Pay for play

Submitted by JLo on June 18th, 2010 at 12:59 PM

I was thinking a bit about the Reggie Bush stuff at USC, and whether we should compensate football/basketball players beyond their scholarships. Many people hold to the traditional ideal of the student-athlete: these guys are just students who just happen to have freakish amounts of talent; they participate in our school's athletic teams, and in return are given a scholarship to pay for their education.  Others advocate for a more pro-style approach: the players entertain millions of tv viewers and make a lot of money for the athletic department, so they should be paid.  

I used to fall firmly in the first camp.  While at Michigan I was on an academic scholarship, and I had certain requirements to uphold - maintain a certain GPA, etc.  As long as I did that, my tuition, room and board were paid for.  The only difference between me and the guys on athletic scholarship is that their requirements had to do with the field, and mind had to do with the classroom - right?  However, I was being compensated in the same field in which I excelled: I was a good student, so my schooling was paid for.  Athletes are different, though.  Their potential lies on the field, but we compensate them by paying for their education.  They have much more work than I did - to earn their scholarship, they have to not only do their coursework and maintain a minimum GPA, but ALSO put in the ridiculous amount of work to be involved in collegiate athletics.  It would be like my scholarship requiring me to hold down an unpaid part-time job in addition to my coursework.  In that sense, the traditional notion of the student-athlete is a bit ridiculous.

Aside from that, I think we have to consider where all the money goes in the current system - money that is made based on the exploits of these players.  Coach salaries are escalating every year.  Schools are investing tons of money into facilities - some investments are necessary (*cough cough* Crisler renovation), but others are just an arms race to impress recruits (e.g. Oregon's locker room, which reportedly has personal xboxes in each locker).  Compared to those extravagancies, tuition + room and board for the athletes seems like a fairly small amount.

I think there's a way to compromise without overhauling the entire system, though.  Had I wanted to make extra money aside from my scholarship, Michigan offered opportunities for students to get paid while working for the school: work-study.  Why not offer student-athletes work-study money for the time they invest in sports?  Most work-study jobs benefit the school (research assistantships, landscaping, etc.) and athletes arguably benefit the school as much as anyone.  They entertain students and alumni, raise huge amounts of money for the athletic department, and act as ambassadors for the school.  Athletes do a lot for the University - why not compensate them while working within the existing system?

I see a couple problems, but I think they could be worked around.  First, there are a lot of athletes at the university who aren't on scholarship - should they be paid too?  I would say probably no; make this work-study opportunity available only to athletes who are on scholarship.  I know it doesn't seem fair, but the work study money would be a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of a full scholarship.  This really wouldn't be much of a change from the status quo from a financial standpoint.

The other issue is how much to pay student athletes.  I think that's actually pretty easy.  I believe there's a fixed hourly rate for work-study jobs (correct me if I'm wrong), and Michigan fans are all intimately familiar with the countable hour - seems like this would be a fair way to do things.

So, thoughts?



June 18th, 2010 at 1:06 PM ^

Everything you just said is the PERFECT idea to be able to pay the student athletes BUT ti be legal, this way we can get students to come to our school, have something to bribe them with, they get paid, they are happy, maybe they perform a little better on the field, and it all legal. I think this is the perfect idea. It makes sense every way you look at it. You should probably present this to schools. No Joke.


June 18th, 2010 at 1:19 PM ^

But I do think it's a good idea.

I also think the non-scholarship athlete's should be eligible, since as you said, the "work-study" cost would be a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of a scholarship.

Double Nickel BG

June 18th, 2010 at 1:18 PM ^

paying players. The problem is can anyone figure out a way to govern the money and make sure all schools are on the same playing field when it comes to paying them?

I think it's just too big of a headache and it's alot easier to just say no payments.


June 18th, 2010 at 1:24 PM ^

Interesting idea, but how much free time would the athletes have to devote to this? I mean if you take into account the hours they put into the sport and the hours they put into school, do they have enough time for work-study?

skunk bear

June 18th, 2010 at 1:51 PM ^

Soon  the players would have agents. They would get contracts out of high school. If they played poorly, they would still get paid. If they were kicked off the team, they would get a lawyer. Then their salaries would increase.

That 105 million dollars that the UofM AD expects to gross this year?  Most of it would go to the players. Facilities would have to be built out of general funds. Ticket prices would go up. Advertising would go up in the Big House. Taxes would go up.

It would just be a matter of time.


June 18th, 2010 at 1:42 PM ^

What is everyones oppinion on the Division thing? Should we keep Ohio State and Michigan in same divisions or split them up and move the game earlier in the year? and sorry i cant post this because i dont have 20 points yet.

st barth

June 18th, 2010 at 1:52 PM ^

Paying players would open a huge can or worms.  They would become, in effect, professional athletes and college sports would now be competing with professional leagues like the NFL and NBA (who happen to have monopolies and probably wouldn't like the idea at all).

Opening up college athletes to paychecks would be the beginning of a new era of open market free agency amongst sports.  The money grab would be absurd.  If you think conference realignment is separating the haves & the have-nots now just wait until athletic departments need to start generating even more revenue to accomodate the pay for athletes.

Lastly, anybody that thinks those scholarships/educations are worthless should try telling that to the many recent graduates who are staring at large amounts of student loan debt.   And many of these kids are also struggling to find employment and thus face beginning their careers in significant and potentially life crippling financial holes.  Maybe more athletes ought to be thankful for what they have.


June 18th, 2010 at 1:56 PM ^

Athletes are different, though. ...they have to not only do their coursework and maintain a minimum GPA, but ALSO put in the ridiculous amount of work to be involved in collegiate athletics.  It would be like my scholarship requiring me to hold down an unpaid part-time job in addition to my coursework.  In that sense, the traditional notion of the student-athlete is a bit ridiculous.

I disagree with your opinion that this is "ridiculous".

Your academic scholarship is awarded because the school values you as an academic asset. A student-athlete scholarship is awarded because the school values the student as an athletic asset. Each scholarship is awarded for different reasons and has different expectations attached.

As you point out, the amount of required work between the two may not be the same. But they are fair.


June 18th, 2010 at 1:56 PM ^

The fact is, schools like UM and USC and ND and OSU and most of the BCS schools could probably afford to pay their players.  Many other schools who don't draw 100K fans to their games and who don't sell apparel worldwide wouldn't be able to afford to do that, and schools like Boise St or TCU or Utah would never be able to compete.  And schools in the MAC?  Forget about it.

Blue in Seattle

June 18th, 2010 at 7:33 PM ^

The University Athletic budget is communism based.  All money collected goes into one pot and all athletic teams pull out of it.

Without the revenue generated by football there is no way that we build the kind of swimming and training facility that attracts an athlete with the potential to win 8 gold medals at one Olympic Event.

I mean the NCAA Swimm 2010 on XBox is pretty awesome, and you can totally tell who the swimmers are even though they don't have numbers and rarely lift their face out of the water, but I always get Michael Phelps recruited to my team and I always win!

Go interview Graduate students about how they are enslaved to work for professors who get all the reward for the huge research grant projects that all come from the graduate students efforts and all they get at the end is a PHD.

Oh and the ability to enslave the next generation of graduate students who never see a dimie of those millions and millions of grant dollars to design the next generation of sonar arrays for the Navy.

Yep, diverting those University funds away from the University infrastructure that they support (including all the employees of the University) and paying it all to the students that have a hand in collecting the money will solve everything.



June 18th, 2010 at 9:41 PM ^

There was a thread about this a couple of weeks ago.

My opinion is that you get around this issue by having the NCAA distribute the money. The NCAA redistributes the revenue they receive from March Madness, video games, and Bowl Games. So, each individual school's athletic budget does not come into play.

Give the players a cut. The OP's proposal seems more than reasonable.


June 18th, 2010 at 2:24 PM ^

of the players getting some pay for their time, however, we would have to ensure that the time payed was only for the countable hours, since that would ensure that they can't add exuberant hours to get more money to the student athletes.

One thing to think about is that all student athletes and football players are not created equal, and there are a lot of perks that at least the football team has.  When I lived in the dorms, I lived in a hal with two football players.  One was a starter, and the other never saw the field (during meaningful play), however, both could call pretty much anywhere on campus and order food for free.  I remember they used to let us order pizza every once in a while when they didn't feel like it. I think its important that in college they ensure that the perks are even between the stars and the bench. Bo's team speech speaks pretty well to this point.

Zone Left

June 18th, 2010 at 2:52 PM ^

No, they aren't enough.  The only difference between NFL players and major college players is that college players have the added burden of school on top of football.  College players average about 45 hours per week on football activities and many come from families that cannot help with small expenses. 

I don't think anyone is advocating 100K per year or anything even close to that.  However, a small stipend of about four hundred dollars a month would allow them to go out on a couple dates, have a few drinks with their friends, and cover the incidental costs of everyday living. 


June 18th, 2010 at 5:12 PM ^

I'm sorry, but I dont think anyone should get a salary for attending college.

Though I'd love to get paid for any of my extracurriculars...even though mine won't have a chance of getting me on national television and potentially making millions per year.

Unless I get into law school...that'd be nice.


June 19th, 2010 at 3:17 PM ^

Many of them leave once they're skilled enough to be NFL players. Until then they're paying their dues to get to the lucrative level of their profession. How is this much different than say a residency for doctors (the doctors have the MD and are still learning, but they are also certainly underpaid).

Zone Left

June 18th, 2010 at 2:57 PM ^

Thanks for this diary.  I was planning, and still may do, a larger scale diary about this topic in a few months.  My time is being monopolized by B-School essays right now, so I'm glad someone was able to start a discourse.

skunk bear

June 18th, 2010 at 4:33 PM ^

You're in business school and you want to dramatically increase the cost of fielding athletic teams?

What does your schooling tell you about the wisdom of such a move?

You do realize that there will eventually be pressure to increase whatever amount you start off with. It wont start at 100K, but it could end up there.

Zone Left

June 19th, 2010 at 8:05 PM ^

Wow, that's a little snarky...

Actually, I'd like the NCAA to force schools to provide a stipend for student athletes.  Something around $400/month seems fair when the Indy Star reported Michigan football had a 35 million dollar operating budget surplus (profit) in 2004-2005.  85x400x12 = $408,000, which barely rises to a drop in the bucket.  This isn't about schools offering competing salaries--it's about my personal notion of fairness.  Feel free to disagree with that.

I understand that there are cost issues involved here.  Most schools aren't revenue monsters like Michigan--which is why expansion is so tantalizing for many schools.  Personally, I don't care.  If schools can't afford to pay some basic living expenses for what amount to full-time employees, then they should feel free to drop football.  Are you happy that CMU football receives 2 million plus dollars from the school when more and more students struggle to afford tuition?  I'm not happy and I'd probably be looking at sports as an easy way to slash budgets if I were in a small-time conference or in state government.


June 18th, 2010 at 3:02 PM ^

you are compensated in the same field where you excelled - you were "paid" with academics for your academic ability. True. 

But athletes are paid not only with academics, but also athletics.  There is no other means to have access to the best facilities, trainers, coaches, stadiums, fanbase, media exposure, etc.  Quantified in real world terms, this would be worth hundreds of thousands of $'s over 4-5 years.  They must work harder than you, yes, but they are receiving two benefits - academic and athletic. 

Put another way: what would be the market value of purely the athletic side of the Michigan experience?  Train, practice, put on the uniform and play in that stadium for a national TV audience for a chance to win a title?  I'd pay millions


June 18th, 2010 at 4:32 PM ^

“The only difference between me and the guys on athletic scholarship is that their requirements had to do with the field, and mind had to do with the classroom - right?”

So the requirements for you to maintain your UM academic scholarship were the same requirements used by UM football for their players to stay eligible on the field?  I guess I find this highly unlikely as I would have assumed you were held to a higher standard academically to maintain your scholarship.

I could be wrong, but it’s my understanding athletic scholarships are renewed once a yr and that no player is guaranteed a (4) yr athletic scholarship by simply signing a LOI. With the assumption and track record of most institutions honoring a scholarship all (4) years despite it not being a requirement and for university’s not named Alabama how does one determine if the player is living up to their expectations once arriving on campus and performing on the field to earn their paycheck? 

Are we going to base it on how many stars Rivals and Scout gave them? -):



June 21st, 2010 at 12:34 PM ^

overstate the case.  It assumes NFL ability and a fair chance to exercise it.  For some it translates literally - Brady, Jake Long, B. Edwards, all UofM NFL stars - the athletic experience was worth multi-millions.  The training, coaching and preparation they received led directly to NFL success.  They could not have achieved it without college football.  Going straight to the NFL from high school is not an option.  If you wanted to quantify that support, it would have a significant market value: coaches at $500+/ hour (though spread over a number of players, still significant), weight trainers and dieticians the same (at lower rates), facilities including perhaps the most famous stadium in the country, film rooms and other training aids.  TV time in national markets may be the largest benefit - if Tate Forcier never plays in the NFL (he will, if he matures and listens to his coaches), the name recognition he received playing at Michigan can be monetized.  Doubt that?  The Big Ten Network and ESPN are full of good-to-decent college players who transitioned to broadcasting.  Others go into sales or start businesses or join businesses where their name recognition offers immediate financial benefit.  And alums take care of their own.  And would you give John Kolesar a better-than-market deal on his trade-in if he showed up at your dealership, just so you could tell your friends you sold him a car?  Yes.  Or at least many would.  In this way the players are very handsomely "paid".  Real money, over time after they graduate, much greater than the hundreds of $'s per month proposed.  And let's not forget, they love playing football.  Walk-ons do it for free, not even receiving a scholarship.  Would they be paid?  No.  If you did, you'd have hundreds showing up.  Have cuts and pay only those that make the team?  Now you're set up a scale where the better contributors should be paid more than lesser.  And now you're professional. 

Top players like Denard Robinson (another destined for the NFL) do bring millions to the universtities, but they would not be able to do that without the infrastructure that college football as an institution provides.  They're already paid.  If they weren't, economics says another market for their services would have developed by now.  A minor league, or somewhere players could go to develop and showcase their talent directly out of high school.  Semi-pro leagues do exist and intend to exactly that, but are largely dismissed.  High school players would rather play in college.  And they prefer it because as an 18 year-old high school graduate, it simply offers them the best investment for being "paid" in the future.  If they're not successful, they really aren't bringing millions into the university.  The academic and athletic benefits offer at least equivalent market value.  If they are successful, they are "paid" quite well.


June 18th, 2010 at 3:06 PM ^

I have been against shamateurism for years, but title IX has sorta backed athletic departments into a corner becuase the revenue programs, which are men's football and basketball, have to pay for around 100 schollies in women's sports that don't produce any revenue, with the exception of four or five women 's basketball programs.

I definitely think players who produce revenue for the school deserve a "cut," but the system is so much of a "cluster" that I don't see things improving anytime soon.


June 18th, 2010 at 3:07 PM ^

I agree with WolvinLA2.  We tend to use Michigan as the standard but very few schools have the budget Michigan has.  If players were paid many schools would have to cancel other sports in order to have enough money to compete.  Even some Big X schools would have a hard time providing scholarships to other athletes in unprofitable sports.


June 18th, 2010 at 5:58 PM ^

If you add up all the scholarship athletes at UM, there's probably... what, 200ish?  I'm thinking the work-study would probably average out to around 400/mo per player, which comes out to around $320k per semester across the entire athletic department.  I am probably a bit spoiled by UM's huge budget, but that doesn't sound like a massive amount for most major athletic departments.  

For schools that have trouble with that amount... well, it may encourage some of the programs that aren't competitive, can't put butts in the seats, and don't get eyes on the TV sets to drop down to Division 1AA.  This is getting into a whole new topic, but programs like EMU and FIU are a net drain on university coffers, and may be better served in a lower division.

*Edited for spelling.  Sorry, the original was input on my phone while I dodged a hurricane here in Chicago.


June 18th, 2010 at 7:04 PM ^

What I'm saying is that by doing this, you're widening the gap between the rich and the poor in college football.  You realize most athletic departments operate in the red, don't you?  By adding this as a "necessary expense" you are only making it harder for those schools who don't turn a profit.  Maybe you want this since UM is one of the most profitable teams in football, I don't know. 

The other side is that it's a slippery slope.  Let's say you start it at your proposed $400/month.  Clearly that won't stay at that number forever, so who is in charge of decided when and by how much these players get their "raises?"  And think of the politics involved in those decisions.  The rich schools will say that these players need 600 a month, really, and now that we're paying them, why not go up a couple hundred bucks? 

What you propose is dangerous, and would hurt the sport more than help it, IMO.


June 19th, 2010 at 11:04 PM ^

I'm committed to capitalist economic principles, and those say pay the football players. However, there are a number of issues that need to be solved before you can start paying them, and furthermore, you have to ask, why are we paying the athletes in the first place. Are we trying to prevent paying to play like Reggie Bush and USC, the SWC in the 80s, or the U's Pell Grant scam in the late 80s and early 90s? If it's the latter, paying players won't solve that problem. It might reduce some instances, but it won't make the sport any more clean.

So lets assume we want to pay the players because they earn money for the university. Okay, we pay employees based on the fact that companies turn a profit. Most athletic departments don't make money on football, let alone all their other sports. Certain accounting measures might make some seem more profitable than others (only counting instate tuition against revenue for those athletes that are in state in a public institution) etc. Actually, just read Jim Duderstadt's book on Intercollegiate athletics and revenue. It's about 10 years old now, but still somewhat relevant. 

Problems: 1) Who sets the amount of pay football (or basketball players) earn? Are those payments based on performance or more like a stipend (oh, ask a scholarship athlete about stipends when they go on the road for sports, and they eat cheap and pocket the rest of the stipend) where everyone earns the same money? - if the universities set their own amount, then the pressure to pay more will lead to more pressure on AD's, then coaches, then athletes to perform, and what do you think will happen to the amount of time on the practice field vs. in the classroom. As one person already commented, this will essentially evolve into professional sports that have nothing in common with the mission of developing students (and for most student athletes, including football players, this is still a part of their 4-5 years)

2) How do you keep the other non-revenue sports which actually do fit the purpose and mission of the university? How will AD decide what sports to cancel as a result. Watch the disaster of implementing Title IX come up again. 

3) As a spectator, are you willing to pay more and more to watch your favorite teams play. Because tickets will increase, and any college football TV plans - wow, imagine how those costs will rise, as well as any merchandising with connections to the athletic department (see jerseys for example)

4) By paying athletes, you've just added yet another level to compliance. Good luck with tracking that.

5) If you do try to keep a level playing field for all schools in D1 - that will not stop any form of fraud. In fact, it might increase it, because to pay for the escalating costs, you might have to find creative ways to get ahead. 

6) Are they employee's? What additional benefits might they be eligible for? What about free-agency? Ability to leave a scholarship? It will only be a matter of time before some college athlete seeks litigation to get more. Again, you sprint toward a professional environment that doesn't fit with the mission and purpose of the university. 

7) What pressure will this put on instructors to keep athletes eligible? You can't have your best employee out, because if you lose, you lose money, and if you lose money, you struggle to make payroll, and the other universities have more to offer, and you lose. 

Yes, student athletes like Mike Hart, Mario Manningham, Brandon Graham, Zolton Mesko, Chad Henne, Leon Hall, etc have put butts in the seats at Michigan Stadium and put a lot of money in the athletic department coffers, but these guys get benefits apart from a paycheck that most students will never get. 

But with some good plans, I'm open to changing my opinions.