Making the world go 'round...

by Face

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I was listening to 93.7 today and heard a rather interesting discussion about whether or not student athletes should be paid. Certainly the argument is logical from some points of view. There are players that bring in a large amount of money to the university because of the way that they play. I'm going to deal with football on this because, what with the bowl games and the fact that it has long surpassed baseball as the prime sport in this country, it has been the sport at the forefront of this situation.

Now the large amount of debt that I've incurred from my time in undergrad makes me want to shout "NO!" from the rooftops. For as much as an education costs, it's patently ridiculous to think that they should get more. Nonetheless, I took a breath, took a step back, and decided to play a little "what if?" game.

Here's the fundamental problem with paying student athletes - where do you draw the line? The kids who play on the field? Jersey number sales? All players on the team? Only the first string? If it's only the first string, what about the guy who comes in on the nickel package? Clearly he's good enough to hit the field. What about a two-headed running back system? Clearly both are talented, but only one is listed as the starter. And aren't the guys on the prep team working hard to keep the starters on their toes...?

Let's look at a few possibilities after the jump.

If a university pays students a flat stipend, it has to be for everyone. Well, why should they do so? There are folks at these universities who are (let's face it) going to amount to far more in their lifetime than the 3rd stringer who barely made a 2.0 in high school, and they're not getting stipends. They're often not getting a full ride, either. The converse to that argument is that those remarkably intelligent people are also not bringing the university millions of dollars, but neither is that 3rd stringer. I'm going to count this possibility out. With the size of these programs and the amount of players who are brought in, it is simply impractical.

Ok then, let's limit the stipend. Where are you going to draw that line? First string? What about the guy on the nickel package that I mentioned above? There isn't a fair way to do it. Not gonna work.

If a university pays students a royalty on jersey sales, there are heaps of issues, too. I would wager that 99% of the country, regardless of the level of football "fandom" they maintain, could watch a game and identify whether or not the quarterback, wide receivers, and running backs were good. It would take only a slightly more discriminate eye to identify a good linebacker, corner, or safety - so long as they're the type that frequently garner sacks or interceptions. I would also wager that most football fans would have trouble identifying excellent play from an individual offensive lineman, a blocking fullback and/or tight end, or a non-sacking defensive lineman or linebacker. So, whose number is going to be on that jersey that they buy? Not the lineman. Not the fullback. It'll be the QBs, the WRs, the visible playmakers - screw the guy who blocked the pass rusher and gave the QB the extra 3 seconds he needed to complete all of those passes. Why penalize the players who are just as important, perhaps even more important, to their team's success because they don't play a sexy position?

Further, why penalize a school with a smaller fanbase who will, therefore, not make as significant an amount of revenue off of jersey sales? The big recruits will be pushed even further towards big schools that get recognition in well-populated urban areas. Those schools don't have to rely on students and alumni alone to sell things because they have a whole city behind them. Where does that leave schools without those advantages?

Let's go beyond even that. Agents can't give money to players. What if they start peddling a kid's jersey in order to snag him? There are ways around the system that is already in place, of that there is no doubt, but why create brand-new loopholes and opportunities for shady dealings?

If the university simply decides to give their "stars" a cut of some lump sum - say bowl money or apparel money - what system could possibly be used to prevent it from becoming arbitrary? Are kids going to have riders on their letters of intent that stipulate the number of sacks they have or their completion percentage? How do you even balance those stats out from position to position? What about positions where measurable statistics are harder to glean and quantify? What will enter the mentality of a player who thinks that they were slighted the season before? Maybe they were held out that last play of the last game that would've given them the bump they needed to a higher pay bracket. We've now found countless ways to create an army of locker room delinquents.

Finally, regardless of a settled-upon payment method, such a system will do nothing but increase the gap between the haves and the have-nots of the sport. It will diminish the stories of the Boise States, the Utahs, the underdogs. Teams that can pay the money will have the stars and all of the sudden college sports have become major league baseball. We won't have mid major programs, we will have "small-market" colleges. I promise you, there is a difference. It will be far more pronounced than it is now and it will make the competitive disadvantage far worse than it is.

And surely, God help the schools that want to move up from Division II or III - or even I-AA.

The  problem is that where money can be made, corruption will often follow. Loyalties go down the drain right after the baby and the bathwater. Who cares that you grew up watching the University of Wherever play and that they're actually offering you that football scholarship - - University of Somewhere Else can pay you more! Transfers will be more common than ever. Money will merely be the beginning, because there will be the inevitable desire for MORE - not for any logical reason, just out of a pure desire for more.

So it turns out that, even when discounting the obscene amounts of money that some kids will save by never having to pay for a college that they probably would never have gotten into if they couldn't throw a ball really well, that doing this WOULD be ridiculous.

The kicker, though, is that these things are happening right now anyway. Look at OSU. Look at Auburn. What the NCAA really needs to do is increase the frequency of the so-called "death penalty." If programs and boosters are operating in direct insubordination of the rules of play, then... well... game over. I'm saying that these should still be extreme cases, mind you, but I do think that the mere five times that death penalty has been handed down since 1952 has not done enough to create a force to be reckoned with. There needs to be a true deterrent.

Time to take the gloves off, NCAA. You ran a HUGE campaign to emphasize the student part of "student-athlete." I believe it's your turn to put up.

Paying student athletes will be the end of amateur sports in this country, and what a bitter end it will be.