Let Them Get Paid

Schools don’t have to pay athletes, but why can’t they earn it other ways?

By Chris DuPrau @ChrisDuPrau


Top paid college Football Coaches

  • Nick Saban – $11.1 Million/year
  • Dabo Swinney – $8.5 Million/year
  • Jim Harbaugh – $7 Million/year
  • Urban Meyer – $6.4 Million/year

Top paid college Basketball Coaches

  • Coach K – $9 Million/year
  • John Calipari – $8 Million/year
  • Chris Holtman – $7.1 Million/year
  • Bill Self – $5 Million/year

Ways College Athletes can receive money legally through NCAA

  • Pell Grant – $5500-$6000
  • Cost of Attendance $2000-$4000
  • Outside Employment
  • Self Employment/Entrepreneurship (If name, photo, appearance and athletic reputation are not used)

Ah the pay college athletes debate.  A member of the sports talk radio pantheon right next to Pete Rose and how to fix baseball.  The arguments can be regurgitated as easily as one remembers Christmas Carols:

“Look at how much the coaches get paid!”

“They are getting paid, they come out of school with no college debt”

“The NCAA is about being an amateur athlete”

“Schools can’t afford to pay all athletes”

“Most college athletics departments lose money”

Some of the reasoning makes sense, some is laughable, none truly address the issues because our society today is so black and white, it’s almost impossible to have a conversation with nuance and find those wonderful shades of gray.

Let’s break down each of these arguments and find the holes in them.

“Look at how much the coaches get paid!”

The top coaches get paid a ridiculous amount.  At many major colleges, the men’s basketball or football coach is the highest paid person at the institution.  There are some cases where if the coach is at a public university, they may be the highest paid public employee in the entire state!  Here is the thing though, we live in a capitalist country.  I’m not going to fault these people for getting paid.  (I will fault them for abusing their power, not respecting women, and turning a blind eye to sexual assault however.) The colleges/universities these coaches work at are choosing to pay them this much.  If athletes got paid would they make less…probably, but the schools that are paying their coaches that much are also programs not short on cash, so salaries may not drop as much as you think.

“They are getting paid, they come out of school with no college debt”

As someone who has another 3-5 years of paying college debt, I totally get this one.  Boiling it down to a simple thing like that though overlooks a lot of things.  If the athlete goes to a state school let’s say 4 years would cost $100,000.  That’s a hefty chunk of change, but how much could they have made outside of school.  Leonard Fournette would have been a top pick after his Sophomore year, but because of an NFL rule, he had to play his Junior season.  After his Junior season Fournette was drafted and made $5 million his rookie season.

$5 million > $100,000

So YES, these athletes are leaving school without debt, but they also are not generating the type of earnings they could be.

“The NCAA is about amateur athletics”

Whenever the NCAA has a press conference espousing this ridiculousness:

“Schools can’t afford to pay all athletes”

“Most college athletics departments lose money”

We’ll put these two together because the ideas behind these beliefs intersect in a lot of areas.  Key questions need to be answered about the first quote before we even get into the second one.

  • How much would the athletes get paid?
  • Do athletes in non-money making sports get paid the same?
  • Would money that previously went to the coaches go to the athletes?
  • Could boosters be involved?

For larger schools this would not be as much of an issue.  The University of Virginia, a school known for an excellent yet painful to watch basketball team, and football team that has given the world the Barber Twins, Chris Long and a never ending string of terrible 12:00 Saturday games made $100 million dollars in 2017.  Freaking Virginia made $100 million!!  Now, if you gave every athlete $10,000 which including Pell and other things would give them roughly $20,000 a year plus free room and board, you would have enough money to pay 10,000 athletes.  UVA has roughly 1,000 student athletes, so the cost to them would be $10 million dollars meaning they would still have roughly $90 million left over. Now this would obviously be more difficult at smaller schools and could lead to the end of some low end football programs, but there are ways it could be figured out.  The most likely outcome though is the eliminating of a lot on non-money making sports.  These sports wouldn’t be eliminated because the school was going broke, they’d be eliminated to improve the bottom line.  Allowing boosters and other donors the ability to give more money for the allocation of paying athletes could also make it easier for schools to keep more sports going or lessen the burden on smaller schools

Would doing this give big schools an advantage…yes.

Do big schools have an advantage already…yes

Does using the big schools will have an advantage argument make sense…no.

So college athletes probably should get paid, but the colleges, most likely, are not going to be the ones to do it.  You know what that is fine.  If a regular student does something for the University, they don’t get paid by the University, they get recognition.  However, if that regular student develops something and sells it to a company, they can make all the money they want.  That my friends is the way we can save college athletics.

The schools don’t have to pay the athletes, they are paying them with free room/board and education, but let the athletes make money by seeking outside endorsements using their name and image.

Money is already being dropped under the table in duffle bags to student athletes all over the country.  Bag men are working in the shadows enticing players to come to colleges and universities and it is leading to scandal after scandal.  Let’s get rid of the sketchiness of this and bring it all above board.  Let the players make money.

If a car dealership in Oklahoma wanted to pay Baker Mayfield $20,000 to do a commercial for them when he was the Sooners starting quarterback, there is no reason he shouldn’t be able to make that money.  If a restaurant in Durham wants Zion Williamson to say he loves their food this year in what will likely be his only season at Duke and pay him $5,000, good for him.   If any athlete wants to sell their autograph online or at a sports card expo or something, what reason is there to deny them this ability?  This is America and one thing people are allowed to do here is make money.  Only by the NCAA standards is this against the law, but if you are not an NCAA athlete you can make money this way all you want.

Now could schools with big boosters pay a player a ridiculous sum of money in order to entice them to come to their school.  Absolutely, but you know what, they were doing that anyway, so the only difference is, now people know about it, now it can get taxed, now it wouldn’t be illegal and now a player can actually make money that can help them in the long term after school.

The average NFL career is 3.3 years.  There are lots of big name college players who are late round picks, or not even drafted.  They’ll make money in the NFL, but not an obscene amount.  If they were making money in college they would end their NFL career with the money they made there, the money they made in college, and having no college debt.  Seems a fair deal considering they not only entertained people for years, but they brought recognition to their college and sacrificed their bodies for the institution.

An important thing to realize is that this will only affect the top tier of college athletes.  I don’t know how much money there is for an awesome Left Guard.  It will also give players from non-money making sports the same opportunity.  If you are a transcendent college baseball player like Stephen Strasburg was, he can go out and earn money.  It puts no extra strain on the educational institution and allows everyone to make money in the free market system.    It’s so simple that the only explanation for the NCAA not doing it, is because, well, they’re the NCAA.

Now there are plenty of other things that could be done, like giving players a percentage of jersey sales and video game sales (please do this, I miss the EA NCAA games).  Letting them make money though by just being themselves through advertisements, autographs or whatever is the easiest one though.

The NBA is continuing to invest in the G-League while also preparing to eliminate 1 and done.  Playing overseas is also becoming a more viable option for top basketball recruits.  The SEC and other big football conferences have discussed breaking away from the NCAA.  We are nearing a tipping point here for college sports.  Making this change though could make college a much more viable option.  Let the players get paid!  It should be done, it needs to be done, and it may have to be done if the NCAA wants to stay relevant in the 21st century.

Keep on keepin’ on

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