College football, so popular and polarizing, is in the midst of unprecedented changes. Ditching the BCS formula, which allowed a computer to select the two teams that would play for the National Championship (usually the number one and number two teams), and replacing it with a playoff system, is very popular among fans and universities. It represents an even playing field, leads to a longer season and more money. So it comes as no surprise that the notion of paying players is a divisive topic.If students are treated as employees, will they be held to a different standard? Will they receive the same education if they are being paid? Those who oppose paying players feel as though academics will become less important because these students would be an investment that must pay off. Supporters that believe athletes should be compensated know that the players are key to the overall visibility and success of their schools. College football athletes are a commodity and possess skills that make money for the school, so compensation is the logical next step.
Perhaps paying students (other than scholarships) was not necessary when college football was in its infancy, mainly because it was not bringing in the type of revenue it does presently. Today, college football is a billion dollar business and gaining in popularity. Universities and coaches are making money hand over fist.If Nick Saban can ink a 7 million dollar contract, shouldn’t the players be compensated as well? Currently, there are six college football stadiums that seat over 100,000, and sell out on a regular basis. When Northwestern University football players were given the “green light” to unionize, it was an end run around the NCAA, who claim athletes are already receiving pay when they accept a scholarship. The NCAA claims college students that play sports are “student athletes”, emphasizing the word “student”. This label fit at the beginning of college football until around the 1970’s-1980’s when college sports began to gain popularity.
The term “student athlete” made sense when young men and women chose a college or university based solely on its academic worth. Playing a sport like football was considered a leisure activity, and was usually played just for fun. In fact, college football was played more like rugby, far different from what it is today. Once college football began to resemble what we recognize now, college academic scholarships became athletic scholarships. High school players are recruited by coaches who see potential, not only in the student; but what it would mean for the school, the conference, and athletic departments. Recruits generally pick the school where they are most visible.
Although many claim the scholarship is enough, let’s be honest, many of these kids are given scholarships based on what they can add athletically.Those who oppose paying players are kidding themselves if they think keeping their star athletes eligible at all costs does the players any justice. What happens when these kids are drafted into an already talent-saturated NFL, and get cut after one season? With nothing to fall back on, their future is bleak.
The term “student athlete” is antiquated because athletes are recruited by coaches and the university, sign a letter of intent, and have “grades” good enough to attend the college of choice. A 5 star recruit will make it in because football is big business.That scenario differs from academia, where you must apply to the school of choice, and receive an acceptance or rejection letter. Winning football games, playing in bowl games, and hopefully winning a national title is more important that making sure “Joe Football” goes to his history class. These guys have a marketable skill, which is why recruiting is so important. It’s a business, like it or not, and many star athletes are the reason their respective university is visible, viable, and monetarily secure. One could compare recruiting star players to a top law firm going after the person who graduated at the top of the class at Harvard Law.
Looking back at some of the college football stars or Heisman winners of the BCS era, there is a low percentage of long-term success in the NFL. For example, Vince Young was the key to The University of Texas winning the National Championship and was the number three pick overall in the 2006 draft. Sure, he was drafted, had a decent first year, failed to handle the pressure, and is now bankrupt, a sad story shared by many because they did not have a back-up plan. If these athletes are paid while in college and must take classes in finance, money management would not be such a mystery. In fact, paying these athletes may keep players for the duration of their college term, and slow the hemorrhage of talented players entering the already saturated NFL, giving the players something to fall back on. The chances of a college football player making it to the NFL and having a successful career is around 2%.
University athletes should be paid, no question, and I believe we will see a reduction in player suspensions and violations. If we want to look at university athletes as employees of the school, any violation should result in termination and loss of pay. I also believe we will see more intensity and competition when the athletes realize their pay can fluctuate depending upon their job performance.