To Pay College Athletes or Not to Pay College Athletes: Pandora’s Box Opened by NLRB, CAPA, and My Solution


It’s quite amazing, I started writing a post on this on the way to the Final Four last year but decided not to continue it. There is just so much to write about and I like to be as thorough as possible (2,000 words will have to suffice), but now the NLRB ruling on Wednesday has opened Pandora’s Box, it’s time to post this.

Let me first state that I do not think you should pay college athletes. It cannot and should not be done. And please do not refer to them as slaves or say that college sports is just like slavery because that is an insult to those that were actually slaves. Don’t even refer to them as indentured servants because that is just as dumb.

Stop this thought process. I know plenty of people that would have done this to avoid the student loan debt they have right now. I would have done all of that just to run on the field on Saturday in a Michigan uniform and stand on the sidelines.

I am completely fine with building in a $2,000 or $5,000 stipend to every single student athlete’s scholarship, but you cannot outright pay them. First off, not every player on a football or basketball team is worth the same amount of money. Secondly, these are the only two sports that anyone ever mentions paying players in. As soon as you pay male football and basketball players, there will be lawsuits by a whole bunch of people.  That is what guys like Desmond Howard, Jay Bilas and Jalen Rose don’t seem to understand. They want guys for their sports to cash in for generating the most money, and that’s all well and good, but what about a school like North Dakota? With no major football or basketball players, should their hockey players that generate revenue for the school be paid? They shouldn’t? Why not? Then how do you determine one school paying hockey players, but a school like Michigan doesn’t? How can both of those schools compete at the same level if one school is paying athletes that generate revenue and another isn’t because their program only breaks even, or worse, loses money?

(It’s not like everyone goes pro, that degree does have value)

Then on top of that, what about the other schools that use their football revenue to pay for their other smaller sports? Oh wait, that’s every school. As soon as they start having to pay football and basketball players, there will be schools that will cut their non-revenue sports in a heartbeat. I’m sure that will thrill all of those kids who now can’t compete at a Division 1 level, or perhaps go to college at all, because some football and basketball players had to get paid.

Then what about the other school’s that operate their Athletic Department at a deficit, how are they supposed to pay athletes? Is the school itself going to cover the debt? Are you going to create new divisions where schools that pay athletes play each other, and the other schools that don’t are in a separate division? Is it fair that schools like Michigan would dump half of their non-revenue sports to pay football players if they had to because it’s such a cash cow? Then you have all of those student athletes that may not be able to go to school, because their families can’t afford it and the school is cutting back because now they have to pay players. This is all before we’ve even brought up equal pay or Title IX. It’s not as though schools don’t take their revenue and put it back into the school to pay for the program. You think those facilities and chartered flights to road games are free?

Here is my simple solution, and it’s truly brilliant if I do say so myself. First, give the Athletes a stipend, something between $2,000 and $5,000 extra per semester. This will not make or break schools or athletic departments and will give everyone on the team a fair cut. What does a college kid need with more money anyways? Giving a college kid an extra $25,000 a year to spend would cause so many problems for all parties involved. God only knows what my friends and I would have done at 18 years old with an extra $25,000 in our pockets.

Next, guarantee athletes scholarships for four years, unless they become academically ineligible or break the law, and actually help them learn, no no-show or garbage classes. This gives them security so long as they are doing well in school and will force schools to actually educate their students. No one wants any more North Carolina situations or reports that say there are college athletes reading at a 5th grade level (this also require high schools to stop funneling kids through school). Third, provide the athletes with medical care (to an extent) after they graduate. If they tear their ACL playing pickup basketball six months after they graduate, they’re obviously on their own. But, if a player hurts himself in March and graduates in April, pay for their medical expenses until doctors clear them. I would also say that they should get some sort of long-term coverage if they sustain a fair amount of concussions, but that would be more of a specific issue for the doctors and schools to decide.

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Fourth and most importantly, allow the best athletes to market their likeness and sell autographs and memorabilia, i.e. the Olympic model, and get rid of all of the dumb/outdated NCAA rules. Why shouldn’t Johnny Manziel be able to have autograph sessions or why shouldn’t A.J. Green be able to sell his jersey? If Johnny Manziel can get a sponsorship with Nike, why should he have to wait? Or any player for that matter. Why not allow players to have bidding wars for shoe and glove deals? Schools can still have their jerseys made by certain companies and then players can wear whatever equipment they want. On top of that, the best players who have their jerseys being sold by schools, but without their name, should get a cut. To prevent Athletes from spending wildly and unnecessarily, they won’t get this percentage of their jersey sales until they graduate or enter the NFL Draft. For example:

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Finally, allow performance bonuses for achieving team goals. Performance bonuses for individual goals will only cause problems amongst the immature kids, but giving each player on the team a $5,000 bonus for winning a National Championship? It’s not amazing, but I’m sure there are plenty of guys on Alabama or Florida State that would take it. Hell, rewards like this could even be extended to the non-revenue sports. All you have to do is structure the bonuses based on how popular/profitable the sport is and what exactly they won. I would rather not pay players and that student-athletes stay student-athletes but the NLRB ruled that they aren’t, at private schools anyways. It’s time to prepare for the death of the NCAA and the fact that players are going to be paid sooner rather than later. Stuff like this, is why this is happening. These ideas are not individually unique, the play may be, but I don’t see what is so difficult about putting together a plan like this.


All of the parts to this plan combats all the potential problems that would arise. You know that players would want a raise during their careers if you outright paid players and that other players would complain they weren’t getting paid as much. Will players really want to have to pay taxes to the federal government? And if they’re getting paid a huge salary, why bother even having them on scholarship, have them pay their own way in school in that case. Furthermore, big schools like Michigan and Texas would run the show while little schools couldn’t even compete. This solution means you don’t have to divide Division 1 Football and Basketball into two divisions where some schools pay players and other schools don’t. Paying players outright is a really messy issue, my solution avoids any issues that Title IX could bring up because all athletes would be getting stipends and they would be free to negotiate marketing their own likeness. Let the money come from somewhere other than the schools as much as possible and it should keep everyone happy.

Here’s a big summary (in tweets) of the major points of the NLRB case. Linking to it saves me the time of having to write it twice. After appeals, I’d imagine that this is about another year or so away from having Athletes fully unionize. Let me also clarify right now that the NLRB has only ruled that student athletes at private universities are employees, nothing as of yet about public school student athletes.

As I said, this is Pandora’s Box. No one knows what is going to happen or what this all means for the future. The only reason why this is an issue for football and basketball is that there isn’t another route for them to take to get paid and that’s because college football and basketball came before pro football and basketball. Hockey and baseball have alternate routes because the pros were established first, and let’s face it, football and basketball aren’t getting another route to take.

On a different note, Jay Bilas is a dumbass. On SportsCenter on March 29th…2013…he started to discuss that athletes need to be paid and that it is immoral that they aren’t. When Colin Cowherd brought up the point that not all teams could afford to pay their players because their programs don’t make enough money, Bilas said that isn’t the athletes problem and that they can just cut the number of division 1 schools. Here’s the problem, that IS the athlete’s problem, just maybe not the ones making the money. If they shrink the number of FBS teams from 119 to 75, there are 44 less teams for athlete’s to play for and thats 70+ less scholarship athletes per team. Thats 2,800 football players that won’t be playing in the FBS because Jay Bilas doesn’t give a f*** about those bad schools and wants athletes to be paid. You’re going to sacrifice 2,800 players college careers and potential pro careers to pay a few guys? Smart. If they move down to 1-AA (FCS), that changes the entire distribution of how many scholarships are available. Bilas could be saying that he wants two division FBS’, one where athletes are paid and one where athletes get scholarships, but then he should make that more clear and not leave it up for people to guess. He never did clarify what he meant, so I’m just going to assume he doesn’t care about small schools or athletes at those small schools.

Fans will love this:

A classic Jon Stewart segment.

I understand that these athletes generate insane amounts of money for their schools and the NCAA. The NCAA is making billions of dollars a year and they’re tax exempt, it’s brutal. I hate the NCAA quite frankly, I really do. It’s a corrupt organization that just does whatever they feel like. My problem is then once you start paying players it changes everything. Then you’re going to have to create divisions for schools that can afford to pay athletes and separate them from everyone else. Not even all of the major schools can afford to pay players. Apparently only 23 or so athletic departments are making money, so how are they supposed to pay their athletes? Now if you’re gonna do what Dan Wetzel suggested and have it so the rich alumni/boosters pay the best athletes and have them get endorsement deals then that will create an absolutely chaotic bidding war. That being said, a chaotic bidding war among alumni and boosters is far better than having the schools do it. I truly believe that the only way to solve this is the solution I provided above. I will always hate Ed O’Bannon and Sam Keller for ruining the NCAA Football video game series for $200 a person, but maybe this solution would allow the game series to come back. I certainly don’t see my beloved game coming back any other way. $200 a person to kill that franchise is joke, by the way. Sorry you guys weren’t good enough to have solid pro careers, Ed and Sam (in all seriousness, I’m sure they’re nice people).

One key thing the players should think about, if schools have to pay players directly, is that the schools could all try and work together and look for kids that will play for free, leaving all the other athletes in the cold. It may make for worse football, but people will still watch. Just a thought.

I mean hell, even Congress got involved:

This is a solid read from a former Michigan basketball player that I would recommend.

There is a lot that is going to be coming of this in the next year and this is not going to be solved quickly. I’m sure I’ll add to this post or create a new one as the situation evolves; I’m not even sure I covered everything in this one. All I’d say is buckle up.

And in an effort to be impartial, I’ve included some great reading on the issue for both arguments.

Dreaming of Heroes
The Pioneer
The Drake Group Report
Michigan Daily: The Value of Devin Gardner
John Bacon
The Atlantic: The Shame of College Sports
Forbes: 21 Reasons Athletes Are Employees
Forbes: NLRB

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