FanDuel - WFBC

September 25, 2011

The Shame of College Sports: A litany of scandals in recent years have made the corruption of college sports constant front-page news. We profess outrage each time we learn that yet another student-athlete has been taking money under the table. But the real scandal is the very structure of college sports, wherein student-athletes generate billions of dollars for universities and private companies while earning nothing for themselves. Here, a leading civil-rights historian makes the case for paying college athletesand reveals how a spate of lawsuits working their way through the courts could destroy the NCAA.

posted by Bonkers to culture at 09:13 PM - 39 comments

As is always the case when one of these threads come up, I feel obligated to point out that the players ARE paid. It's called a scholarship, which at many of these institutions is worth more than my annual salary. If someone wants to argue that they should be paid more, fine, but don't say they aren't paid.

That being said, as unfair as it might be to not pay them further, there's no real fair way TO pay them, either. Is the walk-on fifth-string safety who never dresses worth the same as the starting QB? No, but how do you determine who gets paid what? Then, of course, Title IX folks would step in and demand that if you pay the football players, you also have to pay the women's lacrosse team and every other athlete who isn't generating a dime. At that point, what would be the point?

The closest thing to a good idea I've heard on this was a couple of years ago on ESPN radio, when I believe it was Erik Kuselias suggested that athletes be allowed to hook up with agents, and the agents can pay them a certain amount of money. The only rule would be that only a certain number of players represented by a given agent could play at a given school. Keeps the NCAA out of it while giving the good players something. Best idea I've heard, though it probably has flaws.

posted by TheQatarian at 10:34 PM on September 25

Isn't this a repeat?

Well, I know we've had this discussion before, and nothing probably has happened that is going to change anyone's mind on this. Then, again, I did catch the MN Gophers losing to North Dakota State yesterday...I think those players should have to pay the fans for that horrible showing.

rcade, how'd you like UNT taking care of Indiana?

posted by dviking at 11:54 PM on September 25

Both the Gophers and Vikings performances as of late brought to mind an old John McKay quote: "It will be good to get out on the road. I think the home fans have seen enough of us."

posted by TheQatarian at 01:50 AM on September 26

This is a repeat, but it was overlooked the last time around and continues to be discussed as one of the most important sports stories ever written about college football. I figure it's worth a second pass.

That was UNT's first win over a BCS opponent since they beat Baylor in 2003, first win in the new stadium and first win under new coach Dan McCarney. I think I might cry.

posted by rcade at 09:18 AM on September 26

I'm with TheQatarian on this one -- show me a system that might conceivably in any way be better and not immediately gamed into something even worse than what we're working with now, and I might sign on. Until then, well, the current one has its holes but is better than anarchy.

posted by Etrigan at 10:37 AM on September 26

I'm with TheQatarian on this one -- show me a system that might conceivably in any way be better and not immediately gamed into something even worse than what we're working with now, and I might sign on.

It'll never happen, but I'd like to see the creation of an explicitly professional NFL minor league for 18-23-year-olds, with the for-profit franchises just paying licensing fees to the former D-1 football schools to use their names, colors, and logos. So there'd still be Cornhuskers in Lincoln, they'd still have an affiliation with the University of Nebraska, but there wouldn't be any winking about what was going on with the money.

(in my dream, the Gophers also just shrug, give up, and disband the football program, because let's not shit ourselves about that ever turning around)

posted by cobra! at 10:46 AM on September 26

It'll never happen ...

Why not? There's a lot of money in college football. There's a ceiling on how many NFL teams the league can handle. A pro minor league for the biggest non-NFL cities is an obvious avenue of growth.

posted by rcade at 10:57 AM on September 26

I feel like the NCAA's institutional inertia is just an immovable object. I guess if one thing could move it, it'd be improved cashflow.

posted by cobra! at 11:12 AM on September 26

It'll never happen, but I'd like to see the creation of an explicitly professional NFL minor league for 18-23-year-olds, with the for-profit franchises just paying licensing fees to the former D-1 football schools to use their names, colors, and logos. So there'd still be Cornhuskers in Lincoln, they'd still have an affiliation with the University of Nebraska, but there wouldn't be any winking about what was going on with the money.

Why is the NFL going to start paying for a farm system that it now gets for free? Why are the big schools going to give up the chance at BCS-level money for a constant franchise fee? Why are the alumni who buy tickets going to transfer all of their loyalty and money to a system that explicitly has no connection whatsoever to their school besides the name?

What would likely happen under your system is that "club" teams would start playing as the "real" representatives of their proud alma maters. And then immediately fall into the same trap of ringers and alumni payments under the table and arguments over who gets what money from tickets and concessions and souvenirs, and we're right back where we started a hundred years ago.

posted by Etrigan at 11:24 AM on September 26

Why is the NFL going to start paying for a farm system that it now gets for free?

Have you looked at the TV contracts in college football lately?

posted by rcade at 11:26 AM on September 26

Have you looked at the TV contracts in the XFL or USFL or WLAF lately? The collegiate connection is very important, and it vanishes once the NFL makes it a minor league.

posted by Etrigan at 11:29 AM on September 26

The XFL and USFL were not affiliated with the NFL. The WLAF only tried American teams for two years. I don't think we know how a serious NFL effort to offer minor league football in the U.S. would perform.

posted by rcade at 11:54 AM on September 26

That being said, as unfair as it might be to not pay them further, there's no real fair way TO pay them, either. Is the walk-on fifth-string safety who never dresses worth the same as the starting QB? No, but how do you determine who gets paid what? Then, of course, Title IX folks would step in and demand that if you pay the football players, you also have to pay the women's lacrosse team and every other athlete who isn't generating a dime. At that point, what would be the point?

I don't see how this is so difficult, really. Instead of an extracurricular activity on campus, it becomes a job. So, no, everyone would not be getting the same pay. Heavily recruited players would get more money than the walk-ons. The main problem is that the people who would have to make these changes are making way more money because they get to exploit very nearly free labor.

posted by bperk at 12:55 PM on September 26

Until then, well, the current one has its holes but is better than anarchy.

That just means propping up the decrepit bullshit mythos of the "scholar-athlete" that hangs like a canopy over a sordid subculture of bribery and manipulation, and I think that a bit of anarchy in the outset is worth it to clean house.

I heard the same resistance from rugby union fans at the end of the shamateurism era, arguing that the spirit of the amateur game was worth saving, even though it was underpinned by boot money and paper-thin "real" jobs for players.

posted by etagloh at 01:23 PM on September 26

I don't think we know how a serious NFL effort to offer minor league football in the U.S. would perform.

The main problem (and reason the NFL hasn't tried it, I bet) is that the college game is much more forgiving of crappy play. All of September is tuning up, and people accept that, because of the student-athlete fig leaf. No one would put up with a third of a professional season being essentially practice writ large.

But even after September, there is still a significantly lower level of play, and it's more obvious in football than in baseball (and even more so in basketball, where you can tell what level they're playing at based solely on the score). People would not put up with that without that fig leaf of student-athlete.

That just means propping up the decrepit bullshit mythos of the "scholar-athlete" that hangs like a canopy over a sordid subculture of bribery and manipulation, and I think that a bit of anarchy in the outset is worth it to clean house.

So what's your idea that doesn't just take us back a hundred years and start the whole thing over again?

posted by Etrigan at 02:13 PM on September 26

People would not put up with that without that fig leaf of student-athlete.

There is no reason to believe the play would be crappy without the off-season limits on practice that is part and parcel of the student-athlete bs.

posted by bperk at 02:16 PM on September 26

But are they really any better after months and months of legal practice? Conference championships and bowl games are still chock full of errors and bad defense.

posted by Etrigan at 02:19 PM on September 26

I don't endure bad play in college football because they're student athletes. I enjoy the game immensely because of the way they play, period. If the NFL had missed a season due to the lockout I would've simply watched more of the college game. What the college game lacks in NFL-level skill it makes up for in pageantry, player enthusiasm and rabid fandom.

posted by rcade at 02:20 PM on September 26

I don't see how this is so difficult, really. Instead of an extracurricular activity on campus, it becomes a job. So, no, everyone would not be getting the same pay. Heavily recruited players would get more money than the walk-ons. The main problem is that the people who would have to make these changes are making way more money because they get to exploit very nearly free labor.

So, you're good with Texas being able to pay a star player more than what Indiana is able to pay? Or, are you just going to let the market dictate what a player can earn? Sort of a free agency for college players, complete with agents, since they'll be going after the best offer won't this naturally lead to agents?

To me, it has to be a set amount, and it has to be for all college athletes. I can't see how the courts would allow anything else. And, that's where the big money comes in, and where I believe the deal falls apart.

posted by dviking at 03:23 PM on September 26

So, you're good with Texas being able to pay a star player more than what Indiana is able to pay? Or, are you just going to let the market dictate what a player can earn? Sort of a free agency for college players, complete with agents, since they'll be going after the best offer won't this naturally lead to agents?

Yes to the first part. What is the advantage of limiting the wages the players can make based on some fairness myth? As to the second part, I don't know if there will be agents since I don't know what the salary would be for players. If there is enough money there, there will be agents there.

Why do you think the courts would have a problem with the fair market deciding salary?

posted by bperk at 04:01 PM on September 26

So, you're good with Texas being able to pay a star player more than what Indiana is able to pay?

Texas pays everybody else associated with its football program more than Indiana pays.

posted by rcade at 04:17 PM on September 26

Not to mention the current players. Why should that change when it's above the table?

posted by bender at 04:58 PM on September 26

I think if your ultimate goal is to both preserve the foundation of the school as an institution of education, and to go the furthest to eliminate the greatest possibility of abuse, then you have to do one thing: Stop giving scholarships for athletics.

Then all your coaching staffs and assorted athletic departments will have to go the way of the dodo and either earn less, or go to a professional league, which will likely be the result of the death of college ball. New professional leagues. Minor leagues.

But that will never happen, so I think rcade's point is the best one so far. Let them pay the players. Let them own their likenesses. You can establish some kind of escrow scenario if it makes you feel better, but really, under the current structure, I don't see how anything else is fair.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 06:00 PM on September 26

What is the advantage of limiting the wages the players can make based on some fairness myth?

Help me understand what you're trying to say. If there are no guidelines and/or limits, then what would be the difference between college and pro sports?

If a big money school, with big money backers, can give a star recruit $10,000 a game doesn't the college game become the NFL? I see no way that a unrestricted market based system becomes the norm.

The courts will have a problem with only certain, select football players at certain, select schools receiving cash for being student athletes. Title IX probably prohibits it anyway.

As I said, I'd be marginally on board with program that gave student athletes a small stipend, if said stipend is regulated such that everyone receives the same amount.

Texas pays everybody else associated with its football program more than Indiana pays.
Based on what happened in Denton this past weekend, it's apparent that Texas is getting the better deal. That being said, we're talking about students not coaches, and the better funded schools already have a huge advantage due to the best coaching/facilities that money can buy, I'd hate to see that increased.

posted by dviking at 06:10 PM on September 26

If there are no guidelines and/or limits, then what would be the difference between college and pro sports?

The only difference now is that the players are exploited. I just see no fairness in a situation that everyone involved gets rich, but players get nothing or a small stipend.

Title IX probably prohibits it anyway.

If it isn't an educational activity than Title IX wouldn't apply. Title IX doesn't apply to any other jobs at schools.

posted by bperk at 07:18 PM on September 26

Scholarships don't cover everything. If a player lives off campus beginning in their junior year at Central Michigan they're responsible for paying rent and for food. Throw in spending money and that can add up, particularly for those who aren't as well off given that sports are a major time commitment and leave little space for paying jobs.

posted by Ying Yang Mafia at 01:14 AM on September 27

If it isn't an educational activity than Title IX wouldn't apply. Title IX doesn't apply to any other jobs at schools

Do you really think for a second that the courts wouldn't apply Title IX to this?

As to players being exploited.. no one has a gun to their heads, they are free to not get a free college education while playing a game.

To me, the participants know the situation. If a kid works hard, and is good enough, they might earn a scholarship to college. If they get to college, and they work hard, and they're good enough, they might get selected by a pro team. Once selected by a pro team, if they work hard and are good enough they might make a career out of playing a game. Fail to cut the mustard anywhere along the line, and it's pick a field and get a job like the rest of us smucks that were never in consideration. Basically, I don't think the athlete is anymore exploited than the cashier at Walmart. Both get exactly what they were told they'd get, both are free to go do something else, and yes, people are getting money off of their work. At least the athlete has a shot at making millions himself.

I could be wrong.

posted by dviking at 01:25 AM on September 27

Basically, I don't think the athlete is anymore exploited than the cashier at Walmart.

The athlete is the product being sold, the Walmart cashier is not. Also, the jump to replacement level talent is a lot smaller at Walmart.

posted by tron7 at 10:14 AM on September 27

Also, the jump to replacement level talent is a lot smaller at Walmart.

There are always kids willing to walk on. Didn't Texas Tech basically have tryouts at halftime a few years back when their one scholarship kicker went down?

posted by Etrigan at 11:26 AM on September 27

And they picked someone at random from the student body?

posted by yerfatma at 11:49 AM on September 27

There are always kids willing to walk on.

Yeah, I'd totally walk on. I don't see how that disproves my point.

posted by tron7 at 12:40 PM on September 27

The athlete is the product being sold, the Walmart cashier is not. Also, the jump to replacement level talent is a lot smaller at Walmart.

Have you seen the Walmart ads? They're all about the smiling faces of their workers, they are absolutely selling those workers as one of the reasons people ought to shop at Walmart.

As to replacement talent, debatable as there are tons of high school players that just missed the cut. If a top Div. 1 prospect decides he's too taken advantage of and skips sports, there is most certainly another kid waiting to take his place. It's not like the number 1 guy is being replaced with some kid at number 23,413. If some kid leaves, he's replaced by the next kid in line. I doubt there's much difference between #23,412 and #23,413 (or however many kids it is that play college football each year...no energy to do that search)

posted by dviking at 09:37 PM on September 27

... they are absolutely selling those workers as one of the reasons people ought to shop at Walmart.

Surely you're not arguing that people shop at Walmart because of the employees.

posted by rcade at 08:01 AM on September 28

Didn't Texas Tech basically have tryouts at halftime a few years back when their one scholarship kicker went down?

Last year Michigan had tryouts amongst the general student body to try to find someone who could kick the ball.

posted by Ying Yang Mafia at 09:17 AM on September 28

I doubt there's much difference between #23,412 and #23,413

Even if you cherry pick which player you want to replace, the gap is still wider for replacing college football players because there is essentially no jump in skill level to get a replacement Walmart cashier. Though, I'm not even sure why I brought it up anymore.

posted by tron7 at 10:44 AM on September 28

The athlete is the product being sold, the Walmart cashier is not.

In college football, the college is being sold far more than the player. Okay, what I mean is the "football program," not the actual university, but still, how many actual players are there who put asses in seats and eyes on screens vs. programs that put asses in seats and eyes on screens? Very few people buy tickets to see even a Cam Newton or Denard Robinson or Ndamukong Suh -- they buy tickets to see Auburn whup Bama, or Michigan beat that school from Ohio, or because there's nothing the hell else to do in the entire state of Nebraska on a Saturday. The players are cogs in the machine to virtually the same extent that the cashier at your local WalMart is.

posted by Etrigan at 12:11 PM on September 28

As to replacement talent, debatable as there are tons of high school players that just missed the cut.

I saw a lot of those players taking the field for the University of North Texas the past five years as we filled out the FBS bottom 10 under a horrible coach. It's not easy to watch a bad football team with bad players who can't execute plays or make tackles. (Thankfully, UNT has a real coach today in Dan McCarney and we can dream again of adequacy.)

posted by rcade at 12:35 PM on September 28

It's not easy to watch a bad football team with bad players who can't execute plays or make tackles.

The bad is in the contrast. Each of those guys probably had been one of the best players on his high school team, but they were playing guys who each had been one of the best players in his school district. 99 percent of college players don't make the pros, but the play isn't 1 percent as good as the play in the NFL.

posted by Etrigan at 02:03 PM on September 28

It's not easy to watch a bad football team with bad players who can't execute plays or make tackles.

Stop watching the Vikings!

My point wasn't that there are not some bad players at every level, obviously, there is the player at the bottom. My point was that if some star football player truly decided to skip college football because he felt so exploited, he would be replaced by the next ranked player, not the kid at the bottom.

posted by dviking at 02:50 PM on September 28

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