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He Said, She Said: The Pay for Play Debate

Coach Melissa and Mason Jamboogie have #HotTakes when it comes to pay for play.

It is the hottest topic around college football, at least in the offseason, and causes as much division among college football fans as the final four - well, maybe. But the question remains unanswered - should collegiate athletes get paid to play football, or at the very least, get a bigger slice of the billion dollar pie? Let’s answer it, once and for all - or at least for now.

Coach Melissa: I am pretty old school in my thoughts on this; I fully acknowledge that the NCAA makes a ridiculous amount of money. And most of that comes from football. And most of that comes from the players. Coaches are good for a little cache, but it’s the kids that put the pads on each week that drive the money printing bus. But, what I don’t want to see happen is the value of a degree plummet in the eyes of athletes, students, and fans. I am in full favor of the newly instituted cost of living stipend, and not against giving players a little more money. But a fully scholarship at a private university, like TCU, runs upwards of $60,000 a year. And when you factor in the other perks that athletes at Division I schools receive - tutoring, gear, scheduling assistance, access to better housing, etc - that value skyrockets. Nevermind what a degree from their university and the connections they make as an alum of not only the school, but the football program, can bring. I know a lot of 18 year olds that would be ecstatic to be making that kind of money - heck, I would be pretty pumped myself - and when you factor in they do it playing a game they love? It seems that student-athletes aren’t exactly receiving a short stick here.

Mason Jamboogie: I’m on the fence about this issue, but I will more than happily play Devil’s advocate. A lot of people tend to forget about the student aspect of being a student-athlete. You have to take in account the time commitments of being both a student and an athlete. The average student takes 15 hours of class a week, now take into account the amount of time studying for classes, meeting for group projects, and all the other reasonable scholarly activities that you can think of. What if the student has a job or an internship? That could be anywhere from 20-40 hours a week spent working. With practices two times a day for the players, it isn’t unreasonable to say that being an athlete is a full time job (without any of the pay), especially during playing season. From here on out I will be strictly talking about the paying of football players. In order to be eligible for the NFL, a player must be out of high school for 3 years, whereas in basketball, a player must only be 1 year out of high school before they can turn professional. If they actually play, that is 3 years, of at least 12 games, putting your body on the line.

Few players tend to excel on the field and in the classroom at the same time (not every player is Andrew Luck). It would be pretty unrealistic to imagine the player that devotes most of their time to improving on their game to also expect that player to have a 4.0 at the end of every semester. It’s not unreasonable to say that, because whichever one the player values more, a future with their diploma or a future playing the sport at the next level,  is the one that they will work harder towards 10 times out of 10. That could take the form of spending more time studying/reading/preparing for class or spending more hours in the weight room, using more of your time to breakdown film, trying to improve your game even more outside of practice. However, if you are a near God at time management and require little sleep, it may be possible for you to be successful at both, so it is not impossible. Just keep in mind that these are 18-22 year olds who don’t necessarily have everything figured out yet. There are students, that are asked to carry the same academic burden as I am, but are also required to do so much more physically than me. You now see college players making sure that they receive some form of compensation, in case they suffer a career ending injury, by buying insurance for their bodies. Why do they do this? Just look at South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore. In his final year at South Carolina Lattimore suffered a gruesome injury and never played the sport the same way again. He got drafted, but decided to hang it up since he couldn’t play anymore. Injuries aren’t just a physical hurdle to overcome, it’s just as much a mental battle. Are there ways for a player to make money on their success, yes but I think that it is ludicrous to put college kids in a position to make adult decisions of that level.

If there I had to choose one factor that pushes me over to the side of paying players, it would be how much the universities make off of the success of the student athletes. If a football program is good/big then it is going to attract more people to games, more money from ticket sales, more games in primetime, and more eyes watching period. A majority of that money is put back into improving the athletic facilities and the athletic program in general. However, I without a doubt believe that collegiate sports help the University bring in more revenue. When TCU beat Wisconsin on national television in the 2011 Rose Bowl, TCU received a 42% increase in total applicants the following year. Believe it or not, a lot of schools are first introduced to a national audience when their football program does well. Here’s a personal example; I had no idea what Boise State was, until the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. Another example of a university gaining money off of an athlete’s success would be (and I know a lot of you guys aren’t fans of his) Johnny Manziel. Texas A&M earned roughly $120 million in revenue at the end of his freshman year. The #2 A&M jerseys were also sold out incredibly fast, the University received $37 million from Manziel’s media exposure, the University also raised $740 million in donations...and people got upset when he threw up the money sign. While the move to the SEC may have helped with that, I’m sure that the best season that the school A&M had in the past decade was the chief cause. Oh another fun statistic is that the following year, 2013, Texas A&M had its largest freshman class of all time.

OKAY, so if the NCAA ever did allow the paying of players to be legal, I would say that there are a few requirements first:

  • A player must be taking at least 15 hours a semester in order to receive any form of monetary compensation, unless the player is within 2 semesters away from graduating.

  • The amount that is received should be similar to the amount that other university students receive for on campus jobs.

  • Before the player receives any monetary compensation, all players must take a course on how to properly manage their finances. It is the school’s money, it’s not surprising that they want it to be at least handled properly.

  • Every player in the country is paid the same amount. The time that is asked of a player by the athletic program is no more than that of another.

  • The pay rate is a set amount and the tax rate (if there is one) should be equal as well.

Again, this is coming from a college student, so these guidelines would probably have as good a chance of surviving court as I have of beating LaRon Landry in an arm wrestling competition. The main point that I am trying to make would be that if paying the players was a thing, the amount received by every player would have to be the same. Another aspect of what makes college football great, is that all the players are all on the same level in terms of competing for a spot at the next level. In college you rarely see players playing without motivation, so you see a lot less of, "oh he’s just playing for the money, he doesn’t care about winning" and other similar critiques. The NFL should be the only entity that pays players more than others, just like a professional job would. Again, this is an issue that I am relatively in the middle on and there is a ton of grey area when it comes to this topic. Do I think my logic on some of these points is flawless, absolutely not. But when you look at how much a University takes in when a team or a player is successful, the players can only look, not touch the money on the table.

Coach Melissa: You make some great points here, Mason, and I like the guidelines you set out for pay for play. It’s fair to take into account the risk of injury, but if you are going to do that, I think it’s fair to bring up the other side as well. Last year, 24 underclassmen that declared early for the draft never heard their name called. The year before? 36 went undrafted through seven rounds (98 declared). Many of these young men saw their football career end suddenly, and were left without a degree or a career path. How are these points related? There is a movement to remove the age/years of service requirement in regards to college athletes entering the draft if they aren't going to be paid. Well, what happens when you allow players to enter the draft at 18, 19… and they don’t get a shot at the next level? Do you put them back in school? If so, how does that affect scholarships? Will universities be required to let them finish their education? If so, what do they get in return the services provided? Obviously, the NCAA and its member institutions make a ton of money off of football, but they give kids opportunities they may not otherwise get - an education, entrance to a school that might not have been accessible otherwise, extra tutoring and guidance assistance, and career networking. For every Leonard Fournette, there’s a Trevone Boykin, who needed five years to develop in to an NFL prospect. For every Marcus Lattimore, there’s a BJ Catalon, who just recently got another chance to pursue his dream after going undrafted. There’s not a spot in the pros for all of these kids, that’s just the numbers game. And unfortunately, there are a lot more people telling these kids they are good enough - hoping to line their own pockets - when they simply aren’t. That’s where the value of a degree comes in to play - and that’s why I believe that that value should be considered when people argue that these players aren’t being compensated enough for playing.

Mason Jamboogie: I absolutely agree that players should have to wait 3 years to go to the NFL and play at the next level. Those 3 years allow players to develop their game over time, because no player is ready for the professional football right out of high school, as well as complete ¾ of their degree. NFL careers are so short and a player can always go back to college to finish their degree, albeit without scholarship. But paying for 1 year of college is a lot cheaper than paying for 4. For every Jadeveon Clowney, Julio Jones, and LaDanian Tomlinson there are a thousand kids that won’t be able to make it to the next level. Catalon put in just as much of his time into the team as other players did he not? Did he not sacrifice a lot of his time to be able to deliver on Saturday? Just because he cannot immediately play in the NFL does not mean that he should not be compensated for playing at the collegiate level. The chances of someone being able to make it from college to the NFL is about 1%. Whether that be as the first pick or the last pick in the draft, from there it is absolutely on the player for what happens next. Do I think that B.J. declaring for the draft with one year left was foolish? Absolutely, but who am I to tell him, and for that matter a majority of players, to not go chasing his dream of playing in the NFL. Say Trevone wins the heisman and wins a national championship but does not get drafted. He’s got accolades but does he have a way to support himself from that point on? Instead of getting job experience, or finding internships that will help them secure a future job, outside of professional football, a majority of college players use that time to improve their game. Look at how it has taken Trevone 5 years to get to this level for example. What I am saying is that if all else fails, the players should have something to show for their accomplishments on the Saturdays if they cannot go to the NFL, since they have put so much of their time towards the sport, which is also benefiting the school. This side is absolutely the losing side of the battle and I for one of course think that a degree from a University is priceless. If you gave me the option whether to focus on getting a degree that will last me a lifetime or getting a slim chance to play in the NFL...I take the degree every time.

Players are already given a lot to help them off the field, but what happens when an injury keeps them from being on the field? What do you tell them, "oh sorry, sucks to suck, you can’t play anymore, but hey you have 1 year to turn your grades around, find an internship or 2 and then get a full time job" keeping in mind that a 20 year old’s world was just shattered. My whole argument is based on the idea that student-athletes are treated similarly to regular students, which isn’t exactly the case. I’m also assuming that every player is treated the same, when that is also not true. At a lot of schools, the best players tend to receive a lot better treatment than the 3rd strings, so it is hard to demand that the school give them even more than what they already are. Once again, I AM NEUTRAL WHEN IT COMES TO THIS ARGUMENT, but I hope that you all have at least recognized some of the things that I have pointed out. I don’t think that we will ever see the legal paying of student athletes, and if we do it will not be anytime soon.

Coach Melissa: I will finish with this though - it's clear that the balance of power is in the NCAA's favor, not the students that have done the work to elevate their importance. But, I think the value of the FREE education they are receiving in return has been far understated. Not only the cost of tuition - but the benefits therein. A cost of living stipend should be, in my opinion, a sufficient way to bridge the gap between the athlete's work and the benefit they receive.