A Modest Proposal for "Paying" the Players

Submitted by ca_prophet on February 14th, 2017 at 12:51 AM

In the comments we tend to go back and forth with "of course/of course not/won't-someone-think-of-the-childen/what-about-the-other-students", so I thought I'd lay out a specific proposal.

The goal of the proposal is twofold:

First, channel some of the obscene money flowing to athletic departments, the NCAA, and bowl committees to the people who make the money train possible.

Second, avoid the quagmire of trying to determine exactly who deserves what.

1.  Lifetime free/reasonable-cost health coverage.

This is obviously of most value to our football players, but one thing student-athletes do more of is get hurt.  Some of those injuries can have serious long-term consequences, so give them lifetime coverage for those risks.  Whether this is health insurance or actual health coverage can be discussed, but I would imagine health insurance would be the better way to go, as health coverage has geographic limitations that aren't always convenient.  This in and of itself would soak up a tremendous amount of the money pouring into collegiate sports and give it back in a way that I contend is fair - student athletes incur more long-term health risks than their fellow students, so giving them a benefit to counteract that risk - and has less of an impact than straight-cash payouts.

This has the further advantage of doing the right thing with regards to our increasing knowledge of the price that our student-athletes pay in terms of long-term brain injuries. 

2.  Allow athletes to profit from their likenesses.  If EASports wants a Michigan QB #16, Denard Robinson gets a cut.  Again, other students aren't restricted in such a way, so removing this restriction seems fair.

3.  Remove the restriction on outside student benefits (i.e. bagmen and boosters).  This restriction doesn't currently exist for other students (or, technically, for high school students not yet subject to the NCAA), and hence is also fair.

The last restriction seems like the most likely to cause havoc, but I have a few counterarguments:

a.  Those who believe that the $EC is already deploying bagmen for football and that everyone is doing so for basketball should welcome a leveling of the playing field.  This is the "it's already happening, and we're losing a battle that's not worth fighting" argument.

b.  Those who think that auctioning off the top talent every year would lead to a totally different football landscape ... well, if you take a look at the top 10 teams each year for the last 10/20/50 years, you will find a strong correlation between the wealthiest universities and the most successful.  Put simply, they can pay for facilities and coaching talent, and if they make a mistake they can pay to make it go away anyway.  What, exactly, will change?

c.  I have no doubt there would be a turbulent few years as people gave "f-you" money to top prospects and people decried "the kids these days", but all it takes is one top target who flames out to get people to realize that throwing giant piles of money at 18-year-old boys to play a sport with a horrific flameout rate is not sustainable.  It will stabilize pretty quickly (within about ten years, I think) and the Rashan Garys of the world will get injury insurance money to wear someone's laundry, while the others will get new-car money, and not much will change.

d.  This has the benefit of not running afoul of Title IX, as the athletic opportunities aren't changing and the university isn't doing any of the payouts.

e.  I am not making the argument that our athletes aren't being compensated.  I'm making the argument that they are not being compensated adequately.  We cannot make the argument that "Hey, it's a business" when a recruit switches his commit to us or gloat over the Nike deal and say "No, it's amateur hour" when we want to keep our sports the way they are.

f.  Aside from the moral arguments around "why shouldn't they get what they can?", Michigan has resources it can deploy more effectively than most, so it's to our benefit.

g.  Arguing that we shouldn't pay players because it would change things is, at its core, an old-man-get-off-my-lawn argument.  Just because it would change things is not a reason to do something if the problem is bad enough, and I think it is.  Particularly in light of the concussion issue.


Argue away :<)



February 14th, 2017 at 8:24 AM ^

perhaps there is something to be said for 'get off my lawn' because the majesty and purity of college athletics vs everything paid and professional in life...is what makes it INTERCOLLEGIATE ATHLETICS. It's unfortunate everything in sport has become money driven. I personally appreciated my experiences traveling, being trained, representing my University, and most importantly, the accomplishment and opportunity to expand my ability and graduate with a degree...MONEY is corrupt, opening a pandora's box is NOT a solution.As some below pointed out, the legal issues, the title IX issues that have already affected some sports to create balance vs. football scholly's  is just the tip of that iceberg. And where so many get lost in their own blinders...paying athletes would sink MOST college programs as it is not as simple as paying football and basketball...any sport which collects ticket money would then have to pay their athletes. As a minor sport athlete, no way on this earth do minor sport venues collect enough revenue to pay each athlete on the roster/starting positions etc...it's MUCH bigger than 'well just let them get paid since we can't stop it.' While preserving the 'get off my lawn' way of doing things...opening the flood gates to pay players becasue we can't seem to stop it...should be known as the 'young and stupid with their money,  lazy ass greed' model.


February 14th, 2017 at 8:27 AM ^

While the debate for paying the players is on going, I think there is always a lot of confusion in exactly how much profit athletic departments make. The last time they did a study (looks like it was 2015), it showed that 24 FBS school athletic departments turned a profit. This doesn't mean they made millions of extra dollars, just means they came out on the positive side. The link I'm providing describes the difficulty in determining how much these athletic departments "make". Are they forcibily spending money to avoid paying players with the profits? Maybe? Or do they have to "keep up" with everybody else so any profits are being spent to not fall behind other schools in stadium renovations, coacing salaries, etc....

I for one am not for paying the players, if that is "get off my lawn" so be it, I'm 32 and I have never felt that student athletes should get paid. 




February 14th, 2017 at 10:31 AM ^

My wife taught a few classes, published a few papers, and got the same benefit. These kids are funding the entire sports program at the University of Michigan. Every other sport (maybe not basketball and hockey in good years) is playing off the backs of these kids.  It's not fair that semi-pro football players are getting the same benefits my wife did.

Lee Everett

February 14th, 2017 at 1:24 AM ^

I've always been in favor of some kickback, held in escrow, that players will receive upon graduation and/or leaving the school in good standing once their eligibility has been exhausted.

I would like there to be incentive for players to a) graduate, and b) take their studies seriously while enrolled.

If you graduate, you get x, full amount.
If you play football and go pro after three years, you get 3x/5.
If you play basketball for one year and go pro, you get x/5.
If you play basketball one year and didn't leave in good standing, you get nothing.

Of course, many other details would need to be ironed out, but I feel like this is a great step in the right direction, rewarding true student-athletes.

 People like Ben Simmons, who used LSU just as much as LSU used him, wouldn't have a leg to stand on,


February 14th, 2017 at 2:06 AM ^

I don't see a good argument for why the players can't get paid while they're in college, which is the crux of an escrow idea.

Why not just give players annual salaries with incentives to remain in good standing? That's basically what your breakdown works out to anyway except players have money to live better on (or support their families with) now.

Lee Everett

February 14th, 2017 at 3:17 AM ^

I have to bite, yet I'm uninterested in how this will degrade into semantics as it plays out:
giving players a ~salary~ turns them into professional athletes and opens up several cans of worms.
giving players a scholarship in exchange for excelling at a sport, and then rewarding those players on a) graduating, b) time spent as student-athletes, c) effort spent as student-athletes, bolsters the initial agreement made between the student and the University

How many students did you know at the University of Michigan that were supporting their families?


February 14th, 2017 at 8:15 PM ^

Whether you call it a stipend or salary, I just see value in rewarding players as they go rather than making them wait on an escrow account. Larger stipend seems the most likely incremental step towards paying players.

Perhaps it could be paid at the end of the year conditional on good standing, which is basically what your original model proposed except on a different timeline. A graduation bonus makes sense as well.

There are athletes every year who go pro early to help support their families so that would help them and perhaps keep them in school longer/encourage graduation. Thinking of them more than general student population re: support.

snarling wolverine

February 14th, 2017 at 6:43 AM ^

If you pay football players, presumably you'd have to pay everyone else, or you'd almost certainly run afoul of Title IX. And that's problematic financially for a lot of schools, which are already in the red in athletics. This additional cost would likely force a lot of sports programs to be dropped.

Given the exorbitant cost of attending a university in this country nowadays, I find it hard to be too sympathetic to guys getting a free ride, which not only saves them a ton of money now, but will in the future too as they start their adult lives debt-free.

I'm much more sympathetic to arguments relating to health coverage, especially for football players, given how much wear and tear they put on their bodies. And I think that a scholarship should be able to extend beyond the playing days, if necessary, so that a guy can come back and finish without having to pay tuition.

Brian Griese

February 14th, 2017 at 7:13 AM ^

Also, I'm not an attorney, so someone smarter than me is more than welcome to chime in, but wouldn't the whole "employee" thing ensure Tim Tebow with a nice Nike sponsorship would still be lining up under center for Florida? The reasoning being Florida couldn't discriminate against him because of his age, basically turning college sports into minor leagues instead of 4 or 5 years of elgibilgity?

Brian Griese

February 14th, 2017 at 8:48 AM ^

get around Title IX easier than you think - the college I attended is not bound by Title IX in any way, shape or form. But there's a catch: you must give up every last cent you get from the government. That probably isn't feasible for 95% of colleges though. Even assuming every college went this route to "pay" players I still don't see how it would work with employee laws and have the product resemble anything close to what we're accustomed to.

Two Hearted Ale

February 14th, 2017 at 9:36 AM ^

Federal age discrimination law only applies to employees over the age of 40.

In my opinion, discussing the unintended consequences of paying players is missing the point. NCAA athletics is the only venture in this country that gets away without negotiating with it's talent. If every other industry can figure it out I think NCAA schools will manage as well.

Brian Griese

February 14th, 2017 at 9:54 AM ^

But I think you're referencing the law enacted in 1967. In 1975, it was expanded to include all ages in which federal money is received for the stated program or activity. Since most colleges are federally funded, wouldn't that apply? Nice avatar by the way, I live in the Kzoo area and frequent bells on the regular.


Two Hearted Ale

February 14th, 2017 at 2:43 PM ^

Eligibility rules say you have five years to play four seasons. I'm sure there are other stipulations but on the face there is no consideration for age one way or the other.

I find it interesting who is and isn't protected in this country so I've read a little about it but I'm no lawyer. I'll leave it at that since it's way off topic and that's a rabbit hole that we don't need to go down.

My overall point is that while there are certainly issues with negotiating with talent that don't presently exist none outweigh the player's right to negotiate for what they can get. It's pretty clear at this point that there are a class of collegiate athletes who aren't "amateur", I say drop the pretense and work on a system that is fair.

I went to school in Kalamazoo and Bell's Oberon was my introduction to craft beer. I rarely drink the same beer twice in a row nowadays so I don't drink it often but my stuck on a desert island beer is still Two Hearted Ale. It still holds up to the best IPAs anywhere in the world.

Lee Everett

February 14th, 2017 at 11:48 AM ^


Whenever I see my student loan statement and remember that I'm about to add another 25k to the principle, I start to get jealous.  

Freddy Canteen didn't make a mark at UofM yet he's about to get a bachelors from us (saving himself 180k for three years out of state tuition), and a masters at Notre Dame (another 50k value).

There are players who have pro dreams and are complaining about being exploited, and then there are guys like Canteen who get a HUGE head start in life academically/professionally/financially largely because he has great footwork.

I agree that their 5 year scholarships should be available indefinitely-as long as the player was in good standing.  If, say, a player chose to slack off the semester while he was preparing for the combine and had a terrible semester, he should be on probation just like any other student and have to redeem himself academically.


February 14th, 2017 at 8:22 PM ^

Title IX is not as much of a factor if players are designated as employees (which would be long-term change to be sure). Harbaugh and Hutchins don't have to make the same amount so that would also apply to football and softball players; scholarships would be the entirety of the compensation for most non-revenue players and those agreements would more resemble grad student research/TA contracts.

I think we can separate the two ideas that 1) the broader university system is absurdly overpriced for many families/career paths and 2) athletes deserve a slice of the revenue they generate. Players aren't fairly compensated because secondary education costs too much.

Agree 100% on health benefits and scholarships that guarantee full cost of tuition for life. That's the near term incremental change (along with stipend increases) that is likely to actually happen.


February 14th, 2017 at 7:09 AM ^

about deferred payments linked to graduation.

There is already a bit of a superstar vs. just-a-guy caste system in NCAA football.

The nature of the team sport, living on campus/going to class, etc. all mitigate this issue to where it doesn't effect team/campus chemistry.

If players who already receive a stipend, and don't have tuition room & board payments suddenly start getting big bankrolls on top of it, it would likely destroy the locker room/campus culture.


February 14th, 2017 at 7:41 AM ^

I think it would also erode a lot of fan support.  

I know it seems like the entire Alabama football team posts pics of themselves with their cars and there's the occassional Laquon Treadwell post with tons of bagman cash.  But if we (as the OP suggests) let the gagmen run amok and a bunch of these kids start flashing "big" bucks on twitter and instagram, a lot of fans will be turned off by it.  

These kids need something more than the current deal.  A full ride is great.  It shouldn't be under-valued, like I think it sometimes is.  

It's just difficult to balance a full ride with all of the cash everyone else in this system is getting.  

Finding a way to get a little more cash in the players' hands, while not cutting other non-revenue sports and remaining within good standing with Title IX will take a smarter person than me.  

Gucci Mane

February 14th, 2017 at 1:58 AM ^

Why not just give ever scholarship player 5 grand cash a semester ? That would give these kids more than enough spending money, or to pay rent for their family. It would also make the bag men have a much harder job. It is crazy, but somethimes the SEC bag men are buying recruits for a couple grand and a night with a few dimes. 


February 14th, 2017 at 7:53 AM ^

That would help, but would they still want more?  More from the bagmen and eventually more from the university?

$5,000 is nice, but people will just compare it to what the HC is making and mock it.  

It's a tough deal, man.  I'm not sure what the solution is.

I dumped the Dope

February 14th, 2017 at 1:59 AM ^

but I love the idea.

Let players continue their education for free if they so desire, and they can pass the entrance criteria and be accepted to the grad program of their choice.

It would open the door to guys to go to Ross, it would open the door to guys who wanted to get into Engineering but can't due to the long distance, etc (theoretically they could be a central campus Math major and be 50% of the way there as Engin and Math are very close at least along those lines).

Not sure how you'd allow football players to do this but exclude soccer players (just as a point of argument, not really on either side of that yet).

One issue is who pays for this (likely the athletic dept would have to fund) but theoretically the academic side could probably give a "friends and family discount" to the athletic dept.


February 14th, 2017 at 3:51 AM ^

I struggle with this as it's pretty clear that football does cause brain injuries. I'd argue that if football is so dangerous as to merit lifetime health care (which it may be, particularly for mental health reasons), then academic institutions should not be in the business of promoting these sports. It's contrary to the educational mission of the school, which is the primary function of a school.
It's a lot like if the tobacco companies sponsored scholarships to universities but they had to have university smoking clubs (hypothetical). Given the danger, should the university say to students: smoke at your own risk, We'll provide Life long insurance for people in the club, Or no smoking club? I'd think it's the latter for a university, because harming students goes against the academic mission of the school. I think it's pretty a hyperbolic scenario, but you could make the same argument about football to a point. Thus, as unpopular as it would be, if you're going to say insurance for players, I'd also say shut down the activity causing the problem.

Mr Miggle

February 14th, 2017 at 8:36 AM ^

in practice. There would be some legitimate jobs and endorsement deals for college athletes, but the big money would go to high school recruits. Nothing is more important for a success of a team than recruiting and that's where the bagmen will continue to focus their efforts. Making it legal will make it more widespread and greatly raise the amounts offered. I would also expect to see offers to induce transfers. Why not? 

You can argue about whether this is good or bad, but it's opening a new can of worms.  Either that or we add a new level of bureaucracy where the NCAA approves every payment.



February 14th, 2017 at 5:52 AM ^

If the concern is the players' health, change the rules to reduce the injuries, e.g., lower the threshold for personal foul penalties so there is a disincentive to injure an opposing player.  

One possible rule would be if one player hits another player and causes that player to leave the game, the offending player has to leave the game until the injured player can return to the game.  It might cause "flops" but that is the trade-off for reducing injuries. 


February 14th, 2017 at 5:52 AM ^

Or some similar thing that provides a layer between donor and recipient, to minimize welshing. Each school in which the athlete is interested has an account for that athlete, and the money deposited for an athlete who chooses a different school goes to the general scholarship fund, or charity, or any of a thousand other good uses.

Go Blue in NC

February 14th, 2017 at 6:59 AM ^

I always hear the "Allie the player to use their likeness" argument but in a free market, what's to prevent boosters from paying players $1 million each to "represent" their car dealerships. I mean, it's a free market so they could legitimately do that. And while I don't see Ross doing something like that, I could see someone like T Boone Pickens doing something like that for Okie State.


February 14th, 2017 at 7:03 AM ^

You are implying they are offered an education at UM and other top universities free of charge. In effect, they enter into a service for service contract that requires a specified number of hours to practice a game and then an extra 3 to four hours per week, sometimes longer, adjusted for geographical disparity to travel to and from and participation in a game for which they've devoted the 20 hours of practice each week. So we are past the free education block that is limiting your thinking on this issue and asking if the education they receive is sufficient remuneration for the more than small amount of time they are prohibited from working on their degree(s). 

Further, and it's been pointed out here, the exposure to repeated blows to their entiire body, but particularly disconcerting are the repeated blows to their heads, that with each new release by the scientific community, offers even further proof that such exposure and the number - varies from player to player- of times they are struck in the head enhances their chances to suffer life changing injuries, ranging from paralysis to brain injuries that may manifest immediately, of course, resulting in an ability to do neither, play football or engage in further pursuit of their education. And if not immediately, repeated blows could result in the same limitations as described above, but often become clear in later stages of their lives. Such is not the case in other sports considered "major," so obviously this free education you reference is much more expensive for football players than athletes participating in basketball, baseball, et. al, all of which offer the "free ride" as its often refered to.

The difference in the odds of contracting the type of injuries mentioned above suggest, with little doubt, their limited benefit(I agree, its extremely valuable) demands far greater risk of injuries than the other major sports, and were asking, given that such is fact, if the added risk - far too often becoming reality - if for nothing more than a sense of fairness, entitle them to benefits greater than that offered to those in the other sports and be included as part of the package enticing them to participate in this dangerous sport for the glory of the school. In all other avenues in life, barring civil service, the greater the demand to the employee, the greater the compensation by the employer.

Now these concerns have been limited, of course, merely to both the possible and the actual injuries that are part of this sport that separate the degree of difficulty and it is the only major collegiate sport than obligates a student/athlete to put in extended service - in this case three years - before able to participate at the very highest level. Both basketball and baseball players are allowed to enter into the professional ranks of their given sport when their level of play suggest a better-than=average chance at success at the higher level, whereas football players have to endure the inherent risks for a minimum of three years, even if it is obvious they are ready to participate at the highest level, sometime as early as their freshman year. 

These are grave concerns, of course, but what many of the other posters are stating, and to which I have altered my opinion over the years, is that football has changed dramatically. If has always been the "Golden Goose" at all major universities, that has allowed scholarships to a tremendous number of students in sports where interest is limited, thus non-revenue producing, all the sports falling under Title IV, that has allowed opportunities for a tremendous amount of female athletes. Men's Basketball, at most major schools, does pay for its own operation, but football takes care of all others. And within the past two decades, that "Golden Goose" has transformed into a gaggle. The result has been revenues unimaginable twenty years ago but clear and inarguable today. 

Already faced with the inherent inequities allowing the same benefits to all scholarship athletes and the extended service obligation limited to this particular sport, in addition to the increased demands and risks on the part of the participants of this sport that alllows for the operation of the others, it now is recognized, and its inarguable as to it clearly being the one sport that offers the largest disparity at to benefits to the university and benefits received by those making this true. The clear supperior return on the part of the university increases annually and is now so large that it must be recognized for such and as major change is a part of all institutions providing service to the population of its physical location, i.e. churches, by virtue of relaxed standards realized by its members, hospitals offering a greater number of services, and its employees being clearly representative of the population it serves, thus offering far greater employment opportunities to groups of minorites, those of a certain gender, etc., that had not been the case historically. These are but a few examples but its clear that evolution is a constant consideration and if ignored, they do so at their own peril because any organization that embraces standards considered proper thirty years ago and no longer relevant by nothing more than constant change writes its own ending. 

There really is no argument against the need for greater compensation to members of a school's football program. When greater demands are clear and evident, when increased revenue can no longer be so much as debated, with new contracts being signed daily, all benefiting the same party, how could it be considered equitable with the same benefits provided to all scholarship athletes, with demonstrable lesser demand on the part of its participants, the same producing nothing in return to the university as to financial considerations.

The schools, their missions the same and becoming increasingly transparent, evidenced by coaching staffs, increasing botih in number and financial compensation, although historically always greater than that of school administrators, and for obvious reasons; and of significantly more importance, the increases, largely minus any debate, being approved by the same administrators. The accepted large  salary of our head coach, increased by administration, minus any request of the part of the coach, an unmatched annual payroll to his staff members, again approved by the same group leaves no doubt their mission is to maximize football revenue. 

As stated, now that everyone is on board in regard to university employees, with the same being true in regard to all other major universities, limited only by the resources of a given university, but will always be significantly greater than that of administrators and long-tenured faculty, the majority of whom have also been the beneficiaries of this increased, and continually increasing revenue source, I believe the debate now enters into how much greater the benefits to those on the plant floor. I believe a fixed amount per player, beginning at roughly 7 to 8,000 annually, a figure that will appear insignificant to players from advantaged backgrounds, but of no concern either, therefore a figure they would happily agree to. Inasmuch as players from this type of background are the minority in college football, the amount would be considered significant to those from disadvantaged households. Although certainly not a great amount - and we really aren't interested in that as the end game anyway - it would allow them to realize a level of comfort realized by the majority of the student body and an amount probably considered both fair and acceptable to the group that, more than any other, devoted the greatest amount of time, sacrifice and risk to their respective school, and are responsible for the tremendous increase in revenue on the part of each. Such change is recognized as being decidely tardy, understood for its necessity, greatly enhancing the possibility of purging unfair recruiting practices by certain members, thus allowing actual freedom of choice to thousands of recruits as to school choice. This is something we should be discussing as part of history. Football, and its participants have set themselves apart. Recognize it. 

Everyone Murders

February 14th, 2017 at 8:04 AM ^

I think that even some of our more verbose board members will be impressed by the word count here.

FWIW, I've yet to see someone make a coherent argument as to how (1) you deal with Title IX, (2) how you deal with skill players getting more than others (which will happen under some proposals), or (3) how non-revenue sports fit in the picture.

I'm OK with uniform stipends for all athletes, insurance, and some post-pro financial aid (needs based), but it starts to get unruly after that IMO.

Rufus X

February 14th, 2017 at 8:02 AM ^

That makes a TON of sense.

But paying the players directly or in a deferred way above some very small stipend for living expenses is not going to happen.