Yes, of course. But there’s no reason why we couldn’t make this a free market. If the Tide can afford $100K but the Bulldogs only $50K, consider it yet another recruiting advantage. If the ultimate beneficiary is the players, then good.
Would it be so crazy for Vanderbilt to loosen the purse strings on its $3.8 billion endowment and offer $250K?
Could the Commodores transform into a powerhouse overnight? Probably not. The school’s admission standards wouldn’t change. Still, perhaps a potential Stanford kid — the SEC Network drawfs the Pac-12 Network — gives Vandy a second look.
Another possible benefit is lessening the amount of prospects who exit early for the draft, many of them before they’re ready. Four of the 25 from the SEC who left eligibility on the table this year weren’t selected at all. If a six-figure payday was on the horizon, rightfully staying in school is an easier sell.
Too many undrafted types fail to either make it in the NFL or graduate. Football ends up doing very little for them.
A lot of cynics think the term “student-athlete” is antiquated. For every Joshua Dobbs — he departed Tennessee with a master’s in aerospace engineering in only four years — there are too many dumb jocks taking up space.
Well, this could be a way to put the “student” back in student-athlete. We tend to forget that only three to four percent of college football players make a career in the NFL. The less athletic among us feel they should take advantage of the free education at their disposal since John Q. Public didn’t enjoy the same spoils.
Under my proposal, if a player can’t bother to graduate, then he gets nothing. He falls through the system and has nobody to blame but himself.
But for the ones who stand out in class as much as they do in pads — even more, hopefully — then never again can they argue that they’re playing for nothing. It takes more than being offered a free ride out of high school, though.
I don’t want to pay an 18-year-old freshman a $25,000 salary to play college football. Too much of it would wind up in the hands of bartenders and Best Buy clerks. What I want is to hand a 22-year-old senior a check for $100,000 on graduation day as a reward for maximizing the gift he was given as a scholarship athlete.
Schools wouldn’t even need to bring in additional revenue to make this happen. Simply cut back on the nap rooms and bowling alleys.