Whitlock v. Gladwell: The Future of College Football

Submitted by Edward Khil on May 2nd, 2012 at 5:35 AM

I'm not certain what authority will be deciding whether or not college football should be banned.  But the issue will be discussed on May 8 in NYC (that hotbed of college football).  And Jason Whitlock will be among those opposing Malcolm Gladwell and his utopian vision and Buzz Bissinger, who believe that CFB should be banned.

Or do they?  I thought I gleaned somewhere in Gladwell's comments that it would be okay to play CFB as long as the players got paid.  And that's exactly what Whitlock is saying.  However, as was pointed out on the last thread I posted, the players are compensated with a college education.  But Whitlock says that's not enough.

I suspect that the level of discourse--and the intricacies of the subject--will not be explored as carefully and as passionately at this May 8 conference in NYC as they were in the thread here at MGoBlog( http://mgoblog.com/mgoboard/malcolm-gladwell-why-college-football-should-be-outlawed).

Although, I must admit, the grammer police in that thread lost control; and it devolved into a grammar war, or, hopefully, a grammar spring.  And I was as guilty as anyone.

Nonetheless, here is the link, and, of course, a synopsis of Mr. Whitlock's comments:

To shore up his defense, Whitlock also invokes America’s free principles, which he feels encompass the “right to act dumb” in pursuit of athletic glory or even cash. What he can’t stand is the bad faith of college leagues withholding pay from their risk-taking players. (It’s “embarrassingly hypocritical,” he grumbles.)




May 2nd, 2012 at 6:58 AM ^

I know this topic has been discussed ad nauseum in recent years on this site, but one thing I think people forget is that on top of the actual tuition, a college degree is worth on average about $900k over the course of a career. 

When you factor this in with covering the cost of four years of tuition, room and board, food, books, coaching, training, and exposure, the argument that college players aren't compensated enough seems pretty ridiculous.


May 2nd, 2012 at 7:16 AM ^

The question is not whether players are compensated - obviously they already are (which in fact is an argument against the current shamateurism situation).

The question is why the NCAA is allowed to arbitrarily limit the salaries of players while coaches and athletic directors rake in huge coin.



May 2nd, 2012 at 8:03 AM ^

You bring up another question entirely.  Whitlock and Gladwell's points base around the opinion that football players should be compensated more than they already are, and I pointed out that they are already compensated more handsomly than either of them admit.  

The issue I have with Whitlock's idea is that it creates more problems then it solves.  Unless we separate basketball and football entirely from college atheltic departments (and thereby screwing over the rest of college athletes in the process), there will never be a fair way to pay football and basketball athletes.

The NCAA has always limited how any college athlete may be compensated, so right now football and basketball players are no different from track athletes or gymnasts.  Whether that is right or wrong is another question.  Coaches' salaries are entirely up to the schools themselves, and since football carries the highest value to just about every athletic department, of course the schools will pay the football coaches exorbitant amounts of money.


May 2nd, 2012 at 8:34 AM ^

why these are two different questions. It's bizarre to me that, when defending the right of the NCAA to cap people's salaries in a way that would be illegal in most other areas, people use the argument that players are already being paid (and more than you might think!). That just seems to me to accept the notion that it's good and right to pay players on the basis of the value they bring to the institution.

As for the "creating more problems than it solves" side of the argument, it's equally plausible to say that the non-revenue athletes are currently "screwing over" the football and basketball players, since they're being paid (a lot, as you point out) to do something which, though it does have value for the institution, is much less significant both in public profile and income terms.

If you think that everyone should be paid the same amount of money regardless of the job they do, I think we pretty quickly run into the "no politics" terminus of this argument.

Finally, the fact that the NCAA "has always limited how much any college athlete may be compensated" is not another question - it's the whole question.


May 2nd, 2012 at 1:23 PM ^

His second paragraph wasn't a call for action, it was a counterpoint to the generally held view that spending more money on football or MBB would "screw over" non-revenue athletes.

On a side note, you wouldn't actually have to repeal Title IX, changes can be made through the Department of Education without going back through the legislative process.


May 2nd, 2012 at 3:18 PM ^

to what just such a call for action would do, and a defense of said action because the pain of it could arguably fall on a different party.

And there's no argument that it wouldn't screw over other sports, because it would screw them out of existence. It CAN be pointed out that the other side suffers too in having to support everyone else, but so far the laws of the land don't side with that view, even if morals might.

And good luck changing Title IX in any method. There's been so much progress in that since it's been instituted.


May 2nd, 2012 at 5:25 PM ^

It would only "screw them" if you look at the picture as football, basketball, and in M's case, hockey having an obligation to support themselves and every other sport. I won't say whether that's right or wrong, but unless you believe an obligation is there, it couldn't be screwing anyone.

As far as Title IX, I never said it would be likely, just pointing out that the law doesn't have to be repealed for changes to take place.


May 2nd, 2012 at 7:21 AM ^

I think many would also argue that the this true value (~$900K) of a college degree is diminished by the brain damage these kids may get. The football team made $47 million in 2011-2012.

The problem right now is that the "old guard" like many ex-player announcers continues to rebel, calling this the "wussification" of the game. I'm glad that people like Gladwell and Whitlock are having this discourse and hope it continues to produce benefits for the players. I for one want to see this man smiling and healthy when he's 75.


May 2nd, 2012 at 7:43 AM ^

I'm all for benefiting the players and minimizing any brain trauma we can. However, aside from injecting the skull with padding I don't think it can really be gone from the game completely. I don't want any players on any team to have lasting effects for my and the fan bases entertainment. They do get a top flight education for the sacrifice they make assuming they put in the effort. I know lots of kids who get shot at for a 10,000 dollar scholarship. Semper FI......


May 2nd, 2012 at 8:01 AM ^

College athletes don't get an education in the same way you or I get a college education. They get the chance to spend 40+ hours a week playing college sports, and then in their spare time they can take pared down courses that will ensure they keep their grades up and are able to continue mission #1 of playing college sports.

I would like the whole "they get paid with an education" argument a lot better if instead, they were given a voucher of sorts for X semesters on the team = X semesters of education to be used whenever their football careers are over. That way they could focus on school, and only school, like the rest of the students on campus.


May 2nd, 2012 at 8:20 AM ^

Thousands of people work their way through college while paying tuition.  It's not unheard of to ask athletes to spend time on football while also focusing on classwork.  Your point is also disproven by guys like Mark Huyge who go through the engineering school while on scholarship for football.

There are plenty of athletes in every sport that attend classes that aren't "pared down" and do just fine.

EDIT:  Also, your estimation of 40 hrs per week on football is grossly overestimated, unless you're Rosenberg.

Picktown GoBlue

May 2nd, 2012 at 1:17 PM ^

and if you sign the paper, you agree to live within the conditions of said agreement.  As seen with the OSU violations, the NCAA set up their rules to keep shady boosters from funneling improper benefits to athletes.  Maybe get them to change the rules, but as long as that's the agreement, that's what it is and it is perfectly legal.

If you go to U of M on a Music scholarship, for example, you have restrictions and conditions.  You must sign up for, attend, and attain certain grades in certain courses.  You must maintain a certain overall grade point average.  You must do some things that will actually cost you additional money above the cost of tuition.

If you go out into the real world, you may end up getting a job with restrictions about taking on any side work (or losing the intellectual property rights of most things you might do).  Or, say, you might get laid off and get a nice separation benefit, but you have to sign off that you'll say only nice things about your former employer if you want to keep that $$.  Strings are attached all over. 

Further, the students are getting a benefit, but they are not getting a salary.  If they'd like to drop down to Div III, I'm sure they could go get all the work study jobs for an hourly salary that they'd like...if they qualify per their FAFSA scores.

If they have additional needs, there are other outlets available, typically based upon financial need.


May 2nd, 2012 at 9:17 AM ^

1) I don't care what kids major in. That's their business. No one complains when a rich kid majors in art history. So why should football players be required to major in business adminstration or engineering? 

However, Mark Huyge is anecdotal evidence, just like "2 star recruits are great because of Pat White." It disproves nothing. Obviously, Huyge isn't the only guy, but statistically, many college athletes are in "safety majors" like general studies. We make fun of Urban Meyer's sign mocking Michigan's general studies majors as utter bollocks, but it's for the hypocrisy more than the untruthfulness of it. The question is whether the schools direct them in there or if they just aren't that into school and choose them because they view the sport as their job. I'm not sure you'd find a concrete answer as you'd probably find examples on both sides throughout college football. 

2) I don't think there's even a debate that college athletes spend about 40 hours a week on their sports. It doesn't make you "Rosenberg" to say it. The practice limits are for mandatory practice time only. They spend at least that much time on extra conditioning, film study, etc. Might be called voluntary, but that doesn't mean they aren't all doing it. Point is, the guys are spending that kind of time away from their studies, which in turn makes the university (or at least the athletic program) millions of dollars a year (not to mention the billions of dollars it makes the NCAA.



May 2nd, 2012 at 8:46 AM ^

Are many student-athletes who take their education seriously. Ever heard of Zak Novak? People like him are great athletes, but are smart enough to realize that there is more to life than the opportunity to play pro ball. People like him take their eduarion very seriously and will be very successful workers in aomething other than sports.


May 2nd, 2012 at 7:10 AM ^

I know this has been discussed ad naseum on this board and the world as far as I know. I think outright paying players is an extremely dangerous slope. However I'd be all for some kind of "Likeness trust" . Something like 30-50 percent of jerseys sales, videogame likeness, and any other marketing they can come up with. This can only be collected if they graduate and keep their nose clean.  I feel like the ones that leave early for the draft probably wouldnt need it. lol

      Aside from that a fund that all schools pay into collectively for any serious life altering injuries occuring on the field.


May 2nd, 2012 at 12:40 PM ^

would benefit from more compensation.  But if you professionalize the business and start paying, wouldn't schools then be able to cut players (yes, SEC does but most don't right now).  How much would back-ups make?  Would they lose scholarships if they underperform?  Would their salaries be reduced if they underperform?


What would the market be for a a redshirt frosh lineman at a MAC school?  Would MAC schools even be able to pay these guys?  How about Boise State?


The whole idea that "paying players" would be simple seems fraught with problems.

Two Hearted Ale

May 2nd, 2012 at 5:09 PM ^

Schools would be free to negotiate whatever contract they want. MAC schools seem to be able to afford what they are "paying" now so I'm guessing that wouldn't change much. Michigan can afford to pay more and probably will. They already dominate recruiting so I don't see much changing in that regard.

As far as cutting players, the players contract would dictate how that is handled.

the Glove

May 2nd, 2012 at 8:13 AM ^

I'm tired of people saying they don't make money, they do. I can show you how much I pay in student loans and tell you exactly how much they make. That's not even counting getting free room and board, meals, and clothing from the university. I worked in a conference compliance office as an intern and can tell you that any student athlete that complains about not having money doesn't know what it's like to be a normal student.


May 2nd, 2012 at 8:40 AM ^

Like other posters above, I agree that the safety of the players is the most important issue. These kids choose to play a game, but that doesn't mean that they choose to get hurt or suffer from lingering effects(sp?). I do however also think that you can't pay these kids anymore than what they are already receiving by earning a college scholarship. All it does is raise more questions rather than answer them. If some kids don't appreciate their scholarships as enough payment, my guess is that you could find some other kids to play the sports they love for free college and no other additional payment. I will now get off of my soap box.



May 2nd, 2012 at 9:09 AM ^

I have contended all along that it is merely a question of greed.  All the NCAA has to do to "fix" shamateurism is to simply allow players to get outside income from wherever they want.  If it happens to be a wealthy alum who wants to tell his friends about how much money he gives to player X, great.  If the local car dealer wants to put a few athletes in a car commercial and pay them like Tom Cruise, more power to all of them.  

While I don't agree with Whitlock's specifics, I have long agreed with the concept that the NCAA's brand of sport is shamateurism.  The NCAA doesn't want an employer-employee relationship with players, and really doesn't need one.  Let the market determine how much a player can make.  

Paying players would also help prepare them for the real world.  Players committing acts of assault, for example, would probably find that their market value decreases.  Players with engaging personalities would probably make more than those without.  

All the NCAA really needs to do to stop shamateurism is to stop stealing the opportunity to make money from the players.  Any system that doesn't allow someone to make money off of his own likeness while others do is in need of repair.


May 2nd, 2012 at 9:58 AM ^

Except now we have 4-5 top schools that can afford to buy all the great players. Welcome back to the 1950's and the pre-scholarship limit days. It might be good for us, but it'll ruin the sport. If these kids don't want to be exploited and be forced into modern "slavery" then go get a job, go to trade school or community college, or join the military. I won't be shedding any tears for them while they're "exploited" onto the field at the Big House or the swamp or wherever.

Two Hearted Ale

May 2nd, 2012 at 11:18 AM ^

The problem with that argument is that it ignores anti-trust laws. There is no other industry which companies are allowed to collude to set compensation for employees (or vendors, etc) because it is against the law. The NHL, NBA, and NFL can get away with salary caps because they were put in place by collective bargaining. There is no comperable athlete organization in college sports; if there were the NCAA could negotiate limits to compensation. I'm amazed there hasn't been a ruling against the NCAA yet. I think it's just a matter of time.


May 2nd, 2012 at 5:35 PM ^

The NCAA can't, and doesn't, limit the compensation that can be paid to college football players. What they can do is tell schools that if they don't follow certain rules, including not paying players, they can't participate in NCAA events. There's nothing to keep schools from walking from the NCAA and forming their own professional leagues if that's really want they wanted to do.

It's no more illegal than it is for the USGA or any other sponsoring organization to bar professionals from its amateur competitions.

What would help a great deal is if there were a professional or semi-professional farm system for football, like we have in baseball and hockey, that would create a paid alternative to college. Let the kids decide which route they'd rather take.


May 2nd, 2012 at 9:59 AM ^

I think that the fact college players at the major D1 level are not paid significantly lacks significantly in what justification.  I think it would be good to ask some of the players currently in the UFL if they feel they were doing better while in school or now while making a base of $35,000 which is probably around where the average AAA baseball player is paid.  

I wonder this as I keep running into Maurice Clarett and a few of the players for the Omaha Nighthawks at the gym I go to, and I would be willing to wager that players like Jeremiah Masoli, Noel Devine would enjoy returning to play in front of larger crowds....with another opportunity to make the NFL vs. hoping for a potential slot on a practice squad being paid like a recent college grad in a low level position.

Those players have a risk/reward opportunity that can put them into the top 1-5% of income earners in the US without having to go into significant debt for the extended schooling it would take the rest of us to potentially earn a small percentage of that.  


May 2nd, 2012 at 10:03 AM ^

"They could say, “We’re going to share this wealth with you as long as you go to class and make a sincere attempt to educate yourself and work toward a degree while you’re here.”" - from the article

I could be wrong, but I am pretty sure that this is more or less how a "scholarship" works - the school or athletic department (if you are at a school where the department is self-sustaining) or a combination of both essentially are "sharing the wealth" (through various streams of operating revenue, donations, etc...) and compensating student-athletes with a paid education with the expectation of a nominal level of academic performance. Sounds almost like a job in a sense actually.

As for the question of forming partnerships with the professional leagues, I really don't know what sort of cooperation you would get, especially financially. Football might not have much of an excuse in that department, but if I remember correctly, about 2/3 of NBA teams either break even or run at a loss. I don't see that league in particular very open to forming the sorts of partnerships he would seem to suggest.

We should also look at this from an administrative standpoint too - for the sake of discussion, say the student-athletes at a university were essentially made salaried employees of that school. Now, how is the market rate for their position determined so we can start the salary discussion? Are they full-time staff? There's an extra layer of administration right there, especially if you were to offer the same benefits and incentives to them as you would to other employees. Sure, living inside this structure would be a form of practical work experience, but how many schools would be able to sustain such a model?

I guess that, even if you wanted to start this discussion, you can't just say "share the wealth". Somebody would have to run and monitor this beast, and I can't think of very many insitutions that would want to take on the burden. In any case, if Whitlock is simply suggesting giving student-athletes some set amount per year, I still don't think it would match the value - short and long-term - of what they get simply by having the scholarship, getting the education and having a career, whether it is in the pros or in the corporate world.

I understand that players take on substantial physical risk simply by playing the sport, but it doesn't seem like anyone who says that they should be paid ever has a terribly specific business proposal.




May 2nd, 2012 at 10:17 AM ^

Hockey, soccer (headers), lacrosse, auto racing, baseball (wild pitches), basketball (elbows for peace), diving, gymnastics, etc,

Ban it all. I know in America we need to get more people overweight. That surely will help kids. We need more fast food and less sports. Heart failures and early death is way too cool; pause not!

Section 1

May 2nd, 2012 at 10:29 AM ^

I had thought that maybe Malcolm Gladwell was going to use Jason Whitlock to demonstrate what happens when football players get hit in the head too many times.

I still don't have any idea how these things equate:

Major college football is too big, too expensive, too dangerous and too far removed from the real mission of universities... So, let's pay the college football players...


May 2nd, 2012 at 10:38 AM ^

You lost me at Jason Whitlock.  He makes Drew Sharp look like a professional.  Nevermind, they're both equal assholes.


May 2nd, 2012 at 12:46 PM ^

Who is making all this money?  There aren't many schools that operate in the black every year anyways, so the idea is ridiculous.  The only way to do it would be to create further division by creating essentially a minor league football conference for the schools that can afford to pay big bucks(...which would not include schoosl like UVA or FSU btw amongst others).  Someone should ask the scholarship players on non revenue sports who attend school because of the football money (and bball) if they think players should be paid in place of them receiving a scholarship? or their sport receiving funding.