My Problem With the NCAA

So first of all, congratulations to Baker Mayfield for winning the Heisman Trophy. Easily the most deserving player and he did it as a former walk-on. Truly a feat for the ages. That being said, San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny finished fifth in voting after a fantastic season, rushing for over 2000 yards and 19 scores. Penny may have done this for free, but his coach Rocky Long received a $10,000 bonus because Penny made first team All American. So the schools can’t pay their players for their performance, but they can pay their coaches for that player’s performance. Explain to me why that’s fair. Now to set the record straight, Long is a Hell of a coach. San Diego State is perennially among the best non-Power 5 teams in the country and it’s amazing some high-profile school hasn’t tried to sign him away yet (or maybe they have and he’s just turned them down, I don’t know. Wouldn’t surprise me, San Diego is one of my favorite cities and he’s probably in a really good situation there). He’s not the only coach with contract stipulations like this. Texas Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury would receive a quarter of a million dollars if a Red Raider won the Heisman. Those are the only ones I’m aware of but I guarantee you those aren’t the only coaching bonuses in the NCAA for individual player performances.

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The problems start at the top with NCAA head Mark Emmert. This guy makes Roger Goodell look like Yoda in how incompetent he can be at times. This is an unedited quote from Emmert after Lavar Ball pulled LiAngelo from UCLA to “better prepare” him for the NBA:

Is this a part of someone being part of your university as a student-athlete or is it about using college athletics to prepare yourself to be a pro? If it’s the latter, you shouldn’t be there in the first place

So what he’s trying to say is if a player uses college athletics as a stepping stone to go pro, then he shouldn’t be in college in the first place.

This is possibly the worst thing he could have said regarding the whole LiAngelo Ball situation. For a lot of athletes, it’s go pro or bust and they kind of have to prepare that way because they can be cut and lose their scholarship at any time. Being a student, as many of us probably know, is a full-time job. Being a Division 1 collegiate athlete is also a full-time job. So as a student-athlete, these kids are basically balancing two full-time jobs and they can’t receive any compensation for either unless they do make it in the pros, which for most sports isn’t really an option. Hell, NCAA has a tagline that reads “there are over X-number of student athletes and almost all of them will go pro in something other than sports.” By saying what Emmert said, you’re basically devaluing the work a lot of athletes deliver for their schools.

The fact that schools can make millions off of these kids’ performances and get away with not allowing the kids to make any sort of money off their own play is criminal. But the NCAA has put themselves in basically the perfect situation with their defense: “we don’t pay them because they’re amateurs, they’re amateurs because we don’t pay them.” It’s so simple yet it pretty much makes any athlete trying to make money shit out of luck.

Now to be fair to the universities, there will be a huge problem if it becomes mandated that the schools have to pay the athletes: they would have to pay ALL of the athletes. Not just the revenue-generating sports of football and men’s basketball. I mean gymnastics, swimming, water polo, you name it, all have to get paid, otherwise you’re going to create huge problems within your school. Let’s look at Title IX for a moment. Now yes, Title IX was a great innovation that gave women equal opportunities to receive an education and be treated like their male counterparts. But the problem with Title IX was that for every collegiate sport men had, women had to get as well (it’s a little more complicated than that, but that’s the dumbed down version I’m going with). Well whenever a school wants to install a new sport, they need money to pay for uniforms, equipment, a field, coaches, etc. The schools already had lots of money poured into the revenue generators and would need to come up with even more money to accommodate the women. One thing they could have done was try and more evenly distribute the funds dedicated to each sport. But how can a school like Alabama cut down their funding for football when it is probably the biggest attraction the school has to offer? How do you tell a guy like Nick Saban you have to pay him less than what his contract says so that the girls can play volleyball (don’t worry, I’ll get into coach salaries soon)? So what did the schools do? They started cutting male sports and using the funds that had been dedicated to them and repurposing them for the new women’s sports. Wrestling got hit particularly hard by this because let’s face it, outside of staged wrestling, how many women do you really see get into the sport? You can probably count them on one hand, if at all. So many schools cut different male programs and put thousands of students out of a scholarship, possibly killing their chances at a degree and potential career after sports. If the NCAA mandated that the schools had to pay the athletes, I guarantee a similar thing would happen.

One argument I keep hearing in favor of not paying players is that they are paid: with a full ride to college. That’s not 100% accurate. Really only the best of the best get a full ride, the Marvin Bagley’s and Saquon Barkley’s of the world. I’ve talked with several athletes around campus at Indiana who are only on partial scholarship. And don’t even get me started on the walk-ons who have to pay in full, which Baker Mayfield was. Plus, as I mentioned before, players can get cut and in many cases, lose their scholarship, which for many athletes was their one real ticket into college in the first place. Hell, I’ve been paid for my broadcasts with the Big Ten Network’s Student U program and I had about as much to do with the game I’m calling as the guy scalping tickets in the parking lot. If I were to do play-by-play with a current student athlete and they were to get paid to do the same job I just did, that would be an NCAA violation and they could get the school in big trouble even though it’s the Big Ten Network that handles the salary (I think, I’m not 100% sure on that, I kind of just blindly filled out some paperwork to get on payroll).

Another thing I keep seeing is people saying sarcastically “there’s no money to pay the players” when a coach gets signed to a lucrative contract. It kind of goes back to the line about amateurism I referenced before. There isn’t the money for athletes because they pay the coaches so much, they pay coaches so much because there isn’t money for athletes. Not quite the same, but it now puts them in a bind because there is as much as $9 million before incentives (Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh) dedicated towards a single head coach. Now I’m sure there are plenty of coaches who would gladly cut their salaries so that their guys can make money, but that’s just not fair to ask of them. Because you’re paying them so much, they’re now accustomed to a certain life style. Granted, a college football coach probably doesn’t get to bask in that money a whole lot because they’re always on the road either recruiting or coming up with gameplans, but the schools have created this roadblock in coaching salaries that makes it nearly impossible to pay players what they’re worth, which is a ton considering how much money sports can rake in for a university.

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Which brings me to my next point, how much money a university actually profits. It turns out, most schools actually don’t turn a profit from college athletics and are actually operating at a deficit. It’s the major schools such as Texas that actually turn profits. While a school like Texas could probably afford to pay their players (their athletic department rakes in over $180 million a year as of 2016, according to Business Insider), a smaller school such as Ball State can’t. So that creates another conundrum, especially considering players can’t just become free agents and seek larger markets to get a bigger salary for their performance like they can in the pros. Once you pick your school, you’re basically stuck there for three to four years. The only form of leaving is transferring and by NCAA rules you have to sit out an entire season if you do. It also becomes tricky as to how much you should pay each player and whether or not athletes in one sport make more than athletes in another. There are a whole lot of logistical problems surrounding all of this that there’s really only one viable solution that I can come up with in which everybody wins.

Allow players to sign with agents and make money off their own name on their own time. No money has to come out of the pockets of the athletic departments, they can keep paying their coaches their ridiculous sums (Harbaugh makes more than all NFL head coaches) and the players can use their performance to make some money. Now yes, football players and basketball players will likely receive more phone calls than water polo players. But I guarantee you there will be some money to be made from local businesses, such as sporting goods stores, that would love to feature a softball player in their ads and whatnot. The only real concern would be potentially shady agents taking advantage of kids who might not know any better. My response to that is that if the NCAA cares as much about the student athlete as they claim to, then monitor these actions. Have all contracts go through the NCAA offices and be approved by an NCAA official before allowing it to go through so that an athlete isn’t being taken advantage of. I haven’t really heard any horror stories about agents taking advantage of their professional clients, so I doubt this really would become a problem. The shadiest thing I’ve heard is Emmanuel Sanders signed with the Broncos while his agent agreed to a deal with the Chiefs a few years back, which sounds more like a miscommunication than anything. But otherwise I never hear about any real issues regarding agents and their clients. I see no reason why these players can’t make money off their name and likeness. Plus if that happens, then I’ll get my NCAA video games back, which I’ve missed terribly since they were discontinued following the 2013 season. Which really is the important thing here.

Should players be paid by the universities? Should players be allowed to sign with agents and do endorsement deals? Is the current system fine with you? Let me know in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon. Also, sorry for not posting yesterday. It’s Finals Week at IU and I’ve been pretty busy. I’m going to try and continue my normal posting routine this week, but if I break off of it, it’s because I’ve got exams to worry about.

 

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