Just because they never had it so good may be true doesn’t make it right.

An alert reader passed on this tour de force defense of what currently passes for amateurism, suspecting I’d have a reaction.  Guess what?  He’s right.

It’s not the romance part that gets me.  As I’ve said before, been there, done that.  If somebody feels in their heart of hearts that players shouldn’t be compensated any more than they already are, more power to him or her.  I don’t mind a romantic — just one who finds it convenient to ignore anything you might learn in an Econ 101 class.

Take, for example the juxtaposition of “they’ve never had it so good” here…

The list of perks for being a football player at a big-time program is long and enviable. All the food you can eat. Lodging at what is typically the best dorm on campus. Enough team-issued gear — some recruits will turn spurn an adidas school in favor of a Nike school — to make for quite an extensive wardrobe.

… with, “hey, they’re just like any other college kid” here:

This isn’t to say that there aren’t hard times. Many of these families can’t afford to put money in their sons’ accounts.

It’s not unusual to hear stories about players going hungry on weekends because the cafeteria was closed. Scholarship players aren’t allowed to have jobs during the season, and there’s no time for one anyway.

You know who has similar problems? Pretty much every other student on campus — the ones who can’t run a 4.4 40 or bench press 400 pounds. Practically all college kids are broke. It’s a part of the experience. Find any successful graduate, and he can probably tell you about that month junior year when he lived off ramen noodles.

Which is it, then?  And why is any of that relevant in light of an argument — “80,000 fans fill Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturdays in the fall to watch football, not lab experiments.” — that even he concedes is legitimate?

Then there’s the ever-popular, arrogant “eh, if we paid the kids real money, they’d just blow it on video games and weed” argument.

They’re also getting stipends now, supposedly to pay for the cost-of-living expenses not typically covered by a full ride. Laundry money, grocery money, gas money — most of these kids are away from home for the first time. There’s no accounting procedure for that cash, though. Tattoo artists are no doubt grateful.

Yeah, it would be a real shame for them to spend a few of their bucks on tats.  It’s far wiser for the folks running the sport to take that money and spend it on Charlie Weis, Larry Scott and Lane Kiffin.  The beautiful thing there is denying the first opportunity is what enables the second.

Oh, let’s not discount the free will argument.  Nobody’s holding a gun to these kids’ heads, damn it!

If a young man dreams of making it to the NFL, this is the only path. No minor league. No European league. If he doesn’t agree with the college football model, well, nobody is forcing him to fax in that letter of intent.

These are the rules of engagement. A lot of people around them — not just the Sabans of the world — are making a lot of money, but let’s stop comparing college football players to Chinese factory workers. Their scholarships are only becoming more valuable, too. Tuition costs keep going higher. Swag bags keep getting bigger.

“These are the rules of engagement.”  Never mind that in the real world, rules are set in the market, while in the college athletic world, they’re imposed by a cartel that doesn’t allow its hired help to obtain counsel to understand those rules, let alone negotiate them.

(By the way, I note with some amusement that Crist has a sad over some schools’ athletic departments losing money.  Accepting for the sake of argument the validity of the bookkeeping behind that proposition, who’s forcing them to sign up for that?)

When you can argue — apparently with a straight face — that, at $11 million, Nick Saban is underpaid, but his players aren’t, I’d say you have a strange grasp of economics.

That you firmly believe in the aesthetics that the players get enough as it is as a moral judgment is an opinion with which I may disagree, but I won’t challenge your right to express it.  To dress it up with pseudo-economic rationales like silly references to minor-league baseball (is there a minor league set up to earn revenue like the Big Ten or SEC do?) or free clothes (remember, the schools get paid multi-millions by the clothing companies for those clothes), or the tired straw man plantation argument (“Some go so far as to say that they’re a step above slave labor.”), though, is nothing but a dodge.  The real issue we should be debating if we’re going to be honest about it is this:  would these kids be any worse off if the market determined the value of their services?

Or to put it another way, what’s the economic, as opposed to the emotional, justification for treating student-athletes differently from other students, or, for that matter, any other American seeking to market their skills?  If there’s something valid in treating these kids as wards in need of protection, then maybe there’s good reason for the way the NCAA controls their compensation.  But I suspect that people who go to the lengths John Crist does to construct a defense of the status quo know deep down inside that it’s just a lot of empty spin to justify their emotions about amateurism.

If you disagree, perhaps you can explain why, if the purity of the college amateur experience is sacrosanct to our enjoyment of the sport, people like Crist can sheepishly defend what exists now, instead of decrying it as a debasement of that ideal.  As the old saying goes, you can’t be a little pregnant.

This isn’t a debate I expect to win with some of you.  It’s just that I’d like to hear answers to some of these questions from those of you who think there’s something more to this debate than a mere emotional preference.

Because that’s the heart of Crist’s argument when he writes,

I’m not here to tell you that the NCAA operates a perfect system. Even suggesting that it’s fair to student-athletes can be a stretch. But I push back when critics whine that players are being exploited solely for the monetary gain of others.

If someone could make more in a free market setting than he’s allowed to make because a group colludes to limit his compensation and appropriates that difference to its own ends, how is that not exploitation?  I’ll hang up and listen to your answers now.



Filed under College Football, It's Just Bidness, The NCAA

78 responses to “Just because they never had it so good may be true doesn’t make it right.

  1. ToccoaDog

    Senator, if you were the king of NCAA football, what is your vision of college athletics and how would you construct it? Feel free to blow up the current model and start from scratch.


    • For starters, I would respect the sport and I would cherish the sport’s fan base. That means not chasing every damned dollar I could get my hands on if it meant debasing what’s important to both.

      From there, I would make sure that these kids who bleed and break playing for our entertainment have, at a minimum, their health concerns addressed for the rest of their lives. I would make an honest choice about whether to treat what they do outside of class as a job or a mere extra-curricular activity and structure their world accordingly.

      After all that, I expect I’d be out of a job in about five minutes.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Huntindawg

        As I argued here before, I reject the notion that the typical P5D1 football player is a student. The can’t get into school without football, and they couldn’t survive a real college curriculum on their own (again, making a generalization, admittedly there are exceptions to the rule).

        Accept the fact that they are just pro athletes – even if minor league ones- and dispose of the myth of the “student” part of the equation. Send them off campus to their pro facility, pay them, and be done with it. Alternatively, make anyone who wants to play football gain admission on the same basis as every other student and without preference for football ability, and return the sport to a competition between college students.

        Anyone who says college P5D1 football is a competition between college students is full of, well, let’s just say “wrongness.”


      • would you adopt the 80 team Div 1 relegation model you spoke of many years back during the height of conf realignment?


      • Make sure you force all conferences to play at least nine games and those with more than ten teams have to go to a pod scheduling arrangement before you get canned. I suppose that’s covered by the “I would cherish the sport’s fan base” part.


      • Senator, you would not even make five minutes. Especially with that medical part.


  2. Way to go, Senator. I absolutely know who will get my first call if I need legal advice. Any person with a rudimentary understanding of economics can see that what has sprung up is a substitute for a true labor market. I guarantee you those guys at Clemmons would rather have some extra money in their wallets than a playground with a Putt-Putt course. Those guys at Texas would rather have that $10k in their bank account than those stupid lockers. All of them would probably prefer cash to use for their own clothing than to wear workout gear everywhere on campus. Is the scholarship with the stipend and player development of value? Absolutely yes, but is it a true measure of the value these guys bring to their university? Absolutely not.


  3. The other Doug

    I was that dirt poor kid on campus. First, it’s not ramen. Ramen is for rich kids. It’s a bag of rice and a bag of beans. As the budget increases you add salt and a jar of tobasco. Next up is eggs. You eat like a peasant. btw, don’t feel sorry for me. Best years of my life.

    You want to know the difference between me and the football player? Nobody sold my accounting work for millions of dollars while I went hungry. Dan Smith wasn’t making $4 million a year to coach me in how to do that accounting work so the University could profit. I know people don’t like to hear it, but modern CFB’s business model is the same as a plantation. A few white guys get rich and bunch of blacks get worked to death.


    • I survived on chicken pot pies. 35 cents each, although not much chicken in there.


    • Sorry, I have become a pay for play advocate (a lot of it due to the Senator’s work), but it’s not a plantation. Frankly, that’s insulting to the descendants of those kidnapped in Africa typically by other people of their same race, placed on a slave ship in chains in horrific living conditions to sail to a place they didn’t want to go to, be bought and sold as chattel (see Dred Scott), risk having their families broken up if they didn’t cooperate, and work for their owner for nothing of consequence.

      Exploited? Possibly. Underpaid? Absolutely. Abused and neglected? No way.


      • The other Doug

        I agree that CFB players are treated far better than slaves. The similarity is the business model.


        • Still don’t agree about the business model … The college athlete’s situation while on campus is nothing like a plantation, and it’s insulting to those who lived and died on a real plantation without freedom to be the person they wanted to be to compare their situations.

          For my disdain for the NCAA and the people who run college athletics, I also find it insulting to compare them to people around the world who believed it was OK to own another human being.

          We’ll have to agree to disagree on this.


      • Squatchdawg

        So at what point did the best slaves get the chance to make millions of dollars and be set for life if they exceeded at their labor….and the other slaves move on with the skills they learned on the plantation and be free?

        I’m sorry but my wife and all her friends can’t match this much DRAMA.


  4. Connor O'Keefe

    Keep up the good fight, Senator. The changes that needs to happen wont occur until we as a fans change our minds about the true nature of the sport. That’s not going to occur over night, but we’ll get there.


  5. I agree with everything you said Senator. However while reading the post, I thought of something that I haven’t seen posted before. The fact that these players play for colleges it what gives the product the tremendous value that it has. If CFB was replaced with a NFL minor league does anyone really believe it would generate the cash that the SEC or Big 10 does? I would not give a shit about watching a minor league football with no connection to UGA. Not disagreeing with anything you said, just saying the NCAA can claim that they are a big part of the value of CFB.


    • “minor league football team”


    • Not disagreeing with anything you said, just saying the NCAA can claim that they are a big part of the value of CFB.

      No argument there, Gurkha. The schools certainly provide value that is worthy of being compensated. The problem is that their amateurism construct warps the allocation of value.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The more I think about it the more I feel letting players form a union would be the best answer. I realize they are not “employees” , but I’m sure the lawyers could figure something out. Nobody can say what is fair for someone else. That has to be negotiated. Of course that might mean the 3rd string OL may not get a scholarship or even have to pay for the privilege of being on the team. It can all be negotiated.


    • Gurkha, I absolutely agree with you. I wouldn’t watch the Athens Bulldogs of the NFLDL. The value is in the loyalty to the brand, the University of Georgia Bulldogs. That statement doesn’t mean the players don’t warrant a greater share of the pie. I love Herschel Walker because he played for Georgia not the other way around.



    Scholarship, meals, housing and stipend…I think it is plenty. Nobody makes them take this route…

    Somehow their families have found the money to allow them to play sports to this point.


  7. Normaltown Mike

    The NCAA creates an administrative enclosure whereby only a select few can profit?

    …sounds like the ABA and every other state’s Canons of Professionalism.


  8. Go Dawgs!

    Woooo boy, there are so many racist dog whistles in that Crist piece that I just can’t even…


  9. Hobnail_Boot

    Simple: don’t allow different academic entrance standards for athletes.

    Problem fixed. Please let’s never discuss this again.


  10. This argument always polarizes and divides, usually along liberal vs. conservative lines. One side believes “the man” is always using those below him, who are nothing more than powerless victims. The answer is to scrap the collegiate amateur system, education, etc. and make it all about money, over and above the already generous scholarships being given. The other side still feels that college athletics and amateurism can survive intact and that a free education should give athletes the opportunity they need to succeed in life. I maintain that education is important, much more so than a paycheck to an 18 year old. Whatever reforms are necessary to again provide a meaningful education to these young men should be pursued. Anything less will degrade the sport and the athletes, ultimately leaving them with short term riches and long term destitution, anger, and regret.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I find it utterly amusing (and somewhat telling about motive) that the self-described conservatives identify with the socialist point of view on this issue versus the free market point of view. I’ve heard far too much of the “they’ll just spend it on weed and Xboxes” nonsense for me not to believe there’s a lot of dog whistling going on there.


      • Charlottedawg

        This. The blatant intellectual double standard is amusing and kinda sad. I’m also willing to bet the same people who have a knee jerk defense of amateurism would be apoplectic (justifiably so i might add) if their employer told them that going forward said defender of amateurism would no longer receive a paycheck but would instead receive free housing, access to a gym, and meals as their only compensation. After all as an employee defender of amateurism gets free training and development and the opportunity to put said employer on his resume. That’s more than fair compensation for defender putting in 80 hours a week at the job. Oh and by the way said employer has gone ahead and colluded, ahem, come to an agreement with all the other firms in the industry that they will all cap employee, sorry “student athlete” compensation at no more than room and board. Oh and btw said employee can still be fired at any time but there are restrictions to transferring. If this sounds like a really shitty one sided deal, because it is, then maybe we shouldn’t defend a money grubbing cartels business model that has zero logical justification.

        Liked by 1 person

      • UGA85

        Conservatives are ultimately into conserving. In this case, it’s conserving amateur sports. You know, the idea that a free education to UGA counts for reimbursement, along with all the other perks that athletes receive. Why is that no longer enough? Why are athletes now victims? Is a free education worth nothing? I think for most of us on this blog, an education has been the key to advancement. That rule will not change, even for athletes, and the more we de-value the educational aspect of this equation, the more a disservice we do to the young men.


        • What’s so amateur about Jim Delany receiving a $20 million bonus?


          • UGA85

            A college education costs exponentially more than it once did. So the athletes are receiving much more from UGA monetarily than in the past. And Jim Delany is also receiving exponentially more. Can you measure these proportions? And why do they bother you so much? Do you fundamentally change amateur athletics because there is more money in it now? I don’t see the connection.


            • Do you fundamentally change amateur athletics because there is more money in it now?

              It’s already changed. Players receive a COA stipend that didn’t exist a few years ago.

              All we’re doing now is arguing over the margins.


        • LOL. I’ve said this many times on this blog, but the entire reason the concept of amateurism came to existence in the US and UK is so that the wealthy white snowflakes could avoid getting their asses kicked on the field of play by minorities and the poors knowing the minorities and poor either couldn’t get into college or couldn’t afford to take the time off from their jobs to play for free. Amateurism never was a noble venture.


    • I’m as a conservative and libertarian as they come, and I find this is unacceptable. I once romanticized college sports, but the greed of Mark Emmert, the conference commissioners, the university presidents, the athletic directors and the head coaches completely changed me. The student-athlete deserves more than he/she gets now.


    • Debby Balcer

      I am a conservative and I support paying the athlete. I also support healthcare for life. Not every view is tied to politics.


      • True on that Debby. I am on the other side of the fence in politics, but fully support paying the athlete. Also support the health care part.
        I have come around to the pay part in the last decade or so. The romantic view of big time college football died a long time ago.


  11. Cap'n Geech

    What about a trust fund held until he’s 35, with kid named trustee, beneficiary ?


  12. Cap'n Geech

    The kid names the trustee and beneficiary


  13. ASEF

    So how do schools handle Olympic sports under this model? Because the free market isn’t going to lift a finger to help them.


  14. 92 grad

    As I see it, The problem is television. One or two games per week on tv, the rest on radio like it used to be. Money is the problem right? Take away the money. Lou holtz will be the first to tell you, “when I was hired at Notre dame my salary was $32,000/year”.


  15. I’m truly confused about this “free market ” that would allegedly cure the abuses of our current system. In the Free Market does Todd Gurley get his scholarship plus $500,000 a year to compensate him for all the jerseys he sells and additional butts he in puts in the seats and at the same time the 2nd string long snapper get his uniform and told to be happy they give him a helmet. The fact that the NCAA has turned into the NFL’s minor leagues does NOT mean that paying the players is a panacea ….because it would just open a whole new set of problems that even those of us who do have economics degrees can not possibly predict or foresee because one of the basic rules of economics is the Rule of Unintended consequences. I ,for one, am of the opinion(and yes we all have one) that most of the free market solutions that involve paying the players will lead to an even more precipitous decline in game I enjoy so much than would simply maintaining the status quo.
    I think the obvious thing that makes “free market” sense is let kids go pro when ever they want. Even the most talented teenager would probably understand that they ain’t ready to run into Ray Lewis or cover A.J Green. If they are arrogant enough to believe that…well stupid should hurt. It might lower the talent level in the P-5 conference marginally but I am certain that I would not be able to tell while wearing my “bourbon goggles” The junior rule is imposed by the NFL in conjunction with the NFL player union. So as sorry an institution as the NCAA may be they are not the source of ALL problems.
    I feel safe in predicting that if paying players becomes SOP than there will be considerably less competition because a lot of the schools existing on the margins will be forced by finances to give up football and somehow less of something I enjoy does not seem to be the outcome most of us are looking for.
    It is amazing what I’ll do to avoid writing a brief (ibid)


    • Why do my paragraph indentations get taken out when I hit post? Any solutions?


    • I ,for one, am of the opinion(and yes we all have one) that most of the free market solutions that involve paying the players will lead to an even more precipitous decline in game I enjoy so much than would simply maintaining the status quo.

      I think the technical term for that is “emotional preference”.

      What I’m truly confused about is how the same people who wouldn’t tolerate for one minute having a non-market restraint placed how they get paid in real life can be all conflicted about what’s fair compensation for student-athletes. But that’s just me.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You take your market the way you find it. It is a clearly a very distorted market but it is the way it is and to convert this market into an alleged free market would unquestionably turn college football into something it is currently not. As mentioned above no one should believe for a second that I will invest a nano second of my life to seeing a semi-pro football team in Athens that does have a G on the side their helmet. As I believe we discussed in the past all markets are distorted in some method or manner and the NCAA method is bad but the other methods would probably be so much worse. Now answer my paragraph indentation problem dammit ,what F…in good is this blog away?


        • As mentioned above no one should believe for a second that I will invest a nano second of my life to seeing a semi-pro football team in Athens that does have a G on the side their helmet.

          Spoiler alert, bro – you already do. They’re already being paid unless you believe that COA stipend isn’t a form of compensation. At this point – you’re just haggling over the price.


        • Got Cowdog

          I’ve struggled with the indentation issue myself, Woof. Try finishing your thought and skipping down a line.

          I’ll tell you what this blog is good for: I can goof off and as long as those in earshot hear my happy clicking keyboard noises they will assume I am busily composing emails and doing important Director things, while really I am simply wasting my time pontificating about something I am passionate about but have no control over (I;e Mrs. Cowdog and redshirting Jake Fromm) and wasting productive time.

          Good to be me today.


        • … It is a clearly a very distorted market but it is the way it is and to convert this market into an alleged free market would unquestionably turn college football into something it is currently not.

          You mean, like a money grubbing operation? Oh, mah stars, Miz Scarlett! Ah feel faint!


  16. Cojones

    It’s easy enough to take the side of the amateur who is being screwed for compensation, but wewoof is correct about the resultant. Everyone who professes feelings about the players that should overrule the current construct by paying them should provide the resultant as well.

    Take a look at the COA and the differences used to lure those players who will go to one place over another because of $1000 difference in COA and the answer to individual responses needs to be explored first. Next, how would you pay players ? By position? Would there not be a bidding war for each player that will end CFB? If the COA is not level now, how can we possibly say a level between schools could be kept so by bidding for and securing players? Think each school would abide by a rule to restrict the amount you can pay any player?

    Senator, your answer of mo’ and buttah insurance being spread equally to each player should have a cap to keep bidding out of it. Without a cap on policy amounts, the insurance can then be extended to family members and significant others who speak for the recruit. Anyway, the construct of that simple provision for CFB players can be twisted many ways in an open bidding war of any type, i.e, even that suggestion isn’t simple when it comes to teams competing with dollars to be the one that makes mo’ money. I cannot give you a scenario whereby an insurance policy secretly made on an ailing family member with the proceeds from the policy going to the player being sought without saying that the way it can be manipulated is limited only by the avaricious imagination of schools, players and families.

    In short, give me a business plan that would work and not destroy CFB before you begin paying players.


    • You have no idea what would happen. None.

      Feelings aren’t what this is about. Answer my last question in the post and then we can start talking about business plans. Until then, you’re just arguing personal preference, which you are certainly entitled to do.


      • ASEF

        / Television stations near college towns often let students do a ton of their work – for free. Interns provide a service, and in return, they get a reference and access to the studios to practice their demo tapes.

        / Grad students get a stipend, but it usually does not cover tuition. They teach and do research, providing services that probably earn the university a massive return relative to the investment.

        How does this differ, other than as a function of your personal preference? The NCAA is completely unsympathetic, and the players are highly visible – but aren’t those just emotional accelerants?

        I’m genuinely curious. I don’t mind the general notion of players being paid. That question is not a back door to arguing they shouldn’t.


        • Is there a cartel that limits what TV stations pay students, or what grad students are paid? If not, that’s what the market will bear for their services.

          Again, what I keep asking, and what everyone keeps dodging, is simple: what do you think would happen to football players’ compensation if the courts toss out amateurism restrictions as an antitrust violation? The answer to that isn’t my personal preference.


          • Got Cowdog

            Deregulation? The same thing that happens whenever a governing body abandons it’s charge. Inflation and devaluation for a period until a maintainable stasis is achieved. The problem (or not) with it is the resulting organization likely will little resemble the prior other than in name.


          • ASEF

            So, football players get paid a lot, basketball player somewhat less, everyone else zilch. You’re o.k.with that?


            • Whatever the market will bear. Are you okay with college football coaches being paid more than college professors? If not, what would you like to do about it?

              Liked by 1 person

              • ASEF

                If the “reform the NCAA for all athletes” argument is going to morph into a “just let the free market pick the winners, then that’s fine – but they are two different and in some ways incompatible arguments. Which isn’t to say both can’t be done. But one doesn’t necessarily lead to the other; the two goals might actually conflict.

                I’d always thought of the two as sort of synonymous. Reading your post, it occurred to me they weren’t.


                • Color me a little skeptical about this ushering in the apocalypse. For one thing, it may lead to college players having less financial incentive to leave early for the pros. Hard to see how that’s a bad thing.

                  Also, the reality is that it would probably lead to collective bargaining, which would likely mean a more direct approach to addressing issues like working conditions and health care that would be hammered out in a more proactive manner than the current approach of reacting to litigation/threats of litigation.


  17. AusDawg85

    *If someone could make more in a free market setting than he’s allowed to make because a group colludes to limit his compensation and appropriates that difference to its own ends, how is that not exploitation? *

    Well, let’s break that down for an answer. Your premise is a group (NCAA) is colluding to limit compensation. First, they are governing a sport and the rules of that sport. The Rules of Golf don’t limit compensation, but do define amateur vs. professional status. An individual is free to go play professional football…(which, by the way, does limit compensation but through collective bargaining, so is that really free market?). Pro football has requirements for hiring eligibility which early college age students don’t meet, so these potential future NFL hires are choosing to play an amateur sport…not professional…at the collegiate level. Not a direct analogy, but I can’t practice law until I pass the bar…is that collusion to limit hiring and thus pay? I’m rambling, so here’s the point…the choice of students playing an amateur sport is not the issue here. Protection of amateur status for those playing the sport is entirely appropriate. This keeps Alabama from hiring Tony Romo to QB this season.

    But your “exploitation” point is spot on. The BUSINESS of amateur college football is about making big money, entirely disproportionate to the amount needed to conduct the sport. No question the players/participants help drive that revenue and are used to promote it, but they arguably don’t receive a fair share of that profit. The excuse goes back to the circular argument that the institution driving the revenue (the NCAA and member institutions) hide behind the amateurism rules they created. THERE’S your collusion and exploitation!

    So there is not a “free market” problem here. The rules for amateur sport limiting compensation exist to protect the participants and the sport. The exploitation of the amateur rule-makers generating so much money from the sport without sharing is at issue. Should the moneymakers be forced to divest some of their earnings for the benefits of the amateur athletes? I say “yes” since the horse has left the barn on reigning in how much money is being made beyond the “costs” of maintaining the sport.

    Next week, I’ll answer how those earnings should be distributed…it’s not an entirely free market solution but more of a structured settlement since CFB is not a marketplace.


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