Here is a link to my Tuesday column about why colleges should pay football and basketball players. The full column runs below:

College football and basketball players should get paid.

I’m talking about the top-tier schools, the schools that appear on television all the time, the schools that earn millions from the labor of their so-called student-athletes, the schools that pay their coaches big salaries — sometimes in the millions — the schools that preach the virtue of amateurism so they can take all the cash for themselves while they buy off the players with full scholarships and sometimes partial scholarships.

I’m talking about schools where, mostly, scholar-athletes couldn’t care less about the scholar part and go to school only because it’s the minor-league for the pro sports they really want to play. I’m saying the amateur model we currently embrace is a joke and a lie. I’m saying boxing is more honest than college football and basketball. Boxing is honest about its dishonesty. College football and basketball want to con you, make you think they are morally upstanding. Give me a break.

A labor attorney named Jeff Kessler just filed an antitrust lawsuit in New Jersey claiming compensation for players should not be limited to the price of a scholarship. The suit claims players should be fairly compensated for their contribution to the big business of college sports. The suit also claims NCAA schools are a cartel illegally limiting compensation for college football and basketball players.

To which I say, right on, Jeff Kessler.

Let’s bring this down to the human scale. Let’s use everyday language. The colleges and the NCAA make all the money from football and basketball and throw a few crumbs to the players. This seems appropriate to us because it’s the way it’s been done. That doesn’t mean it’s right.

Here are two small examples. I’m talking about Johnny Manziel and Terrelle Pryor. Both got in trouble in college because they allegedly signed autographs for money.

Stop the world. They got money for their signatures. Next they’ll be robbing banks.

The NCAA could not find incontrovertible evidence Manziel did the dirty deed. Whatever. The fact remains Texas A&M suspended Manziel the first half of the first game last season for violating some NCAA rule or other.

Pryor’s case was more serious. ESPN alleged Pryor earned thousands signing his name while playing for Ohio State. Pryor denied the charge. It also was reported Pryor drove several cars. Where did he get the money for his wheels? Pryor eventually withdrew from school and got drafted by the Raiders.

Are we supposed to think Manziel and Pryor did something wrong, something verging on the criminal? They signed their names. Pryor bought some cars. So what? Apparently, they are supposed to live at the poverty level to show they are true amateurs.

Their universities don’t live at the poverty level. Their coaches don’t live at the poverty level. Their athletic conferences and the NCAA made a pile licensing the images and names of Manziel and Pryor and thousands of other athletes. They didn’t share the dough with the athletes. They still don’t share the dough with the athletes even though the athletes make the money for them by actually playing the games, by actually doing great things on the field and on the court, by getting injured playing the games that earn the schools money. Most of the athletes don’t have professional careers and many don’t graduate. Which means they have nothing to show for earning their schools all that money. But they’re not allowed to sign their names for money. The NCAA makes billions off college football and basketball players.

None of this seems fair to me. Most of it isn’t in the spirit of America. We are, after all, a capitalist country. Kessler’s suit challenges the inequity, the absolute phoniness of this crummy system which gives all the sweet benefits to the NCAA and the athletic conferences and screws — yes, screws — the players.

There are arguments against Kessler’s lawsuit. Of course, there are. This is a complicated issue.

Reasonable people say paying players takes money away from universities. The result? There won’t be enough money for other sports like, say, gymnastics. There won’t be enough money for some non-athletic programs.

To which I say, that’s the universities’ problem. Let them find other ways to finance their needs. Nothing says some 18-year-old running back should sacrifice himself to finance a university, should have no right to sign his name for money because the NCAA, the biggest money grabber around, says it’s wrong.

Reasonable people say college football and basketball won’t be the same if schools pay players. Football and basketball will be blatantly professional. The Big Game would be Cal’s pros against Stanford’s pros and that would be bad.

To which I say, fine, don’t pay players. Scale back the whole system. End the big-money TV contracts. Stop playing a national championship game in football. Make college football and basketball true amateur sports in the college spirit. Don’t allow them to be professional leagues — it’s what the big conferences are right now.

College sports should be collegiate. Schools should play schools in their geographical vicinity. I mean, there is no reason for Colorado to be in the Pac-12. I’m not sure the Arizona schools should be in the Pac-12. I’m not even sure there should be a Pac-12. Maybe the Pac-12 should self-subtract and dial back the number to 8 or 10.

If conferences don’t scale back — they won’t — then pay the players. Make them true professionals instead of the accidental pros they currently are. Make the system fair.


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  1. Albert Park

    Lowell, I couldn’t add a word to what you’ve said. I agree 100%.

    March 17th, 2014 11:22 pm

  2. Streetglide

    Right on Lowell, to resurrect a phrase from our youth. The NCAA is a most heinous organization ensuring that billions (with a B) are purloined off the sweat and pain of mostly poor kids looking for a break. ALL student athletes should share the wealth derived from their efforts, not just the big schools. It could be based on a percentage of the gross profits.

    Even better would be to kick big-time sports off campus and instead offer an education that competes with the rest of the world. You could have required courses on, oh I don’t know, say ethics, morality, comparative religion, math, science, stuff most students have only the vaguest of knowledge about.

    And yes, you can dangle a preposition. This is not German…

    March 18th, 2014 6:57 am

  3. Dennis

    Now you are talking. I hope Kessler wins. This is becoming embarrassing.

    March 18th, 2014 8:15 am

  4. mike

    An example of the gross hypocrisy of the whole situation is a comment from an NCAA official who contends that the agreed-upon FINANCIAL CONSTRAINT is necessary to preserve its NOTION of amateurism, which officials argue is tied significantly to the educational mission of universities and the COMMERCIAL success of college sports.

    In other words, it’s all about the money!!!!!!!

    March 18th, 2014 9:32 am

  5. michel

    yep – agreed with this 100%. The whole post season Bowl thing is a sham also. That is worth a whole article in itself.

    March 18th, 2014 11:16 am

  6. Dave T

    I could not agree more. My favorite example was an All American defensive back named Tripp Welbourn from the University of Michigan some time ago, late 80′s or early 90′s, he and Todd Lyght (sp?) from USC were All Americans for two years running. In his last game of his regular season his senior year against Ohio State he was running back a punt and had his knee blown out. While he did make a recovery, and get an shot in the NFL he was never the same player again. At that time, the maximum insurance policy a player in the NCAA could have for such an item was $1 Million dollars. Now while that may seem like a lot of money, for a two time All American with an extremely high draft status, who is having his name used and jersey sold like hot cakes, that likely paled in comparison to any kind of signing bonus and NFL contract he would have obtained.

    The revenue the “student atheletes” generate is simply off the charts and what they do to their bodies and minds through the blood, sweat and tears is equally off the charts. Yes, it is time they were paid for what they do, because as the NCAA likes to say, most of them will go pro in something other than sports. So let’s pay those that are pro while they are and reward them for what they bring to their Colleges and Universities.

    March 18th, 2014 11:20 am

  7. Stan

    Why not open the whole field of “If you have a skill in America,you cannot be denied being paid for it”?…Already private High Schools offer “scholarships” to 12 year old’s for sports. Why not pay them?..until they are 18 hold the money. Teens can work legally,now get paid for balancing school and sports in HS
    I’m not sure why the pretense an education is involved in College. Why have them take up classroom space for real students? That Tuba player in 86 should have been paid too. He earned it.
    College locker rooms are communist bunkers right now. At least take a step up to socialism if not all out capitalism.

    March 18th, 2014 5:26 pm

  8. Dr. Feelgood

    I don’t believe that the college athletes should get “paid”. They receive scholarships and, if they so choose, a college education and degree. When did that become a bad deal?
    I get it that someone is getting ripped-off, but the crime is not that they don’t get paid. The crime is that amateur athletics has been hi-jacked by the corporate entertainment business.
    It’s reported that only 23 of 340 Division one schools generates an operating income. The school picks up the tab for the deficit. How do they do that? For instance CA state funding has decreased significantly for UC. The shortfall is made up through annual tuition increases and “belt-tightening” across the campus, read: fewer and more crowded classrooms, department cutbacks, staff reductions, etc. All leading to a degraded university. However, athletic budgets somehow continue to grow.
    That alone should be enough for the parents, students, and anyone who holds the university as the shining example of our ideals, and are stuck with the bill, to draw a line in the sand and say “enough”.
    We are the rubes in all of this. TV makes huge money on game broadcasts and the networks get paid for endless pre and post-game drivel and highlights. The athletic staff gets paid, the executive staff gets paid. Everyone tied up in this gets paid- EXCEPT the athletes.
    But, how does paying the athletes enhance the university and advance its ideals? And, where would the money come from?

    March 18th, 2014 7:02 pm

  9. russell

    In theory I want to agree with you, but then in reality I think it gets sticky. Not to say they don’t deserve to get paid, but I have a few concerns….Mainly, how do you do it????
    Do athletes negotiate a salary individually? Do you pay them all the same? You mentioned the top programs, but what about sure to come along, lovable scrappers of the world? Won’t they want their piece of the pie when their exploitation comes along? I don’t think the universities need to flat out pay a salary, but without a doubt the system needs to let the ones that can make money get all they can when it’s there.

    March 18th, 2014 10:55 pm

  10. Jimmy

    I thought college athletes did get paid. An athlete at say Cal or Stanford, gets paid probably 40-50k a year between tuition and housing. The rest of us would’ve killed to get paid like that in college.

    March 19th, 2014 3:07 pm

  11. Dr. Feelgood

    It’s no longer business as usual in college sports.

    March 26th, 2014 7:37 pm

  12. Stan

    Just as I predicted….

    March 27th, 2014 10:36 am

  13. Stan

    Socialism works..

    March 27th, 2014 10:38 am

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