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.