Wednesday, January 5, 2011's Solution To The NCAA's Rampant Hypocrisy: Pay The Athletes!!!

Last night's Sugar Bowl was the physical embodiment of the NCAA's hypocrisy. Ohio State's Terrell Pryor and Co. took the field, despite having broken an NCAA rule by reselling team memorabilia. Never mind the fact that the team regularly auctions off Pryor's game used equipment to fund the booster club, and sells replicas with his #2 (sans last name) for about $150. This all adds up. The Ohio State University pulled in an astounding $65 million in football related revenue alone last year, and a whopping $118 million for the athletic department as a whole.

Pryor, the star quarterback, sees none of this money.

You could argue that he's using The Ohio State as an internship for an NFL job, and that's mostly true. The exposure of playing in front of millions of people each week gives him an invaluable platform on which to display his skills to NFL scouts. He's (allegedly) getting a free education, room, board, a small cost of living stipend, and a nominal per diem when travelling. Nobody is making him play football. If he wanted to quit tomorrow and enroll at the school as a paying student, he could.

Still, all best laid plans can implode with one errant tackle. Pryor could blow out a knee during practice and never play a day in the NFL. All the years of two-a-days, weight training, and drinking protein shakes would be for naught. And that's a best case scenario. There are thousands of other NCAA athletes who work just as hard yet have no chance of going pro, and given the demands of the sport, have little time to focus on their studies. Many of these kids never graduate, and end up back home with few employment prospects, and nothing to show for their effort other than a perpetually achy back. Meanwhile, the schools just recruit more kids, make more money, rinse, and repeat.

Sorry, but something's really wrong with this picture.

I think these schools should pay their athletes, and here's how: Profit Sharing.

In the corporate world, many companies "share" their profits with employees at years end, either in the form of bonuses, stock shares, or direct payments into interest-bearing accounts. Employees feel a level of engagement in the company's success that goes beyond the 1st and the 15th, since they have an extra incentive to work hard. The company gets even more dedicated employees, and shares just enough with them to reward their efforts without breaking the bank. It's a classic win-win.

In the NCAA's current setup, only the schools win. Most NCAA scholarships are renewable each year, not the 4-year ride you'd assume they are. This is a rule so egregiously slanted in favor of the schools that the US Department of Justice is currently examining whether or not it's legal. So, in short, if you don't perform on the field or court, you can get cut. This seldom happens to star players, but it's an annual occurrence for guys on the fringe who are quietly dismissed. Next time you read about a player who "decided to leave the University", you should probably consider this the reason.

I propose a level of reasonable profit sharing wherein the athletic departments of the schools establish 401k's or IRAs for each player upon enrollment. At the end of each year, the schools should open the books for each individual sport, determine what that sport's revenue and expenses were for the season, and give each scholarship player a uniform percentage (ie: 0.5-1% tops), deposited directly into their accounts. Players can invest the money in any number of available vehicles but the money is not fully vested, and thus cannot be touched, until the player actually graduates. Players who drop out forfeit their money, as do players who go pro early. Failure to graduate in 5 years results in a forfeiture. Money forfeited goes directly back to the athletic department. Walk-ons get nothing, nor do incoming transfers.

Since the money is divvied up based on the profitability of a given sport, athletes in the non-revenue generating sports (ie: swimming and softball) that football and basketball usually fund would get virtually nothing. As for Title IX, womens programs (ie: basketball) which turn a profit share that with the players. This probably would be a huge point of contention, but I'm not sure why. Again, mens programs that don't make money don't pay either. Generally, scholarships for non-revenue generating sports are not full rides, merely a nominal stipend provided each semester to offset tuition. It's not like there's a level playing field right now amongst sports or genders. So this is pretty reasonable, and fair across the board. It rewards those who make the school money. When the women's golf team gets a $6 Billion TV deal, they'll deserve a cut of that money too.

Big name schools that generate millions would naturally be more attractive to recruits since they potential could pay more, but that's really no different that how things operate now, sans the money. It's not like Ohio State and Ohio University are competing for the same caliber of player anyway. This is simply extending that same "big school" benefit by adding a legal financial payout. It wouldn't totally curb the influence of boosters and shady agents, but it does recognize the players' contributions to the University.

In the end, players in sports that make money could leave college with $15-$20,000 that they could use to further their education, start a family, or buy a home. While that's a nominal amount and would vary widely by school and sport, at least it's a good start, and shows the schools are looking out for the general welfare of the kids.

Question: Is this Profit Sharing concept a good idea, or should college athletes simply not be paid?!?

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