A Simple Question: Paying College Athletes?

And now for something completely different …

Famed Civil Rights Movement historian Taylor Branch has made the news again, this time with an article about the exploitation of student athletes by institutions of higher education.  He’s been interviewed about it, and Frank Deford has offered a pointed commentary on it.

As you might suspect, in the end most of this discussion is about college football and men’s basketball.  There have been various incidents in other sports, but these are the biggies.  The debate seems to be about paying the athletes.

I have a simpler solution.  Change the tie between athletics and higher education.  It’s as simple as that.  Create a more powerful minor league development system financed by the professional leagues, who should demonstrate their awareness of their social responsibility by providing educational opportunities for athletes.  Oh, keep the scholarship system open for those athletes who want to go to college; have the professional leagues draft them at eighteen, just like they do in hockey and baseball, and tell the professional leagues to take care of the finances down the road.  I note no one is calling for baseball players or hockey players to be paid.  That may be because they get to choose what they want to do.

I’ve had scholar athletes in the classroom.  Some were very good students, and I enjoyed their presence and participation in class (I highlighted one last month in this blog).  Others were not.  My relationship with coaches and athletic departments suggested that too many coaches saw the academic side of things as an obstacle to their success, as if we were in a hostile relationship.  Not all coaches, mind you, shared this attitude, but too many did: too often athletic departments call upon faculty to act as baby sitters for their players, and I for one don’t do that.  Once, when I served as an informal advisor for a certain college basketball team (not ASU), the team GPA increased by half a point, but the coach really didn’t want someone else around (except when it came to working the officials’ table, as I did several times): a proposal to formalize the position failed, despite the demonstrated success of the idea.

For some players, college is a good idea, and they should make that choice, complete with scholarships as compensation.  But it is time for colleges and universities to stop serving as developmental leagues for professional sports.  You want to pay these guys?  Fine.  I see the merit in that argument.  Better still, I maintain, to simply take this argument to its logical conclusion: tell the NFL and NBA to develop their own players.  Let the player decide which route he wants to pursue.

23 thoughts on “A Simple Question: Paying College Athletes?

  1. James F. Epperson September 23, 2011 / 5:35 pm

    True story: My first year in academia was 1980-81 … at the University of Georgia! I had the starting strong safety in a differential equations class and he talked me into an incomplete, knowing this would preserve his eligibility until after the bowl game, and he had no intention of completing it. He played me, and I was too green to want to cross swords with the football team in my first year.

    The problem is the money, and it is all the fault of Vince Dooley and Barry Switzer.

  2. James F. Epperson September 23, 2011 / 5:47 pm

    I’ll copy my FB comment here: “Depends on the definition of ‘pay.’ Full market value? No, I would not support that. I would support adding a component to the grant-in-aid of (for lack of a better term) ‘spending money,’ on the order of a couple hundred bucks a month.”

  3. Ray O'Hara September 23, 2011 / 6:26 pm

    Pay them? heavens no. this whole debate is about football.
    if they pay football players how can they then not pay all the other volleyball and water polo.
    and most womens sports .

    they should imo get rid of all the stupid rules that keep athletes down, if some crazy alumus wants to toss a blue chip running back a Camaro to play for his school or a no show job, that’s different, no laws are being broken, if your school can’t produce those types of crazy alumni them maybe it’s time to reassess your academic programs.

    and the hypocrisy of the sports writers and viewers who complain about “dirty” practices but who also wouldn’t watch an Ivy League or D2 or 3 game where they use actual students is breathtaking,

    those complaining either need to get off their high hobby horse or or boycott the football factories, both are something they .do.

    ironically the bands are as heavily recruited as the football teams and the members of them are completely free to get a job playing professionally while playing school and those who have excellent pro pro prosects usually leave early to go pro, Frank Zappa plucked Steve Vai out of Berklee and nobody batted an eyelash.

    what I hate is the way catering to gamblers and fantasy geeks has taken over the TV broadcasts. I don’t gamble or play fantasy anything, and to not show the bands when ND is playing USC or Ohio State is a travesty.

    • Charles Lovejoy September 24, 2011 / 1:18 pm

      Ray, I remember when Steve Vai starting playing with Zappa. I think the difference in comparison with college football and the NFL was, Zappa was one of the greatest minds of the 20th century.

  4. Ray O'Hara September 23, 2011 / 6:39 pm

    Football generates big money, Doug Flutie bought BC a new library. basketball does too. as does Hockey for certain leagues, Hockey East, ECAC and the WCHC to ask those schools to give up that revenue is not going to happen
    I wouldn’t be surprised to even ASU makes enough to fund its sports programs and hav money left over for things like a history professor or two and maybe an upgraded physics lab.

    • Ray O'Hara September 24, 2011 / 8:42 pm

      But if an athlete does the same, leave early to go pro everybody throws a fit. It’s a double standard and pure hypocrisy.
      And if Steve had stayed at Berklee while playing for Zappa no one would have said boo.

      One of my best friends a Jazz bassist named Peter Kontrimas started playing professionally while in High School, in erock bands, in the big show bands of the 70s in a small trio with stellar guitarist Peter Calo yes he then went to the Boston Conservatory of Music and played in their classical orchestra while still playing professional gigs.
      All perfectly kosher.

      you can google Peter , he runs a recoeding studio and plays for Rebecca Parris and with Paul Brodnax.

      JFE also brought up Drew Hensen being signed by the Yankees while still playing NCAA football. to that I can only say, so what?

  5. James F. Epperson September 24, 2011 / 4:54 am

    At most schools,the relation between the academic side and the athletic side is uneasy, sometimes quite contentious. Very little of the athletic money gets shifted to the academic side, although donations like Flutie’s (and what Charles Woodson has done for the Mott Hospital here) are nice.

  6. John Foskett September 24, 2011 / 8:03 am

    Notre Dame has always tried to work the athletic money (obviously, almost all football) into general purposes. That dates back to the 1920’s when it was a small, barely-funded school and used the monery generated by Rockne’s teams to build the academic insitution. Between 1930 and 1970 it became what it is today in no small part to staying afloat from the football money. Even today the NBC money, for example, goes into the general fund or scholarship funding. Of course, all of this is easier to pull off at a smaller private school which happens to be raking in a lot of money from football. As for “paying” kids on athletic scholarships (at least in the “revenue producing” sport of football), my own view is that a reasonable “stipend” makes sense. A fair number of these kids come from financial backgrounds in which the argument “hey, they’re getting the equivalent of $20K-$50K a year in education” doesn’t matter. They still don’t have spending money. It might be a token, but it recongizes that they’re generating a heap of wampum for alma mater.

  7. Ray O'Hara September 24, 2011 / 9:21 am

    Flutie didn’t donate the money, the school made it on post season Bowl appearences and increased TV revenue.

    That player you gave an incomplete to. did it impact any real students?
    cause them to lose a place in the school?

    • Brooks D. Simpson September 24, 2011 / 10:00 am

      I think your comment about “real students” reveals part of the problem. Moreover, if we want to create an investment model for revenue sports, then do it and be above board about it. Finally, the fact remains that at this point in time men’s basketball and football serve as farm systems for professional leagues (n a far different way than, say, baseball or hockey, where there is the alternative of going to a minor league system). Let’s admit that as well and make that an explicit part of any restructuring plan.

      • James F. Epperson September 24, 2011 / 10:24 am

        First,let me acknowledge Ray’s correction of my confusion.

        I am concerned about what Brooks calls the “farm system” aspect of the existing arrangements—which I think is much worse in basketball than football. I am not sure how to fix things w/o doing more harm than good.

  8. John Foskett September 24, 2011 / 10:25 am

    Hockey’s an interesting case. The current verbal battle between the CHL and College Hockey, Inc. illustrates why. Interestingly, the CHL has been trying to pitch itself to the majority of kids,who won’t get an NHL contract, by emphasizing its one year service – one year scholarship program. The problem is that you’re on your own as to where you can use the scholarship. Forget, in most cases, any opportunity at the types of good U.S. schools which give out hockey rides. The system is fine for a Crosby, a Kane, or aTavares, who were locks to kake big money in the NHL. It’s an illusion for a lot of kids. ,

    • James F. Epperson September 24, 2011 / 12:01 pm

      Something I don’t like is that you can be pro in one sport and collegiate in another, like Drew Henson, who was a millionaire in college while playing QB for Michigan, because he had signed a contract w/ the Yankees.

  9. Ray O'Hara September 24, 2011 / 11:58 am

    Football and Basketball grew from college sports when someone cheated during a Rutgers and Princeton Soccer game, and all agreed the cheating looked like more fun. Basketball was famously invented at Springfield College by the football coach who didn’t like the idea of his players doing nothing in the off season.
    the proleagues grew for that base and for a very long time the college games were the more dominant games.
    there is a lot of tradition involved, and the shady practices have a long history too. Clair Bee uses that as a theme in a few books of his great Chip Hilton series{do boys still read them?}

    Baseball and Hockey don’t have college roots. They grew naturally from people playing and eventually colleges adopted them. that explains the difference in feeders systems, that college has become a viable route to the pros in those two sports has been a recent development and MLB would rather a good prospect not go to school but go instead to A or AA ball. Hockey as a conduit to the pros is even more recent.

    The dumbest thing I think two colleges engaged in was the court battle between Ohio University and Ohio State University. they sued each other over who had the right to use the stand alone Ohio on souveniers, they are both State owned schools so it was all state money being used in the case. Ohio U being the older school won. but it has to rank among the stupidest law suits ever.

    Its all about the Benjamins and the schools love that money

  10. Charles Lovejoy September 24, 2011 / 12:52 pm

    >”I maintain, to simply take this argument to its logical conclusion: tell the NFL and NBA to develop their own players. Let the player decide which route he wants to pursue.”< I couldn't agree more. I think that is it's logical conclusion. Something else, look at the number of college football players that make it to the NFL? Or the percentage of college football players that graduate and earn a degree?

  11. Jeff Davis September 24, 2011 / 7:38 pm

    I guess I am too much of a traditionalist. I believe in the difference between amateur and professional sports. I believe that college scholarships should be the total limit of funds for the student atheletes. What I think should happen is that the student athelete should qualify for scholarships on BOTH levels – academic and atheletic. And I would like to see early drafts eliminated. No basketball player should go to the NBA out of HS, same for football. [Hockey and Baseball have had their minor league systems for decades, so there should be no changes there…let the player choose]. But if a student athelete goes to a college to play basketball or football, he should remain there until graduation, as a rule, before he can be drafted. If he flunks out, then he should not be eligible for draft status until his class is graduated. If he is injured, he still has his classes and eventually his degree.

    I put the blame on this situation at the feet of Television, the intrustion of which grows ever deeper into the games and lives of atheletes both amateur and professional, the way magazine go into the lives of pop stars. But with Television comes a veritable fountain of money, and the professional leagues, and the colleges and Universities, have gobbled the dollars up as fast as they could. Union bargaining and law suits have driven professional sports into sharing their reveues with the players, which is only fair. But the prices keep going up, spiraling ever higher, demanding more and more from the Universities and Colleges, and the atheletes, exposing those atheletes to amazing amounts of money.
    the result is coaches like Lou Holtz, who left the sideline for the studio one step ahead of the NCAA, and the players suspended this year at Ohio State who sold personal awards and uniform articles for premium prices to collectors. Where Television has gone, and the money that goes with it, the line between amateur and professional suddenly grows blurred and hard to divine.

    The one thing I would change is this: Scholarships for student atheletes, who are unable to work because of their atheletic schedules, should be increased to provide a stipend equivilent to what minimum wage of a 20-25 hour per week part time job might afford. And they should be warned to live within that limit unless they had money of their own. They are houses and fed well, and given perhaps the best medical treatment in the world.

    That and a free college eduction should be worth a lot.

    Now, the pro leagues should financially suport this, one an equal basis for every member school in the NCAA. They are the leagues that benefit from the College and University programs.

    • Ray O'Hara September 24, 2011 / 10:02 pm

      So because a kid plays football or basketball he should be denied his legal rights?
      at 18 you can join the Army and kill and be killed but uh uh, no pro sports for you?

      and because “its tradition” I’d rather see kids put the whole 4 years in but you can’t make that a law, they had it as a rule and the courts rightly struck it down.And all for some imagined purity of the game?

      TV isn’t the problem ringers and otherwise inelligible player have been brought in long before Philo Farnsworth came along.

      and it seems its FB and BB that gets everybody upset, Tiger Woods won his last NCAA tourny, was player of the year and after winning on the 18th green walked rto the clubhouse and announced he signed an $80 million dollar endorsement deal with Nike, are we supposed to believe he signed an agent and negotiated his deal between green and clubhouse? and no one demanded he give back any trophies, Stanford wasn’t sanctioned, no one cared, and nor should they, the deal didn’t make him better or give him an unfair advantage on the course.

      Reggie Bush on the other hand had an agent but no deal with anybody but he was stripped of his Heisman, USC heavily sanctioned, losing scholarships, being banned from bowls for several years and games he played in were forfeited, And what law was broken? none. and having an agent didn’t make him run faster or a better player.

      But I do agree that the scholarship is enough and as long as the schools don’t ban the player from class whether they go or not is on the athlete, Most stop attending classes after their last game but some get degrees, Jim Lonborg of the Red Sox and Phillies and Bill Lenkitas of the Patriots both got DDMs and practice here in Mass, Tim Fox who played free safety for the Pats graduated with a law degree and he practices here in Mass.

      Kobe Bryant and Dennis Ekersley bot went straight from HS to the big leagues.it didn’t hurt them.

      And the schools are equally ruthless, a friends daughter received soccer scholarship to WASU, sophmore year she tore up he knee could no longer play and goodbye scholarship. fortunately she was a smart kid and managed to swing an academic scholarship{both parents have doctorates} but for some average kid, can’t play? sorry, cya later

  12. Ray O'Hara September 24, 2011 / 8:28 pm

    College baseball and hockey are the poachers, once it was the Minors for baseball and up to Canada for play in the Juniors for the road to the NHL but colleges started going after the talent.Do you think it would change college football and basketball there would still be shenanigans
    And why should the pros be punished for a system the colleges willingly entered?
    the problem isn’t the pro leagues, they don’t even belong in the discussion on college sports.
    The Pro; leagues aren’t the ones “abusing” the system.
    Would you demand the same of musicians, or medical students?

    I was watching Fla tonight, one of their freshman players had to serve a 2 game suspension
    because people in his town held a bake sale to raise money to send him to a high school all-star game.
    its stupid mindless rules like that that are the problem.not things like the NFL and the NBA,
    The Pros don’t create the violations it is strictly a college problem.
    It was happening before the NBA and NFL existed. the only real solution is to get rid of most of the rules because those rules exist for one reason, not to make the sports clean, but to control the players.

  13. Lyle Smith September 24, 2011 / 8:52 pm

    How will the money behind college football migrate to these new minor league systems? Doesn’t the NBA have a developmental league now? Hasn’t the NFL tried a developmental league in Europe? Haven’t others tried to market a second professional football league?

  14. Terry Walbert September 25, 2011 / 9:44 am

    If you paid college football players, you would destroy the system because it is built on an illusion, namely, that college football players at the big schools are student athletes. Undermine that illusion and the system will eventually collapse.

    Which might not be a bad thing, considering how corrupt collegiate football is.

    Has anyone seen the HBO Real Sports segment by Bernard Goldberg on the bowl (Should I say “bowel?”) games. As I said, this corruption is based on the false belief in the student athlete.

  15. Richard September 25, 2011 / 9:53 am

    One thing to consider is that most athletic departments do not make money as is – they actually need money from student fees and other university funds. The Notre Dames and others of their ilk are the (well-publicized) exceptions to the rules, so allowing payment to players (and Title IX has to be considered here) might cause more programs to be cut as the cost rises.

    Also, I tend to like Jeff Davis’ comments about the traditional approach, but while that is ideal for me as a fan, I’m not sure it’s right for the player. The NBA and NFL have to love the NCAA providing them a free minor league developmental system, so I don’t see them ever trying to take the baseball approach? Whey should they pay for a minor league system when the NCAA already does it for them?

  16. Bruce Martin September 28, 2011 / 7:40 am

    If an athlete gets a free ride and leaves early for the Pros, he or the team drafting him should reimburse the school. If they stay for 4 years, good for them, they’re better prepared in the likely event that they never play pro sports.

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