The Endorsement (returns): Pay college players

Occasionally in the Toy Department, a Sun sports writer will take a moment to offer his or her Endorsement of something they feel passionately about. There are no rules, and the subject can be as broad, or as narrow, as the writer chooses. This week, Chris Korman says college athletes -- at least those who make their schools millions in football and basketball -- should be paid.

It happens every year, about this time.


Fans from the top 40 or so college football teams begin thinking about conference championships and bowl games and possible Heisman or Doak Walker (they give that to really good running backs) winners while a few very conscientious media members act all serious and what not, buzzkilling the moment with a discussion of whether or not college athletes should be paid.

This is one of those.


It will probably be a short discussion, though. After about ten years of talking through this issue with various people in various ways, I'm set in the belief that it's all-but criminal that college football and men's basketball players do not reap more of what they generate for their schools.

I wrote that years ago while I was in college, and nothing I've seen since then has swayed me an inch. Even while covering Indiana, which has the smallest per-sport budget among the schools not called Northwestern in the Big Ten, it was clear that many of the so-called "student-athletes" were under-compensated.

Michael Rosenburg, writing for Sports Illustrated, makes a compelling case for paying players.

He points out that an entire summer of posturing and flirting -- sports writing turned Page 6 on us, and Big Ten commish Jim Delany wouldn't stop winking at everybody  -- by the nation's finest bastions of learning centered on nothing but money. Reggie Bush's saga -- the one where he lost his Heisman, not the one where he lost a Kardashian -- revolved around him essentially being paid by agents as a student at USC. The NCAA was simply aghast at this, despite the fact that anyone who has ever seen Bush's high school highlights knew he was a pro in the making. Was he really expected to wait just because the NCAA said please? Was he supposed to be satisfied with gaining a few credits toward a degree he didn't want or need?

Perhaps the more compelling argument comes from Donald H. Yee, agent for the stars, writing in the Washington Post.

Which is to say this: let's be honest. The system now is a sham, built on the myth of amateurism that becomes more and more absurd with each new sponsorship. Fans have to try to recall the name of the stadium they attend based on which bank is still in business, and some bowl games appear to have gone through multiple marriages. The Insight Bowl is also sponsored by Tostitos, meaning all sorts of chips -- from electronic to corn -- are covered, and the Champs Sports Bowl has had seven other names.

A vast majority of the money streaming into athletics department coffers comes from football and basketball, and while those sports certainly spend liberally they generally don't use anywhere near the same percentage of funds that they bring in. Money is spread out to run other sports, creating market anomalies. Women's basketball coaches often demand big money, even though their teams lose big money.

Yee offers a very reasonable solution in his piece, essentially proposing to spin off the football and men's basketball programs at major schools into corporate entities. They would still be affiliated with the school, but would be run by a CEO charged with making money, winning and developing players. This theory is clearly derived from the one put forth by Rick Telander, a former Northwestern defensive back and Sports Illustrated writer and current Chicago Sun-Times columnist, in his book The Hundred Yard Lie. First published in 1989, it still resonates.


 There are noteworthy opponents of paying players, and perhaps their voices should be included (though only now, long after most of you have probably stopped reading.) Seth Davis, he of Sports Illustrated and CBS fame, tweeted that he "Could not disagree more w/ this" in response to Rosenberg's column, then offered this twitiloquy:

If you argue CFB players should be paid, you have to argue that the 1st string QB gets more $ than 3rd string safety, Fla players > FAU, etc

If college sports is all business, why do schools have two dozen sports that are guaranteed to lose money? Pretty lousy business model.

Not to mention tuition, books, food, tutors, training, exposure, etc. So the Q is not should they be paid, but should they be paid MORE?

Let's go point by point: Sure, the first-string QB should be worth more than the third-string safety. But I don't think salaries would change based on depth chart. Instead there should be some sort of salary cap, and then schools would need to recruit to fit under it.

True, Mr. Davis. It is a lousy business model, forcing the football and basketball players to prop up the track team. So let's change it.

Tuition is nice. I wish someone had paid mine for me. But many of the "student-athletes" aren't interested in an academic track. Or at least are more focused on athletics -- which can, you may have heard, be quite time consuming, especially if you play for Rich Rodriguez -- and would be better served by putting off their schooling. As it stands now, too many athletes are shuffled into majors that allow them to stay eligible at the expense of, you know, actually learning something useful.

Under our new model, athletes could attend school if they wanted to. The corporation would make sure they could study philosophy or plumbing, or could pay for an education once the athlete's career on the field/court is over. While playing for Dear Old Alma Mater, though, the athlete would be free to concentrate on chasing the dream of playing at the highest professional level. They'd be free to work out, practice and meet with coaches for as many hours as they wanted or needed (think about it: college coaches are paid $2 million a year and can't even coach their players for most of the year).

The rest of college athletics, meanwhile, could settle into true amateurism. Some schools will opt to downsize their football and basketball programs, making them more like FCS (formerly Division 1AA) or even Division II programs. Budgets would shrink as soccer and softball teams play more games within the region. Yes, a number of student-athletes would end up progressing enough to have a shot at becoming pros -- as is the case with baseball and ice hockey, the two pro sports that do not force kids to pretend to be college students for a few semesters -- but the overall culture would be clear: most of the people would be students who just happen to play sports.

Meaning the NCAA could at last be what it has always claimed to be.