Sports Business

Should College Athletes Be Paid?

The following guest contribution was written by former collegiate athlete Chris Beck.

Let’s say your name is Tahj Boyd.

Let’s say you play quarterback for Clemson University, on one of the season’s strongest college football teams. You’ve won an Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year award, are headed on a path not only leading the Tigers to a national title, but also to a lucrative professional career.

The awareness brought to your program and college, the sale of anything orange and purple (from paw-print ball caps to bedazzled women’s football jerseys), the media coverage – it could reach incredible heights, and bolster future recruiting classes for your school.

You’d be a legend, if you were Tahj Boyd.

And you’d also see none of the revenue your strong arm, capable legs and leadership qualities have meant to your school.

NCAA rules, while permitting autograph dealers and ticket brokers and T-shirt manufacturers to capitalize on your stardom, prohibit you, Tahj Boyd, from compensation beyond your Clemson education, which you earned with your status as a prized football recruit.

Sign here – but leave your wallet at home

College athletics is a big business powered by highly-compensated coaches, loaded television contracts … and unpaid athletes.

Peruse the Internet and popular online auction website eBay for Tahj Boyd autographed memorabilia, and you’ll find authentic jerseys ($499), mini helmets ($99) and 8×10 glossy photos ($44.99).

None of that revenue will go to Boyd, nor will any other college athlete whose likeness is used in video games (although that may be changing) – even though those items’ value comes directly from the players’ involvement or likeness.

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy as the best player in college football, sat out the first half of the Aggies’ season opener as punishment for allegedly taking payment from brokers to autograph hundreds of items that were sold at considerable profit.

Manziel increased the value of so many jerseys and helmets, not unlike the way he lifted a non-descript football program in Texas A&M to national prominence at best, fleeting and lucrative exposure at worst. His contribution is easily quantified; shouldn’t he be compensated, as an employee of the university?

ESPN reports said brokers paid Manziel $7,500 to sign autographs. That’s a violation of NCAA rules, but shouldn’t Manziel – just as a reporter on a campus newspaper who takes freelance assignments to make money – be able to earn money this way without penalty?

Critics argue the allowance of compensation would signal a declaration of open season for corruption in the college ranks, but that day dawned years ago.

Current rules were in place but did not prevent these scandals:

Miami (Fla.) football and basketball (2011)

Former Miami booster Nevin Shapiro provided improper benefits to players and coaches involved in the school’s football and men’s basketball programs.

Michigan basketball (1997-2003)

Players, including star Chris Webber, accepted money from booster Ed Martin as part of a money-laundering scheme related to gambling. Some payments were made when players were in high school.

Southern Methodist University (1986)

A booster-sponsored slush fund was used to pay players – with school administration’s knowledge.

Here’s how the NCAA could pay players.

How to slice up the pie

Payment to players won’t be an easy task.

It also won’t feel fair. Non-revenue sports – all teams excluding men’s basketball and football, in most cases – will not get a considerable slice of the pie, if any at all.

Smaller schools in smaller conferences will get smaller cuts than bigger schools in bigger conferences.

But the system proposed here will allow for institutions to improve their standing in the pecking order of pay, and the NCAA as a whole.

If the NCAA follows these three guidelines of compensation, this could actually work.

1.      Time to tithe

Consider it a tax, right off the top.

All television contracts, licensing deals for apparel and memorabilia, radio agreements – automatically have a 10 percent tax taken from them. This revenue is considerable. reports that the NCAA and CBS/Turner Sports have a $10.8 billion deal to televise the men’s college basketball tournament.

This nearly $11 billion windfall is for tournaments from 2011 to 2024, for a tournament that takes less than a month to play out. This figure doesn’t include TV payouts for football’s regular season and bowl schedule through streaming contracts from companies such as Time Warner or Verizon, not to mention the far-less lucrative baseball and softball tournaments.

This tax could be taken for a calendar year, and then invested for a year before it’s divvied up between NCAA institutions and the programs they support. Which brings the next question … who gets what?

2.      Divide the prize

There are two ways to go about distributing funds to schools and then players.

The socialist way

All member institutions will receive an equal share of revenue to divide among their sports teams. Ideally, in a truly socialist structure, the funds would then go to all students, from the school’s starting quarterback to the backup coxswain on the rowing squad.

The capitalist way

All 340 schools classified as Football Bowl Subdivision and Football Championship Subdivision, formerly Division I-A and I-AA – would be ranked according to impact they have on the NCAA’s earnings.

Presumably, Notre Dame would rank highly, because of the success of its programs but also with a nod to the television and merchandising profile it enjoys. Other schools, such as Buffalo, Richmond and South Florida won’t rank as highly.

Metrics for this ranking could include:

  • The number of televised games, including bowl games
  • Men’s and women’s basketball tournament invitations and victories
  • Income generated by merchandise and ticket sales.

An NCAA committee would rank schools 1-340 for this purpose.

The school ranked No. 1 – let’s say it’s Alabama – will earn the largest share of the NCAA fund pool. The second school – let’s say it’s Southern California – will claim a slightly lower total than the No. 1 institution. This will continue to No. 340 – let’s say it’s Texas Southern.

Another set of metrics will be in place at each institution.

The financial impact of each program will be measured and each sports team ranked. If North Carolina ranked No. 122, it would divide its share among its 26 varsity sports. A school committee would then rank those programs for their impact on the earning power of the school.

Let’s say North Carolina’s committee determines the men’s basketball team had the most influence over income for the university. It could then rank the members of that team – from the starting point guard to the walk-on freshman reserve center at the end of the bench.

The point guard in this model would earn the biggest share of men’s basketball’s allotment of funds, and the walk-on, the least. It could be determined, too, by the university, that a player is ineligible for a payday because of violation of team rules or of campus code of conduct.

The university also could determine that a program – let’s say the women’s golf team – did not appear on TV, promote merchandise sales or ticket revenue, and therefore isn’t entitled to a monetary share.

Such a move would give more money to your top programs, but might discourage future recruits from attending your school. Ideally, every program would see some division of wages.

3.      Bite the hand that feeds illegally

Some schools’ boosters are powerful. They’ve parlayed degrees into lucrative businesses and careers. They still bleed school colors. Maybe they weren’t talented enough to play linebacker at their alma mater, but they now have the deep pockets and devotion to be a player for their favorite programs.

They’re also among the most dangerous players in college athletics.

The owner of a car dealership might offer a receptionist job to the mother of a top recruit. An influential attorney might give an entry-level offseason job to a blue-chip power forward that pays him handsomely, whether he reports to work or not.

A new penalty system could seriously hamper the overzealous booster from wielding his influence by waving money around.

If a school is found in violation of rules regarding benefits from sources outside the NCAA, they’d face a three-strike process:

First offense

50 percent of the school’s stipend is rescinded, and placed back into the NCAA fund

Impact: All programs will suffer at a school if a shooting guard is caught accepting money for, let’s say, signing autographs at a restaurant’s grand opening. The player’s actions will affect his team and all sports programs at his university.

Second offense

50 percent of the school’s stipend is rescinded, and placed back into NCAA fund; the school also drops 25 places in the NCAA rankings of schools of influence, for a period of three calendar years

Impact: Same as above, plus the future incomes of athletes at the school will be adversely affected; this will have an impact on earnings for athletes and future recruiting. Rivals that rank just below this school will gain an advantage as a result of the rules infraction.

Third offense

100 percent of the school’s stipend is rescinded, and placed back into NCAA fund; the school drops 100 places in the NCAA rankings of schools of influence, for a period of three calendar years; scholarship offerings are reduced by 1/3 for three calendar years

Impact: Same as first and second offenses; plus, the 100-place drop could damage a recruiting profile as it pertains to future classes. This will indirectly reward schools and programs that adhere to the standards by boosting their influence profile.

The impact of a reduction in scholarships will immediately weaken incoming classes.

Can it pay off?

One of the latest NCAA-licensed baseball caps is known as the NCAA Chromite, as sold at Dozens of schools – from Arizona to Georgia Tech to Pittsburgh – are represented. Each costs $24.99.

If you’re Arizona soccer player Jaden DeGracie or Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee or Pittsburgh volleyball libero Delaney Clesen, you might play a role in the sale of those caps. Under this system, you’ll have a chance, at least to be compensated for that influence.

Administrators, coaches and players allow the competitive drive to push them to the edge of the envelope, and this system won’t stop that. It will, however, set credible consequences for those who try to operate outside the set guidelines with swift and immediately-felt punishments.

And it will reward those who play by the rules.

By Darren Heitner

Darren Heitner created Sports Agent Blog as a New Year's Resolution on December 31, 2005. Originally titled, "I Want To Be A Sports Agent," the website was founded with the intention of causing Heitner to learn more about the profession that he wanted to join, meet reputable individuals in the space and force himself to stay on top of the latest news and trends.

Heitner now runs Heitner Legal, P.L.L.C., which is a law firm with many practice areas, including sports law and contract law. Heitner has represented numerous athletes and sports agents as legal counsel. He has also served as an Adjunct Professor at Indiana University Bloomington from 2011-2014, where he created and taught a course titled, Sport Agency Management, which included subjects ranging from NCAA regulations to athlete agent certification and the rules governing the profession. Heitner serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where he teaches a Sports Law class that includes case law surrounding athlete agents and the NCAA rules.

2 replies on “Should College Athletes Be Paid?”

10.8 Billion divided by 14 years, divided by 340 schools equals just under 227,000 per school per year. Divided by 85 scholarship football players equals just under $2,700. That is before taking into account any costs associated with creating, managing and operating this program.

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