Paying college athletes

by Russ Roberts on July 26, 2011

in Sports

Great piece from Sports Illustrated on why it’s a good idea.

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hutch July 26, 2011 at 4:15 pm

i never thought it was a good idea to pay players until i listened to russ’s podcast with michael lewis a few years ago talking about michael oher. then, i read the book. i see lots of reasons not to pay athletes, but none of them good enough to convince me that not paying them is better than paying them.

Dan H July 26, 2011 at 4:20 pm

Very good article.

However, this is hypocrisy at it’s finest for Sports Illustrated. Just six weeks ago, they ran hatchet-job cover story trying to destroy Ohio State over accusations of “improper benefits” (none of which were proven beyond the original “tattoos for memorabilia” trade). And now one of their most prominent writers is advocating paying athletes.

Whatever sells magazines, I guess. They realize most the country hates Ohio State, so they’ll run a cover story based on nothing but hearsay, but yet the realize the sentiment of the average fan is changing and that most now believe college players should be compensated.

Pete July 26, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Two things.

First, it’s a magazine, and this link is to a column. An opinion column, written by one of SI’s writers. It is not a magazine-wide editorial explaining the entire staff’s stance on an issue. It’s one guy voicing his opinion. The cover story was a (probably slanted) feature story presumably written by somebody else. I didn’t read it, though.

Second, there’s a difference between saying the rules should change and saying that people shouldn’t obey the existing rules because they are bad rules. If there are a lot of schools obeying the rules and Ohio State doesn’t, then yes. Their players are receiving improper benefits. This newer column states that the rules should change so that everyone could pay players without the fear of getting punished, not that Ohio State had a right to break the rules because it didn’t like said rules.

Dan H July 27, 2011 at 10:13 am

Not disagreeing with you there. Part of my point was that Sports Illustrated ran a cover story about a bunch of BS that never actually happened because they wanted to sell magazines and they Ohio State Hatred sells.

Not justifying what Coach Tressel did. He entered into a contract voluntarily and violated the terms of said contract. He deserved to be punished. (though, if you read his testimony to the NCAA, it appears that there was genuine concern for the players’ safety and possible legal ramifications for interfering in an ongoing federal investigation… but that’s beside the point)

Kirby July 26, 2011 at 6:05 pm

And THAT, Dan, is a perfect example of a company following the free market and making lots of money.

tw July 26, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Articles like this one fail to address the 800-pound gorilla in the room when it comes to paying players: Title IX. It’s simply not going to happen until that piece of legislation is changed.

The way it’s currently interpreted is that colleges must spend an equal amount of money on men’s and women’s sports, with a fudge factor in there because there isn’t a female equivalent to football. But quite simply, if colleges start paying their football players, they will have to pay their volleyball and women’s track athletes, too…..and roughly the same amounts.

Anybody with any business sense can see the long-run problem with this legislation and why so many colleges have athletic departments in the red. They are forced to spend large amounts of money in non-revenue-producing areas. And with the growth in the number of Senior Women Administrators at both the college and conference levels, the grip of Title IX only strengthens.

Pete July 26, 2011 at 5:53 pm

But the main point in this SI column was that colleges shouldn’t (at least for now) be able to pay players directly. That can come later. But players shouldn’t be prevented from receiving money from, say, independent boosters. Or from regular folks who want to buy autographed equipment. Title IX wouldn’t apply to those things.

Kirby July 26, 2011 at 6:06 pm

I’d betcha a lot of the slower feminists would complain.

Bill Lake July 27, 2011 at 10:59 am

excellent point.

nailheadtom July 26, 2011 at 5:06 pm

College athletes don’t necessarily need to be paid and neither do their coaches. At one time college football teams were coached by one of the senior players. And if the players aren’t paid, why should admission be charged to the games? Selling soda and hot dogs should take care of the cost of uniforms and mowing the field. Broadcast the games on public TV and radio for free, no advertising to interrupt the experience for those actually attending the game in person.

It’s criminal that colleges make millions on the physical efforts of students that don’t see any of that money. But the students aren’t forced to play, they know what the deal is all about.

Steve_0 July 26, 2011 at 5:06 pm

Then Title IX should go. Period.

I just finished 6 years of undergrad and grad school. As a smart adult with significant work experience, high test scores, and high GPA, I was more valuable to both schools than were most of my peers. Doesn’t mean I’m a better person, just objectively more valuable for a specific purpose.

As such, both schools offered me generous scholarships, and student jobs. Now, these student jobs were not “market” or “negotiated” worth, but they were of higher value than some other student jobs that some less valuable (to the university) students were offered. There were essentially several bands of student jobs, with varying hours, levels and rates of pay (hourly vs monthly stipend), varying levels of scholarships attached, and varying benefits (some with medical insurance).

There is no reason student athletes should not be considered student workers. And there is no reason there should not be varying bands of pay and benefits for students- even if a purely market / negotiated pay rate can’t be reached.

If Title IX must be satisfied, then make stratified pay bands for both men’s and women’s sports. Level 1 being non-payed, and however many other levels up to the maximum. Make the women’s bands reflect whatever the reduction is (80% or whatever the adjustment is). Stratify the sports themselves based on the accounting revenues / costs and attendance metrics. Then stratify all the athletes based on a combination of performance metrics within their sport, coaching staff input, and ranking amongst the team players themselves. Pay situation starts fresh each semester, no guarantees.

The result here would be an artificial reduction of the top possible rate for male football players (as compared to market / negotiated), and an artificially high pay rate for a middling women’s sport. But both of those situations are better than the current system. If computer nerds who are valuable as lab assistants can be paid for their contribution to the university, athletes should be too. We cannot pretend scholarships are enough, when other students are being paid at different rates, based on their value, with a real paycheck above and beyond their scholarship.

Steve_0 July 26, 2011 at 5:12 pm

You could also make an alumni sponsorship, annuity, donation, or whatever you want to call it, a requirement contingent on being picked up by a professional team.

Now, all of these kids are doing this for two reasons, in some ratio. (1) Scholarship to an education. (2) The statistical chance of making it to the pro game. If a student makes it to the pros, they make a donation from their professional earnings towards the athlete scholarship / pay fund. If the students do not make it to the pros, they don’t have to repay.

vidyohs July 26, 2011 at 5:47 pm

Why not just do away with college athletics altogether. How important is it that one school be recognized as the national champion in a sport, when the object of a school is to educate. Since athletics does not build character, only reveal it, the idea of athletics being necessary to teach such things as sportsmanship and team work is known to be a path, but not the only path.


Form colleges that teach specifically athletics and nothing else, that way the can’t do’s will be able to watch the can do’s for entertainment and worship. money will flow in the right direction, alumni of a jock school can beat their chest and crow about their college,…….and they lived happily ever after.

Pete July 26, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Actually, the writer of this column says exactly that:
“If major college sports did not exist, nobody would try to create them — not as we know them today. The entire enterprise is preposterous.”

vidyohs July 26, 2011 at 7:59 pm

Oh. Didn’t read the article as similar have been posted in the past and thoroughly discussed.

Kirby July 26, 2011 at 6:12 pm

That was what I was thinking (the second idea)
Maybe have a junior member’s section of a pro team, with guarantees of a percentage of pay from future salaries.
Also, Title IX can be satisfied: Each sport has their own funding and salaries etc etc along percentage lines. If women’s volleyball makes $10 per game, that’s just the free market.

Kyle Pate July 26, 2011 at 6:53 pm

I have to agree, I’d rather my college could afford economics journals in our library than have sports teams.

BintheD July 27, 2011 at 10:43 am

I profoundly disagree. Watching college sports is never about the level of play. If that was the sole concern, then professional sports would be all that is required because the level of play is vastly superior.

The true joy from college sports is the pageantry and pride of alma matter that they engender. Coming back to campus that was your home for 4+ years. Reminiscing with those that you shared those 4+ years with. Singing fight songs led by marching bands. Rivalries with other schools. It’s more than just a venue to watch sports, but an emotional experience that cannot be replicated by any professional sport.

Perhaps those on this board who hail from small schools have not had the chance to experience this phenomenon?

vidyohs July 27, 2011 at 4:28 pm


I remember my neighbor from California celebrating his old school’s (USC) national championship, just as you say, and on his way home he stopped for a coffee at a convenience store. He was wearing his old USC school shirt, and a USC ball cap, the convenience store had a TV tuned to the station broadcasting followup news about the game……..and the dirty bastard behind the counter still wanted him to pay for his coffee………somehow in the real world that all meant nothing, he still had to dig into his jeans and come up with coin.

Bob Lince July 26, 2011 at 5:59 pm

“Star” college players ARE paid, but the payment is deferred. When they’re drafted highly and signed for X millions (as is the case for “stars”), it is due to what they did in college. Not, say, because their name was randomly pulled out of a bin containing the names of all eligible college players, some of whom may not have gone to college. They are, in a sense, like high-dollar-item commission sales people who exist on a draw until they close a deal, which may take years.

Here’s a question I have. If college’s pay star players, are those players employees? If they’re employees, can they form a union? If they can, what can of worms is that going to open up?

John Galt July 26, 2011 at 6:15 pm

Run for your life from any man who tells you that money is evil. That sentence is the leper’s bell of an approaching looter. – Ayn Rand

A more market responsive path would be to incorporate stylized versions of real life sporting events we all participate in. Protecting your home and paying bills, using motion to get to your destination, getting and keeping a job, and competing to get the best goods at the lowest price against other adversaries.

To satisfy title IX how about arenas full of breeding age females being pursued by a few males attempting to mate with them, and actual stylized sporting analogs of what transpires among winners of this contest?

Dan J July 26, 2011 at 6:19 pm

Breeding age females being pursued by males attempting to mate with them?
Analogs of the transpires?
Sound like you just described a high school and followed by a high school reunion.

Dan J July 26, 2011 at 6:16 pm

They are paid… with scholarships……. now people want players to get paid into the banking accounts and with scholarships…… it is the players fault if he/she does not make use of the their educational opportunities.
So now, the price of tuition can rise in accordance with ‘free’ scholarships and with price tags on players.
Had a long conversation, recently, with another who opined on the need for Govt to get involved with player/agent/professional team relationship.
The only person getting abused is the nitwit who does not do his due dilligence in the business aspect of the wheeling and dealing. As if, it is the responsibility of the agent, govt, or the professional team on how the player uses the money paid to him for his occupation. If the player spends all of his money on a fancy car, jewelry, house, etc.,… and then loses it later when his career is over in 4 years……… then it is his fault.

Peter July 26, 2011 at 6:24 pm

College athletes are paid. They get scholarships worth a world class education, often at some of the world’s premier institutions. They frequently benefit from lower admissions standards to these institutions (something usually paid for). This doesn’t even count the medical care, high-priced nutritionists and trainers, tutors, books, and room and board they often (usually) receive. Let’s not pretend they aren’t compensated.

If indeed you feel that college athletes are under compensated, what an opportunity you have! You could replace the NCAA or set up a minor league professional sporting organization to compete with it and better compensate these athletes. By offering superior compensation; you could draw some of the best talent and produce a superior product to what the NCAA offers. There’s money to be made there, if that’s true.

Ken July 26, 2011 at 7:24 pm


“College athletes are paid. They get scholarships worth a world class education, often at some of the world’s premier institutions.”

These athletes do not get an education. The colleges are exploiting them in the truest sense of the word. These athletes are offered tens of thousands of dollars to attend a top notch educational institution TO PLAY FOOTBALL. What do you think happends if the athlete, you know, actually tries to get an education? Since being a world class athlete is a full time job and going to college, while receiving an education not just a credential, is a full time job. Ever had two full time jobs? It sucks and even for 18-22 year olds is too much to do both effectively.

“If indeed you feel that college athletes are under compensated, what an opportunity you have! You could replace the NCAA or set up a minor league professional sporting organization to compete with it and better compensate these athletes.”

Since these educational institutions are run by the government and the gov being a true monopolist will put a stop to any sort of competition.


Dan J July 26, 2011 at 7:32 pm

Should this be the case… that they do not get an education…. then the entire removal of ‘scholarships’ should be had. Any education that is to be had should then be paid for by the athlete. If the athlete wishes to attend a class and/or get credit, then he she must pay for it out of the pay he recieves for his job as a player.

“Govt will put a stop to any sort of competition”

They will attempt to do so, but most certainly cannot absolutely. Hillsdale College is alive and well.

Ken July 26, 2011 at 10:20 pm

Dan J,

“Should this be the case… that they do not get an education…. then the entire removal of ‘scholarships’ should be had.”

That’s sort of my point. These athletes are paid to play sports, not to receive an education; otherwise they would have received an academic scholarship, not an athletic one. And since many of those athletes generate an enormous sum for their respective college/university, they should get paid a commensurate sum (i.e., market price) for that activity, rather than having the sham practice of calling athletes attending universities “student athletes”, rather than the more apt “athletes”.

Also, isn’t it odd that a person with an academic scholarship can get any job they desire (as long as they maintain their scholarly work), while one on an athletic scholarship cannot? It’s almost as if colleges and universities want to pocket as much money as possible on their athletic programs, while exploiting their “student” athletes.

Lastly, I don’t know anything about the Hillsdale College football program, but I’d still be willing to bet that the college isn’t allowed to pay it’s athletes their market price. Which pretty much backs up my idea that Peter’s suggestion that we are free to start a college and pay student athletes market prices is indeed not possible due to gov monopoly.


Dan J July 26, 2011 at 10:38 pm

While I recognize that the blog is about collegiate athletics, I responded directly to “education institutions run by govt and…..”.
Hillsdale takes no govt money and is not subject to the govts governance.

Dan J July 26, 2011 at 10:41 pm

While the compensation may not be n accordance with the income generated, it is still compensation.
I understand the Notre Dame athletes do very, very well, academically and in the marketplace upon graduation.
Still, the player bares responsibility for not making the most of his compensation.

Ken July 27, 2011 at 2:13 am

“While the compensation may not be n accordance with the income generated, it is still compensation.”

Are you really defending the current practice of actually suspending and expelling athletes who dare to make a buck by saying they “still” get compensated?

“I understand the Notre Dame athletes do very, very well, academically and in the marketplace upon graduation.”

I understand that many will as well, but many won’t because they were chosen to attend a university that academically they were unprepared for, but they can play real good ball.

“Still, the player bares responsibility for not making the most of his compensation.”

That’s partly true. Do you not think collegiate institutions and laws surrounding athletes attending a school for preventing him from making the most compensation bare any responsibility? It is pretty clear that these policies and laws are a way for to maximize profits for colleges and universities to a level that the markets wouldn’t allow. There should be no salary caps on anyone, including college athletes.


Dan J July 28, 2011 at 2:02 am

I don’t have a problem with going forth and deregulating and see what happens…. But, I shall not weep for the players, in the current format, as they are compensated.
Indeed, a minor league format seems to be a real opportunity for a business man and for players, alike, who will not make it into the pros.
Many college players and so few who move on to make some big bucks.
The colleges are the minor league teams for NFL without having to pony up the costs of operations.
Is it possible that some do-gooder may have thought to leave it alone since so few will make money, and they might at least have some education and a degree, which is likely to get you hired before the guy without one?

Maybe, Vince McMahon’s approach was too commercialized or too similar to His Wrestling empire.

Dan H July 26, 2011 at 11:15 pm

“They get scholarships worth a world class education”…

So what does that equate to in $$$ terms? My degree is for sale to any who would like to buy it. Name a reasonable price and it’s yours.

You see, a degree truly isn’t “worth” anything. You say it is “worth” something. However, I’m having a hard time liquidating it.

My productive skills, some of which were learned in college but most of which were not, are worth something. That’s why you can pay to hire me to do a job, and I give you something in return. But if you want to buy my college degree, sadly you will have nothing that is worth more than a piece of paper.

DaveyNC July 26, 2011 at 6:36 pm

Private school, no problem. Pay ‘em. Do as you will.

State school? Pay the football players, you better pay my soccer playing daughter the same amount.

Ken July 26, 2011 at 7:27 pm

“State school? Pay the football players, you better pay my soccer playing daughter the same amount.”

So you’re into completely wasting money? How much money does the football program bring to the school vs. the girls soccer program?


Kirby July 26, 2011 at 7:57 pm

Yea, pay the football players, you better pay my World of Warcraft playing nerd friend the same amount.

Ken July 26, 2011 at 10:26 pm

Exactly. Treating everyone as if they are identical and worthy of the same amount of money as everyone else is one of the primary drivers for our fucked government. People who think like DaveyNC caused the financial meltdown and the housing meltdown all because everyone deserves exactly what everyone else has regardless of merit.

And yes, DaveyNC, I am saying your soccer playing daughters are of less economic merit than a football player. Which commands a higher dollar amount of commercial air time: the Super Bowl or the women’s World Cup?


Kirby July 26, 2011 at 10:56 pm

WWC: 670,000 tickets total
NFL: 66,960 PER GAME

Steve_0 July 26, 2011 at 11:50 pm

Is the language necessary to make your point?

Ken July 27, 2011 at 2:16 am


“Is the language necessary to make your point?”

Nutup, pussy.


vidyohs July 27, 2011 at 6:09 am


Attaching a good common word like fuck to an obscene word like government is a little over the top for Ken.

But the patrons of this Cafe are mature enough to handle it.

Kirby July 27, 2011 at 10:54 am

I’ll be brave

DaveyNC July 28, 2011 at 9:04 am

Ken, Ken, Ken—-

You miss the point that in a state school, there are other “stakeholders”; namely, taxpayers. Of which I am one and therefore I expect my daughter to be treated equally with the other taxpayers’ children. My economic value to a state university is exactly the same as any other parent’s. For that matter, my daughter holds a job and pays taxes, too.

No, not everyone deserves equal remuneration regardless of merit. But your ideological blinders have prevented you from seeing that, at least in a state school, all students provide roughly the same value to the school.

A private school is different, though. They survive largely on their own. They should be allowed to do as they wish; it is their resources, after all.

Kirby July 28, 2011 at 10:48 am

So you want the school to be forced to pay for a women’s soccer team -which will never make any money or publicity- or, instead, sacrifice their football team -which makes lots of money and a ton of publicity-? People like you, who just don’t want the free market to exist in the name of equality, are what make me sorry for our future.

DaveyNC July 28, 2011 at 8:54 am

I pay just as much in taxes to the state as the football player’s dad, therefore, my daughter gets treated equally.

Yours is an old, useless argument. The players sign on knowing they will not be paid (above the table, anyway). They’ve made their choice to exchange their services for tuition, just as my daughter did.

Kirby July 28, 2011 at 10:48 am

Your soccer player doesn’t get as much money for the school. Y’know you actually have to buy tickets at the game, and hot dogs aren’t free?

Faintfuzzy July 26, 2011 at 6:40 pm

I would like to see all collegiate sports spun off into their respective ‘minor leagues’. Years ago I was involved in a CBA of sports at a major university…with all things considered, it cost the institution a LOT of money.
I vastly prefer the idea of stepping up the intramural sports program, get the student body to work on their bodies.
In the interests of full disclosure, I’m an old curmudgeon that is concerned more about the quality of education in this world that sports stats.

Matthew July 26, 2011 at 10:09 pm

If we’re talking about paying players, we might as well spin it into the European system with vertical sports clubs, which can run from five-year-olds to professional athletes. It’s better for the athletes (the younger players can watch the professional players practice, and learn from them) and it separates the odd paradox of a university trying to be the best academic institution it can be while making ethical violations to recruit academically inferior students for the goal of gaining more alumni and corporate dollars.

T Rich July 27, 2011 at 11:14 am

Matthew’s comment FTW.

This comment is exactly spot on. I was a student who played sports (soccer) in college at an ACC school. The joke that revenue sports made of the academic mission of learning was so evident. We had a star basketball player get pinched for stealing stereo equipment from another athlete’s dorm room. The ensuing attention led to disclosure that he had entered college with an SAT score of 470 (you get 400 points simply for filling out the forms properly).

He was actually a nice guy and probably would have stayed on the good side of the law if he was in a system like the European (and other) soccer clubs use. It was evident when this young man was probably 12, that his life should be focused on sports. In such a system, he would have been signed as a 13 or 14 year old to a contract with a major club. He would have, as Matthew alluded to, had been under guidance from professional coaches and players, been able to access the leading physical and skill training programs, and more importantly been paid and probably even mentored by a life coach of some sort to deal with his career.

Instead, he was denied these benefits so that he could maintain amateur status (at a time when jumping straight to the NBA was much more rare). His life after university was kind of a shambles if I remember right and he never got sorted out after the arrest and other problems.

It is a shame that such naturally gifted athletes are not permitted to be “exploited” by professional agents and sports teams in order to “improve them through higher education” by university grandees. A real shame, indeed.

Jeff Neal July 27, 2011 at 9:16 am

If the NFL and the NBA want to have a farm system, let them pay for it and return college sports to, well, college sports.

By the way, if you do a little research, you’ll find that the sports programs of these big schools DO NOT fun other academic programs – they are all closed systems. You pay $50,000 for seasons tickets and a prime parking spot for the Cornhuskers football program, not one dime of that money finds its way into a classroom or any other academic benefit. It might help the girls’ softball team not have to pass the plate for jerseys, but it does not fund academics – there is a very thick wall between $$ for athletics and $$ for academics in virtually every university system.

Kent Gatewood July 28, 2011 at 11:49 am

Does the athletic department pay tuition to the academic side?

Kendall July 27, 2011 at 10:32 am

The bottom line is most athletic departments are in the red so there isn’t extra money floating around to pay players (I believe only 24 were in the black last year). The question of what anything is worth is what someone is willing to pay for it. The University of Missouri estimates it will cost someone $20,000 a year to go to school so a full ride is worth $80,000 to $100,000 (depends on if you redshirt) which isn’t bad pay for part-time work. Of course private school scholarships would be worth much more. Note this money is tax-free and medical expenses are taken care of for work injuries and you have access to the student clinic for routine medical care. Anyone can set up a league to compete with the NCAA if you can talk some colleges into joining it, back in the 1970′s the NCAA didn’t regulate women’s basketball (I don’t know about other women’s sports) but when they offered to do so the schools chose to leave their former organization and put their women’s basketball under the NCAA. You could also set up a minor league and play higher level football and basketball (those are the money making sports) but people watch College sports not just for the level of play but because it is “their” school. The limits on pay are similar to salary caps in pro sports in that they increase the number of teams who can be competitive which increases interest which allows 24 schools out of over 200 to be in the black.

When I was in school the graduation rate for athletes was slightly higher than for the student body as a whole and I think the rates are higher now. For those who don’t graduate they have opportunities to make contacts and have life experiences which will improve their chances for success later in life. I don’t see how this amounts to exploitation.

JJWolverine July 27, 2011 at 10:54 am

I love college football just as much as anyone…

But wouldn’t another angle of capitalism suggest that these college athletes voluntarily sign on to a contract that compensates their services with scholarships? That it’s a free market and they can ply their trade in Canadian football, arena football, or any other pro sports league? It’s not the NCAA’s fault that the NFL won’t draft players straight out of high school.

Players are also free to pick up a different sport like basketball or baseball where they can turn pro at a younger age. Just like in manufacturing, you are not entitled to employment in a specific field (or sport).

It is irrelevant how much money the schools make from players. They accepted a certain term of compensation. If you accepted unemployment with company X and you came up with an idea or design that makes the company billions. Company X may decide to promote you, but you are not entitled to those billions.

Go Blue!

Kirby July 27, 2011 at 10:55 am

The only angle of capitalism is not to force people into a situation. Deregulate it and see what happens.

tw July 27, 2011 at 12:10 pm

You raise some other good issues specifically related to college football. It’s not quite as free a market for college-age football players as you might think:

* The NFL now owns chunks of both the Canadian Football League and the Arena Football League. Both have minimum ages, and the CFL has roster slots guaranteed to Canadian players.

* The minimum NFL draft age (I believe it’s still at the end of the athlete’s class’ 3rd year of college) is collectively bargained between the NFL and the NFLPA. So current NFL players have a role in limiting the size of the available player pool, too.

Brinks July 27, 2011 at 7:06 pm

I like your reasoning. The students are being paid well with just the room, board and tuition. They’re also getting excellent training in their future career.

But if private colleges want to pay their players, I can’t see a problem. I disagree with the idea of state colleges paying players, though. Mainly because I know that in those situations where colleges aren’t able to pay their players out of funds generated from the athletic program, those colleges will go to the public dole for the funds they need. They’ll make whatever convincing argument it takes and there go our taxes.

BintheD July 27, 2011 at 10:56 am

@ Faintfuzzy, Matthew, & Jeff Neal:

I didn’t want to reply three times, hence this post.

Did you three, or anyone on this board who is arguing for the abolishion of collegiate athletics and folding them into farm systems under their professional leagues even go to a major university with a prominent athletic department? If so, did you even attempt to get into the pageantry of football or basketball?

I ask this because I went to a large publicinstitution, got very big into college football and mens basketball, and they are now huge parts of my life. For me, they are so much richer than professional sports because of my ties to the university and the major rivalries that it competes in. As I said above, if it was all about the level of play, I would just watch professional sports.

I think it would be a huge injustice to just fold them into the professional leagues like Europe has. Do they need some reform? Sure, but that doesn’t mean they should be done away with.

T Rich July 27, 2011 at 11:25 am

Well, YIPPEE for you.

When I lived in Durham, NC I really got into watching the Bulls play minor league baseball. The pageantry was great, cheap tickets, good beer, cheap dogs, and a lot of friends in the crowd nearby.

I am glad that you enjoyed the spectacle. There are plenty of folks in England that turn out to see Reading play Coventry City in whatever level of the second, third or fourth tier they might be in. Maybe it helps the spectacle of major college sports that you have 40,000 kids on-campus who can attend for free and put their money into pre-game drinking and go have a blast at their subsidized event.

It still doesn’t mean that the athletes are in the best situation for them. The market for their skills is limited and highly regulated. I say this as someone who got to see it from close up and in two different major basketball locations (just to show I have some bona fides).

BintheD July 27, 2011 at 11:46 am

I appreciate your decorum. First of all, I cannot think of a school in division 1 that simply gives its tickets away to students. During my time, they were roughly half the cost of regular season tickets for football – a deal, but certainly not cheap. I know for basketball that the student discount was much higher, because of the smaller size of the arena when compared with football. They compensated this by forcing the student section into a pretty itense camp-out session for tickets, as well as mandatory attendance, cheers, and shirts.

As for the drinking, I remember going to a Rugby final at Twickenham (Sale vs Leicester) and getting blown out of my mind with every other lad there. Watching England play in the 2006 World Cup while in London was a similar experience. The same can be said for all the professional sports here in America as well. My point is that there is nothing to distinquish college and professional athletics vis-a-vis alcohol consumption.

My only point was that I want to continue to see collegiate athletics. How they manifest themselves with regards to players and other farm leagues is irrelevant to that statement.

Stephen A. Boyko July 27, 2011 at 11:08 am

Great comments!

Many moons ago, I went to college on a football scholarship. The NCAA is the perfect paradigm for creating externalities.

ArrowSmith July 27, 2011 at 11:58 am

The American sports fan is a flaming hypocrite. On one hand, he detests the notion of paying college football players. On the other hand, if you were to take away his Saturday football games he’d scream bloody murder.

BintheD July 27, 2011 at 12:05 pm

How are those two things mutually exclusive?

Michael July 27, 2011 at 12:17 pm

I’m not sure I see what the big deal is. It isn’t as if they’re entirely uncompensated.

Kirby July 28, 2011 at 10:52 am

Slaves still get fed. Irrelevant.

Michael July 28, 2011 at 11:51 am

Are you really comparing college football to slavery?

Dan J July 29, 2011 at 9:16 pm

Not slaves… they can leave at any time….

tw July 27, 2011 at 12:18 pm

While this may not at first seem related, keep an eye on Mark Cuban’s (Dallas Mavericks billionaire owner) efforts to essentially buy his own college football playoff system.

If Cuban succeeds in breaking the Bowl cartel, then we may see the consolidation of the top football programs into 4 large, power conferences, that would spin off independently from the NCAA. These would be the established teams that draw the big TV money/big crowds that you’re all familiar with. They would react in an effort to chase the big money to keep it all for themselves. There is no way that they would want to share the really big dollars with all the other schools as they have to do with the NCAA men’s basketball tournament money.

Within this tier, you would also likely see a split from the schools’ athletic departments to create affiliated teams with the colleages – legal arrangement to get away from the Title IX limitations and therefore able to pay players.

doug July 27, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Baseball (minor leagues) and hockey (Canadien juniors and minor leagues) are valid paid options in North America for exceptional college age athletes in these disciplines. As these sports do not, in most cases, generate vast sums of money for the university the arrangement works.

Give kids the option to ply their skills in paid associations for football and basketball and the NCAA would go beserk. Someone, Mark Cuban perhaps, might consider starting such a league for baskteball.

Sure, pay the athletes. Just make sure they pay taxes and tuition, room and board like everyone else.

Bryce July 27, 2011 at 1:26 pm

The part that always seems to be left out is the elephant in the room- the tax status of the universities and the NCAA. As long as university jobs are about infrastructure, then having paid students works. But if the universities and the NCAA own up to the fact that they are revenue-seeking institutions by paying employees for their ability to generate revenue, then they potentially have to start paying taxes and that would have a huge impact on the whole educational landscape. Coach salaries have already pushed them toward this boundary and paying student athletes would probably push them over the edge.

God I wish I was funny July 27, 2011 at 9:12 pm

Q: How many college athletes does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A: One. But he does get three credits.

pksully July 28, 2011 at 12:05 pm

The article and most debate on this issue ignores the fact that it is the university’s relationship with it’s alumni and fans, not the skills of the players, that makes college athletics such a huge industry. I could care less about some minor league football team from Ann Arbor but I care and am willing to spend money, directly on tickets and merchandise and indirectly by watching telecasts, on U of M sporting events. It’s the same reason that traders at Goldman Sachs have a weak argument that they should get to “eat what they kill.” It’s GS relationships that allow those traders to make a killing, not the skills of those traders, or more accurately, whatever skills a GS trader may have, they would not merit the same pay without GS’s relationships. The Michigan quarterback’s skills are worth a ton given the U of M’s contacts but they are nearly worthless as a minor league football player (see pay scale for best minor league baseball players or Arena League football players).

Kendall July 28, 2011 at 1:22 pm

Excellent point!

Rick H August 14, 2011 at 9:55 am

This is all really absurd! Paying college athletes, If we decide to deregulate the rules of college athletes, (like we have deregulated the rules for energy companies, financial institutions), and we know how well that has worked for us!!! What would happen to our university systems?

The student athlete gets so many benefits above and beyond any other student that attends the University of there choosing. Free tuition, free room and board, free medical and the best advertising to promote them selves after college which equates to huge signing bonuses. If the student athlete must get paid, than let them pay for all there benefits they get now additionally out of there pay; include a fee for being national televised. But not let forget, they should be performance contracts only.

The real monster in all of this the University Presidents (board of directors of sort) and the NCAA it self for not enforcing the standards. If a athlete does not make the minimum GPA, or misses more than five classes than that athlete should not be able to participate until all matters are resolved. The number one priority should be the education.

Lets look at what universities do with the money. At UCONN (small division 1 school), the salary of the three top coaches (4mil) would allow for 4100 students to receive full scholarships. 4100 students!! We have not even talked about the TV revenues, Tickets and memorabilia. 4100 Student is around 23% of the student body.

America, has the most expensive higher education system in the world, I personally would like to further regulate State Universities which will require the schools to reduce their tuition cost based on revenues earned, and provide more full scholarships based on the revenue made. Not sure how private universities would fall out in this. But, as for State Universities, which is subsidized by our tax dollars, the schools should have a earning cap for running schools, and salary caps for top administrator and coaches. The rest of the profits should go directly to reducing the price of attendance.

Again, America, lets not loose site of what is important. Lets find a way to better the whole community, and not support the lucky few.

Keith Anderson August 14, 2011 at 4:32 pm

For the PERFECT way to pay college athletes, see

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