The Worldwide Leader says it's time to "discuss" paying athletes (which largely means it's time for the columnists who work for the Worldwide Leader to write columns arguing in favor of it and also means it's time for Michael Wilbon to write something retarded) so like good sports junkies, we must follow along.
I guess I gave away the theme a little bit in the title, but yes, just to reiterate, by and large it's a stupid idea concocted with little thought toward implementation. So it's basically the same as playoffs in football. The thing is, of course and as you've surely heard before, college athletes - especially football players - are already compensated better than every other student at the school. Who else on a college campus is given money for tuition, food, and room and board? Not even ROTC students are compensated that well (there is no room and board money) and they owe a minimum four-year debt to the goverment when they leave. College football players get everything taken care of for them and don't owe a dime back.
But you've heard all this before. And you still have problems with the system. But, you say, they make millions of dollars for their school. Why can't they get a slice?
Well, they do get a slice, of course; the value of a full-tuition scholarship can be $200,000. That's a big slice. But things like being able to market one's own self and getting a cut of jersey sales always enter the discussion. Wilbon argues that the money-makers (football and basketball players) should get paid; everyone else, because they don't make money, can get stuffed; that's capitalism, baby! Aside from the fact that lacrosse, hockey, and baseball are also televised on ESPN and therefore deserve money under Wilbon's logic, if you're going to argue "capitalism baby!" then you have to apply it to the whole system. If this is going to be a truly capitalistic enterprise, then dammit all the female athletes except maybe the basketball players should be paying through the nose just for the privilege of putting on a uniform. Hell they should have to go to damn Dick's Sporting Goods and buy their own damn gear. They don't add a dime to the system, why should they get any back in the form of scholarships?
Because that's really, really stupid, obviously, and even if that system was starting to appeal to you, you'd have to admit it would result in fifty thousand lawsuits as soon as it was implemented. If pure capitalism ran the show here, there would never be any sports but football and basketball. Which is very bad for society etc. etc.
I would have less of a problem with the idea that a player should be able to do things like make public appearances for money, or sell his championship rings for money, or whatever. I have a little sympathy for that argument. The problem is this: Wait'll T. Boone Pickens gets a load if it. The guy has spent literally tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, trying to make Oklahoma State a better football team. You think if it were legal, he would have a problem finding a way to pay a bunch of players several thousand each for "speaking engagements" or "memorabilia," even if that memorabilia was, say, a dirty sock? "Oh, but that's capitalism!" The hell it is, and even if it is I don't want to ever see a bidding war between the boosters of the various schools for recruits, because that's what's gonna happen. The NCAA rules against taking benefits of most kinds aren't 100% effective, but they do keep quite a bit of money out of the system. Open a tiny loophole and there will be unscrupulous (or even well-intentioned) people who can find legal ways to shove as much money as possible through it. Why? Because Roll Dayum Tahd**, that's why. Y'awl just better beat Auburn, ah don't care what ah have to spend. Having prospects choose between the various "memorabilia offers" presented by the various boosters at every school, and that being 100% cool by the NCAA, is not a world I want to live in. We just watched Chip Kelly and Oregon pay $25,000 for a piece of shit scouting report because they were really paying for something else. So if you think a booster won't pay $25,000 for used jockstrap, because he's really paying for something else, you're ignoring reality.
Neither, for that matter, is one in which we are divvying out money in the form of stipends based on who's making it for whom. Does anyone think, for example, that paying a stipend to football players because they bring in bowl money, will solve anything? If you pay the backup punter the same as you pay the star wide receiver, sooner or later a star wide receiver is gonna wonder how come he doesn't get any more money than everyone else (since it's "his" jersey they're selling, after all) and go seeking alternate forms of income anyway. So maybe they can get a cut of those jersey sales or something. Sure - UVA still offers a #19 jersey for sale in the Bookstore, that money can go to the freshman who's handed #19 in the fall, right? That would piss nobody off, I bet. They also sell a throwback #10, because everyone's clamoring for Michael Strauss jerseys.
What it comes down to is, every argument in favor of paying players holds up a few of the top players as an example. Football and basketball players, always. They're somehow getting screwed because they're making money for the school and not getting money. Or, not getting more money than they already get. (This is the same tactic used by people who argue that there should be no age limit to the NBA Draft. Because Kevin Garnett and Kobe were ready. Never mind Korleone Young or the numerous nameless players who declared but weren't ready and who knows what they're doing now. And if you don't know who Korleone Young is, then you got my point.)
Fine: let's pretend that those folks are 100% right and the Andrew Lucks and Cam Newtons of the world are in fact getting screwed by getting hundreds of thousands in tuition, free food, room and board, and health care, and otherwise having to live the life of the average college student by slumming it in a cheap apartment instead of a swanky penthouse like the pros do. (Andrew Luck is a very ironic choice of photograph for Wilbon's article, because he was getting screwed so badly he decided to go back to Stanford for another year of getting screwed.)
Guess what: I'm OK with it. I'm OK with what amounts to less than one-half of one percent of college athletes getting less than their "true worth," because if you take an objective look at the system, all the rest of them are getting more than their "true worth." It's worth remembering that college athletic departments don't "make a profit" for the sake of lining their own pockets. That TV money and bowl money and stuff subsidizes a lot of other opportunities. (Wilbon points out that certain coaches are being huge amounts of money, but if Nick Saban's entire $5.9 million salary was distributed to all the I-A scholarship football players in the country, each would get $578. $5.9 million sounds like a lot of money but cutting his salary in half probably wouldn't even pay for the Alabama swim team.) If one track team, one swimming team, one baseball team, one gymnastics team, anywhere, is cut, and a whole team worth of athletes has their opportunity reduced to zero, because a bunch of writers and administrators and such wanted to assuage their guilt over the "exploitation" of athletes, then it's not worth it.
**Roll Damn Tide, for those not fluent in Alabamian.
The title says "mostly a stupid idea," and I will toss one small bone to those who think it's not. If there's one argument I do have some sympathy for it's that if a player has a championship ring, or a souvenir, an actual souvenir and not just a pair of socks, and wants to sell it, I feel like he probably should be able to. I wouldn't sell something like that, but many would want to. Now, there's the whole loophole deal in which someone would probably half a million bucks for that thing. So just letting players go out and sell whatever they can sell is probably a bad idea. However, if the NCAA were to open a clearinghouse of sorts, through which players can sell things at a price set by the NCAA, and then receive their money through the NCAA, I would not argue with this. In this way a player can sell his gear (if in fact it's his and the school doesn't want it back and he doesn't still need it), or his rings, or autographed stuff, or what the hell ever, and there can be oversight into the process. This is much better than "hey, I ganked these shoes from the equipment locker and signed 'em, tat me up and they're yours."