Friday, August 14, 2009

Pay the kids some more.

[Here's part one, for those playing at home.]

How about this for comparison. I had a full music scholarship when I went to Alabama. Almost nothing I did while I was there did anything to bring money to the university (almost all the concerts were free - the exception was the Christmas show). At Oklahoma I had a graduate teaching assistantship that paid so little, I gave a substantial amount of it back to the school for the excess tuition fees. The classes I taught did some little bit to help the school financially. I - like most grad students - was woefully underpaid for it, though and had to supplement with student loans.

This is normal, but I had little financial impact on either of my universities. College football players have a huge impact, both on their school's bottom line and ability to attract more students. Just talk to all the players on mediocre teams in the mid-major conferences that go on the road to play big teams, only rarely scoring an upset, but always getting a huge payday for their schools. Players that play for elite programs like USC, OU, 'Bama, Notre Dame, and even down-but-not-out Michigan are some of the hands that feed their universities big money. (If they get injured, there's a bigger price.) I'm not saying players are the sole bread-winners - universities obviously have other (and bigger) sources of funding - but with as much money as there is in the college game, can't the players see some of that? They probably get book scholarships and dorm rooms and food paid for as well, but I'd argue for something more explicit.

The NCAA should sanction nominal stipends. This might act as a deterrent against the kind of shenanigans that cost Rhett Bomar a place on the OU football squad (both for the boosters and the players themselves). There are all kinds of ways for boosters to get money to kids. Maybe a stipend program would help curtail the practice. Right now the perception is that college players are paid with an education, books and room and board, but if colleges can say, "hey, we also pay them for what they do on the field that explicitly brings us money," then there's less a perception that the kids are being used. It's also a bit of an insurance policy against getting hurt. I'm thinking of Tyrone Prothro, a 'Bama receiver with "NFL" written all over him - until he broke his leg in the line of duty. A stipend wouldn't cover the loss of an NFL career but it at least acknowledges that there are physical and career risks for guys. Some would say that that's just the way it goes, but I would say the difference between "in the NFL" and "not in the NFL" is huge.

Look, I know that this whole pay-the-players concept is fraught with big problems. For one, the NCAA would never do it, nor would any system chancellor or university president. It really ruins the amateur standing that the NCAA polices so vigorously. But the financial inequities are there, they're obvious, and they need to be addressed.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Pay the kids.

Those of you that know me know that I am a huge college football fan. Given my background, it was almost impossible for me not to be. My dad went to Michigan and my older brother went to Ohio State, so I grew up caught in the middle of one of college football's most heated rivalries. For the record, I always sided with my brother. Dad always had - and still has - Mom in his corner. That experience as a kid was only compounded when I attended both Alabama and Oklahoma, both hugely storied pigskin programs. Needless to say, last year was amazing for my teams as they kept winning and winning - and heart-wrenching when they were both beaten by the much-hated Gators of Gainesville, Florida. (Full disclosure: I attended UF for two semesters. Nice school - excellent, really - but I could never root for the team after attending 'Bama.)

I look forward to fall football more and more each year. Just ask my wife. She's a pretty big fan herself, but even she seems bemused this year by my wild-eyed hyperventilation. Being unemployed has given me some extra time to whip myself into a frenzy - but also to ruminate on some issues in the game. I'm going to spend some time exploring some of the more interesting ones. Starting now.

College football is big business. Say what you will about how the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), ahem, "determines" college football's national champion, but there is no disputing that the controversial system has amped up the water-cooler factor of a sport already drenched in trash talk and rivalries. Huge TV deals, conferences with their own networks, obscene bowl game payouts, campus athletic facilities that far outstrip classrooms and labs - the sport is flush with cash. Everybody around the sport is benefiting. Even the student-athletes that play the game. Scholarship money abounds and kids that might not otherwise get a college education are getting one.

But I still think that there is an inequity in the sport. Though I know that there are problems with the concept - the first being "it'll never happen" - it's time to pay the kids for their play. Why, though? I just mentioned that many of them get a first-rate education when they might not get one. So why pay them more?

It's all about fairness. As the money in and around the game has increased exponentially, the kids are still rewarded with only a college education. You say, "that seems fair to me", but it's not. It's like the minimum wage went 50 years without being raised. Schools are seeing more and more profit from football - left-tackle-sized profits, in fact. But to get these profits they are riding the hard work of students. Yes, they sink all the money back into the school, scholarships and the athletic department, too. But that's woefully indirect. And not fair. There's no sport without the players.

Tune in for tomorrow's exciting conclusion: Fair is Fair, Unless You're a College Football Player!