It’s worth spending a little more time on the subject, with the Sun Belt’s surprise announcement that it’s all in on the cost of attendance scholarship. And here’s the intriguing part:
… The big thing to note here is that each school will have the freedom to divide up any additional aid as they see fit. Theoretically, the amounts of additional aid could not only vary from school to school — the NCAA recommended that conferences develop a “common application” for such money — but from athlete to athlete within a variety of sports.
I can see this working if it’s not necessary for a school to adopt a one size fits all approach. Although I do wonder if there will be a lawsuit coming out of that down the road.
Meanwhile, Charles Pierce (right now, my favorite political blogger simply because he writes so damned well) makes a comparison between NCAA athletes and baseball players before the reserve clause was tossed out.
… Something like that has happened over the last 20 or 30 years in regard to college athletics. Every few years, some angry, stick-waving prophet would come wandering into the cozy system of unpaid (or barely paid) labor and start bellowing about how the essential corruption in the system wasn’t that some players got money under the table, but that none of them were allowed to get any over it. Sooner or later, these people said, the system would collapse from its own internal contradictions — yes, some of these people summoned up enough Marx through the bong resin in their brains from their college days to make a point — and the people running college sports had best figure out how to control the chaos before it overwhelmed them. Nobody listened. Very little changed, except that college sports became bigger and more lucrative, an enterprise of sports spectacle balanced precariously on the fragile principle that everybody should get to make money except the people doing the actual work.
There’s a part of me that resists this because, like so many others condemning things as they are, Pierce conveniently ignores the contribution the NFL has made in creating the mess. But his next argument sure is compelling.
… On October 27, undoubtedly in response to all of this, and in an obvious attempt to keep order within the help, the NCAA voted to allow its member conferences to decide whether to pay their athletes an annual stipend of $2,000 to cover the “incidental costs” of a college education. NCAA president Mark Emmert was firm in his denial that this constituted “pay for play.”
Of course, it is.
And that’s the ballgame right there. As soon as you pay someone $2,000, you cannot make the argument that it is unethical to pay that person $5,000, or $10,000, or a million bucks a year, for all that. [Emphasis added.] Amateurism is one of those rigid things that cannot bend, only shatter. Amateurism is an unsustainable concept. It could not last in golf. It could not last in tennis. It couldn’t even last in the Olympics, where it was supposed to have been ordained by Zeus or someone. It is the rancid legacy of a stultified British class system in which athletes were supposed to be “gentlemen” and not “tradesmen.” Which is to say that sports are supposed to be for Us and not Them, old sport.
I think that’s right. I’m not sure the NCAA understands what it’s getting itself into here. (In fact, given how clueless Mark Emmert has been on a number of subjects since he took over the reins, I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet the NCAA has no idea what it’s unleashed.) And the real problem with opening Pandora’s Box here is that you can also place a pretty safe bet that nobody on the NCAA side has begun to study how schools are going to be able to afford the brave new world the organization is creating.
Which brings me to another brilliant article, this one by SI’s George Dohrmann which explores a number of steps the NCAA could take on the cost containment side to… you know, actually pay for all that play. The first of those would no doubt be the most controversial, but it’s also the most logical:
… In addition to 85 scholarship players, rosters balloon with walk-ons. Mississippi had 126 students participate in football in 2009–10, Louisville 119, San Jose State 106 and Oregon 105. There is little justification for rosters that large, particularly given the expenses (equipment, training) that come with each player. Also, the more football participants a school has, the more female athletes it must accommodate to comply with Title IX.
Thus football rosters would be capped at 90, and the number of available scholarships would drop from 85 to 63. To help compensate for their losses, football coaches could fractionalize scholarships, a common measure in most nonrevenue sports, but one now prohibited in football. If a recruit received a quarter scholarship from one school but a full ride from another, he would know where he stood with each.
That’s a lot of savings, both from football, but also from scrapping scholarships handed it out in non-revenue sports in the name of Title IX. It also would have the benefit of creating a good deal more parity across the board in college football. (That would drive Nick Saban nuts, wouldn’t it?)
Read the whole thing.
Both the Pierce and Dohrmann pieces are linked in this Dan Shanoff post, which tries to offer the last piece to the puzzle.
… The crux of the problem is the perceived exploitation of the star college football players, the ones who are worth far more than any college could ever afford to pay them, under any system.
The simplest solution is to create a pro football minor league that allows the best/star players (read: top NFL prospects) to skip college at any point — before their freshman, sophomore or junior years — to enter a minor-league system that (a) prepares them for the NFL better than college would/could and (b) pays them rather well for it.
College football would be fine — it doesn’t need “star” players. It needs its teams and its traditions. That college football put an emphasis on its biggest future-NFL talents was a huge reason it got itself into this mess (the media have been complicit). The perceived exploitation — not to mention the levels of compensation in a pay-for-play system — would be mitigated.
The players would be better off: They would be getting paid. They would be focused full-time on maximizing their NFL potential. Back on campus, scholarship slots would be given to players with no pro future — the ones for whom a full-ride college scholarship helps set them up for a non-football future.
I couldn’t agree more with him on that. But where I think he runs out of steam is with the next (unfortunately necessary) step.
… The NFL would be better off: The league doesn’t need the marketing bump of college football to get fans excited about its rookie players. And instead of college players learning college systems and playing for coaches with no incentive to train them for a pro career, they enter a system whose entire rationale is to maximize their NFL potential. While paying them.
I don’t know whether The League needs the marketing bump from college football, but it sure likes that it gets one without spending a single red cent.
… I wish Mark Cuban would stop futzing around with a college playoff when the more valuable arbitrage is so obviously the three-year gap between the moment a star player enters college football and the moment they leave for the NFL Draft.
There’s probably a good reason for that. Cuban hasn’t been able to find the profit angle for a pro football minor league. And there’s the rub – the reason college football would be fine with this is exactly the same reason a football minor league wouldn’t. There’s no way a professional league set up as a glorified training program is going to have a shot in hell of generating the traditions and the fan base passion that will ensure financial success. (How likely is it that players and their agents will go for Shanoff’s suggestion that the minor league be funded out of players’ NFL contracts? Not very.) If the new system costs the NFL anything, then why should the league embrace it? And if you can’t convince the owners that it’s worth going along, they’re not coming.
The NFL ain’t a non-profit, you know.