On October 12th, former sports agent Josh Luchs admitted to having paid several college athletes during his time as an agent starting 20 years ago, including college stars such as Ryan Leaf and Jonathan Ogden. The Sports Illustrated exclusive is a very telling set of stories told by the agent and gives the common reader a very rare glimpse into the rather sleazy world of agents in college athletics.
While the ramifications these revelations will produce are yet to be known, it at the very least raises the debate once again as to whether college athletes should be legitimately paid for their play while in College. While the logistics and the grand scheme of college athletics may make such a task very difficult if not impossible, the debate still rages on.
Those in favor of paying college athletes often bring up these points:
-some colleges, and their coaches, make millions of dollars in revenue from the broadcasts of games featuring these college players, and its borderline theft that these players get nothing more than a tiny percentage of that, and only in the form of scholarships
-many players could use that extra income as many of them won’t be playing professional football upon graduation
-the illusion of “student athletes” is just that, some of the ‘big time’ athletes are hardly students and are just biding time before they can make the move to the NFL, so why bother continuing treating them as such?
-the payments would be handled by the individual colleges much like how NFL teams each handle payments to the players, and it can be up to them to decide how much money a player gets
Among many others.
However, there also are reasons why college athletes won’t be paid, and why college athletes shouldn’t be paid. There is a difference between the two. Lets start with the former. Why won’t college athletes be paid? For the simple reason that college athletics is far too large to properly accommodate payments.
Some say that perhaps only players at top institutions (for instance, colleges in BCS-level conferences) should be paid, but that is a subjective viewpoint. You can not just pay those who are much more likely to entertain viewers. If a running back at Florida deserves to get paid, why shouldn’t a linebacker out of Eastern Michigan? The answer is, because Florida gets much more revenue that Eastern Michigan does from broadcasts. The Southeastern Conference has major TV deals with CBS and ESPN, and Florida is one of the conference’s top teams. On the other hand, the MAC has a minor ESPN deal and Eastern Michigan is among the worst teams in the nation. So its very plausible for a Florida athlete to receive far more money than an Eastern Michigan athlete.
Can you imagine how much recruiting will change just from this? Many prospects will want to stray away from a Boise State or Marshall because their money just can not compete with a Texas, Oklahoma, or even a school like Baylor which is rarely a decent team but gets the bonus revenue for being in the Big Twelve as well. A lot of people are not fond of sports like baseball where it is perceived that the rich get richer, such as the Yankees, while the poor stay poor such as the Pirates, and the same would be true here in a grander scale. The lack of balance in revenue flow will create a massive lack of competitive balance as well.
One might say then that the NCAA would implement some kind of limitation akin to a Salary Cap, but even so it would be difficult to see a Sun Belt school ever get around to paying its athletes near that cap. Even if you can achieve a sort of balance in the Bowl Subdivision (FBS), what about the former I-AA Subdivision, the FCS? Or Division II, and so forth? Why punish these lower tiered schools who have it hard enough already to field competitive teams?
What’s more, how many sports would have its athletes get paid? Many argue that only football and men’s basketball players would get paid because those are the sports that receive such high revenues. What about women’s basketball? Shouldn’t they get paid as well? ESPN gives them as much attention as they do the men come tourney time (if only because they have a deal to show the women’s tourney on their networks). What about those who play collegiate baseball, hockey, soccer, wrestling, volleyball, golf, and so forth? Should they just accept that they shouldn’t get paid like the football and basketball players just because they aren’t as popular? They put in just as much effort into their trade as the football and basketball players do, to ignore them as well would be selfish and greedy on the behalf of colleges, and just ignorant in the public view.
Furthermore, in all honesty, do you think colleges would pay these athletes with just revenues they get from games? It is very likely, and I am unsure as to whether to go as far to say “guaranteed”, that colleges will raise tuition rates fees to cover these additional costs, even if its limited to less than 100 college football and basketball players that get paid. Picture yourself as a college student who is struggling to get the money or financial aid to pay off tuition costs, if you’re not a college student already, only to find out these costs are going up just because they have to pay some guys who are attending college mostly to play football or basketball? So not only are colleges letting football players stick around for free over potential doctors, teachers, and other important civil workers, but now they want those civil workers to pay extra which will go straight to those athletes? I understand that professional athletes get paid a lot of money, perhaps too much money, for what is a type of entertainment that is difficult to emulate otherwise, but with professional sports people have full control over whether they fork up money to pay these franchises and its players. This would not be the case with college students as they would have to pay through their tuition, and some less ambitious players may well end up in the same profession as theirs! Consider that the “why shouldn’t college players be paid” argument.
While sports agents paying players under the table with coaches and colleges may or may not being in the know is troublesome indeed, efforts should be made primarily to extinguish such behavior in all fronts. Just taking the lazy route and allowing college athletes to get paid legally instead is not the path that should be taken. It might not be fair for college football and basketball players who are often seen on TV that they aren’t getting paid, but if it is ever agreed that they should, then it becomes very unfair for far more people.