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Hot Pot Of Lax: Paying College Athletes

2 - Published January 4, 2012 by in College, High School, Hot Pot, Pro Lacrosse

This week’s Hot Pot straps on the pads and tackles one of the biggest issues out there right now: Paying College Athletes.  It’s not something that hasn’t been discussed before, but the subject deserves another look… because maybe we’re not going too far enough?  I wrote that certain college athletes should be paid, and after reading Taylor Branch’s article on the NCAA, I was only more certain that my idea had merit.  Now Joe Nocera has written a piece in the NY Times Magazine with a proposed fix, and Deadspinhas “covered” it, by basically just agreeing and making a snarky comment.  It’s all over ESPN on an almost daily basis, and it’s the topic of conversation on couches and in bars all across the country.

mrright cash fan

Best. Cash Fan. Ever.

Recently the NCAA has flirted with the idea of supplying athletes on scholarship with an additional amount of cash to help cover the costs of college, and people seem to think that this is some sort of big deal, but really it isn’t… because it already happens.  There are already NCAA scholarships that provide cash for clothes, plane tickets and more, so how is this new stipend amount being viewed as such a game changer?

It seems like things are different now because athletes are tired of being used as scapegoats, and the fans are tired of seeing it.  And members of both groups are using this pent up frustration to push for a more realistic approach to college sports, which often includes paying the athletes some amount of money.  Some proposals would pay all athletes, and others would only pay certain athletes, but either way the NCAA seems opposed to it, and they claim that paying athletes will lead to the “death of college sports”.  But I think they’re missing the point here… college sports are already dead, paying athletes would just mean we could admit it to each other.

Now when I say college sports are dead, I’m not talking about ALL the sports, ALL the divisions or ALL the teams.  But this idea that college sports are just done for fun and pride of school is ridiculous.  To call some of the athletes out there amateurs is an affront to the Dictionary definition of professional.  Simply put, true professionals are able to make their sport their career, so if you think that MLL or NLL players are pros, then some NCAA athletes are as well, because they are receiving more in benefit and putting a LOT more time into their sport, than these pros in smaller leagues.  Admittedly, it’s a simplistic way of looking at things, but when your sport is your top focus, and everything else is secondary, and someone else takes care of your needs, it’s a professional setting.  I just don’t think there is anyway around that.

When you add in the fact that revenue sports, like football and basketball, generate insane amounts of money at some schools, the water gets much murkier.  I don’t have a problem with the schools making money, but let’s not kid ourselves that these “kids” are amateurs.  Big money is being made off of them, they’re asked to put sports first (which kills the student-athlete myth right there), and some of their coaches make SEVEN figures a year as 110,000 people cheer them on in the school’s stadium.  Other than the players not getting pay checks, what part of that is amateur?

It’s time for us to be a little more honest here.  College sports are fun to watch, and people really care about them.  There is both great tradition and great injustice in college sports’ collective history, and it’s something that has a huge amount of cultural importance.  But to look at college sports and the NCAA and say “that’s the way it’s been, so that’s the way it has to be” just doesn’t make sense anymore.  College sports have morphed into big business and we need to think more creatively on how to better assimilate them back in the overall college experience.  After all, the point of college is to get an education, right?

Most of the sports out there could still operate as they do now, but I really think we need to take a look at big time football and basketball programs on campuses across the country.

And that’s where we can get creative!  Football players at USC take their football seriously, and football is a serious business from youth to the pros.  So why doesn’t USC offer a football major?  Seriously, why don’t they do that?  Football 101, Offense 243, Recruiting 347, Contracts And Sponsorships 403, Sleeveless sweatshirts 406…  You get the idea.  It means the guys who want to be college coaches after they graduate can start learning.  It means the guys who want to work for Nike can learn more about that field without majoring in design, or econ, or business.  It means the guys who make it in the NFL won’t be going in blind.  It’s preparing your students for their life after college.  Sure, a football major seems a little crazy, but doesn’t it also make a lot of sense?

And then we get to scholarships… that situation is kind of crazy.  Let’s simplify the whole system for the big time sports.  At the beginning of the year, each player on scholarship gets $50,000 and they can use that money however they want.  They can use it for school (which they now have to pay for), rent, clothes, etc.  Anything above that will have to be covered by student loans or family, like everyone else.  They would now be Pros on a more honest level, and by having to pay for school, education becomes a top priority again.  VERY little tracking would be required by the NCAA or the schools, and it would teach athletes to budget their incomes.  It would also prompt coaches and teams to focus more on how their players are doing off the field.  It’s a wacky idea, but the amount of red tape the NCAA has to work with and sift through when it comes to expenditures and scholarships is staggering.  Under this new idea, it would be much easier to track official payments to athletes.  Under the table gifts would still be a big issue, but the NCAA could divert their scholarship staff to rooting out illegal payments.

I also think the NCAA should focus more on graduation rates.   For example, if a team isn’t graduating at the same rate as the general student body average from across the country, then they shouldn’t be allowed to participate in post-season games.  That’s a simple stat to track, and sets a low, and easily attainable goal for every athletics team.  If you aren’t graduating at the national average, it’s hard to call your players student-athletes, right?  Cincinnati basketball, I’m looking at you.

My last crazy idea is to let the star football and basketball players to sign endorsement deals.  This is my most insane idea because it allows the college guys to rake in huge dollars.  But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense.  A college football star may only have 1 or 2 years to really shine.  They might get hurt, or never make it in the NFL… so since people are making a ton of money off them for that year or two, don’t they deserve to make some money from it too?  Video games use the athletes’ likenesses, jerseys are sold, and companies like Nike and Adidas make tons off merchandise.  To me, someone like Robert Griffin III might deserve a piece of that action.  He’s on posters and billboard left and right, but doesn’t see a penny.  Seems weird, especially when he’s the one putting his body on the line each week.

I love the idea of amateur college athletes, and think the NCAA should try to keep as many sports amateur as possible.  But in certain instances, the battle is lost, and maintaining a lie does a disservice to the other 99% of the NCAA.  Let’s call it like it is, and allow certain sports to be the professional arenas that they already are.

Main photo is of Mr. Right, with Cash Fan, from Gawker

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