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Paying college athletes can work
No matter what Bob Stoops says, the status quo is not a solution for college athletics. Oklahoma’s head football coach, a man I like and respect, recycled a well-worn defense of the shamateurism status quo in an interview with Sporting News columnist Mike Hayes.
“You know what school would cost here for non-state guy?” Stoops rhetorically asked Hayes. “Over $200,000 for room, board and everything else. That’s a lot of money. Ask the kids who have to pay it back over 10-15 years with student loans. You get room and board, and we’ll give you the best nutritionist, the best strength coach to develop you, the best tutors to help you academically, and coaches to teach you and help you develop. How much do you think it would cost to hire a personal trainer and tutor for 4-5 years?
“I don’t get why people say these guys don’t get paid. It’s simple, they are paid quite often, quite a bit and quite handsomely.”
It’s such a good deal I’m surprised Stoops doesn’t coach at Oklahoma for “room, board and everything else.” Surely, he’d love to pursue a graduate degree or two. Or maybe he likes trying to figure out how to spend $4 million in salary every year.
I get it. I used to believe what Stoops still does. Stoops is six years older than me. We were college football players during an era when a “free” education and “everything else” were a defensible exchange for playing football and basketball at the Division I level. Those days are gone, long gone.
They were swallowed by television networks, digested by shoe companies and spit out for re-consumption by video-game makers that make billion-dollar deals and billion-dollar profits off the labor of young adults. The kids now play more games, on more different nights, in far more time zones than we ever did. And seemingly all the games are televised and financially maximized.
Coaches at Stoops’ level now earn 10 times as much as Hayden Fry did in the early 1980s when he was grooming the Stoops brothers. The coaches now earn life-altering generational wealth. The kids are doing more work for the same compensation (room, board and everything else). It’s not right.
It really bothers me that all of these million-dollar coaches get away with sitting silently (or saying stupid stuff) about a system they know is unfair. We in the media whine that athletes are no longer outspoken about social ills. Why do we let 50-year-old coaches get away with benefitting from a system that takes advantage of kids? Again, I like and respect Bob Stoops. But he’s making $4 million a year and doesn’t want to share anything with the kids beyond his sage wisdom and football strategy.
I don’t want to waste this entire column on Stoops and deconstructing an argument that rational people recognize as flawed and the creator of the modern-day NCAA, Walter Byers, a white conservative from Kansas, analogized to slavery.
I want to spend some time focusing on solutions, or at least one specific solution.
Louisville-Michigan was a painful reminder of how good college basketball can be. Talented players with the right coaches can produce a game worthy of the passion found in college sports.
Monday’s game is the kind of game that creates new basketball fans.
It’s a shame that Monday’s championship was an aberration. We were stunned by the level of play because we’ve been trained the past two decades to expect something far inferior to what we were treated. We settle for sloppily played close games and buzzer-beaters.
We settle because the best players bolt from college long before they’re ready in pursuit of the compensation Bob $toops prefers. Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Glenn Robinson III, Russ Smith and anyone else who thinks they might get picked in this year’s draft will leave school just when we’ve taken an interest in their games.
This needs to change. It’s not good for college basketball, the NBA, fans, television networks and, most important, the players.
Basketball — college and pro — is missing an opportunity to grow its fan base. It’s why basketball — a superior game in terms of entertainment, a game played by everyone — lags behind football. College football fans are not at odds with pro football fans. Football fans love football — high school, college and pro. Basketball fans are at war. High school fans hate summer basketball. College fans hate the NBA. Pro fans look down on the inferior college game.
Basketball has to get under one tent and become a family again. That should be the goal of Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner in waiting. If he wants to build a legacy to rival David Stern’s, Silver should work to bring the basketball family back together.
The key to doing that is establishing a partnership with the NCAA, its Division I basketball schools and convincing the NCAA to share some revenue with its revenue-generating basketball players.
Money will get basketball players to embrace the college experience the way $toops does. College is a rewarding and enriching experience. Kids need it. They need the education and the chance to mature in an environment more nurturing, forgiving and wholesome than the fast-paced adult world of the NBA.
The excuse-makers will throw up a thousand reasons why you can’t pay the kids. Title IX won’t allow it! How do you pay the wrestlers and volleyball players? They’re already paid enough!
It’s all bull(spit). This is America. We pay people who generate revenue. That’s capitalism. Wrestlers and volleyball players don’t generate revenue. Their games aren’t televised. No one is making video games featuring them. Therefore, they don’t get paid. It’s not a hard concept.
Under my proposal, most of the football and basketball players wouldn’t get paid either. Not cash.
Stoops and the other people who don’t want to pay football and basketball players take that position because what they really fear is losing control of the players. Coaches love the power imbalance in college athletics. They fear dealing with an athlete who has a tiny bit of power. You can’t be Mike Rice or Bobby Knight if you’re dealing with Kobe Bryant or Kevin Garnett.
Stoops hears talk of paying the players and he envisions three Chad Ochocincos in his locker room. Stoops also envisions the players wasting the money on rims, jewelry, tatts and other bogus stuff. You can’t stop kids from being immature and blowing their cash.
I get it. I don’t blame Stoops and other coaches for their legitimate concerns. But we send kids off to war. We might as well send a few off to college with a pocketful of cash they earn. It couldn’t be any worse than Afghanistan.
Here’s my project/proposal for Adam Silver, the NCAA and the NBA players association. This proposal is strictly for men’s college basketball. It’s a yearly $60 million proposal that should be split 50-50 between the NBA and the NCAA.
Step 1: Get the NBPA to agree to change the draft eligibility requirements to four years after you graduated from high school or age 22.
Step 2: The NBA starts the NBA Summer Internship Program, which is a one-month program that includes basketball instruction, classes about the NBA, professional athletics and life skills. This program would be paid for by the shoe companies and a TV network that would broadcast a small handful of games from the Summer Internship Program.
Step 3: The NBA and the NCAA — through scouting, recommendations and high school academic achievement — identify the top 100 high school seniors entering college basketball. Enroll those 100 players in the NBA Summer Internship Program that pays them $100,000 each. The players would receive half the money in two checks received at the start of each semester. The other half would be invested conservatively by the NCAA/NBA and given to player upon the completion of his four years of eligibility.
Step 4: The initial 100 class will be trimmed to 75 when they become sophomores. All college basketball sophomores at any level will be eligible to apply for the NBA SIP. The NBA and the NCAA — through scouting, recommendations and academic achievement as a college freshman — will identify the 75 sophomores. They will be ranked 1 to 75 based primarily on their NBA prospects but also on their academic achievement. The top 25 sophomores will be paid $175,000. The next 50 will be paid $125,000. Again, they’ll receive half of their money in two checks at the beginning of each semester. The other half of their money will be invested conservatively by the NCAA/NBA and given to the player upon the completion of his four years of eligibility.
Step 5: The following year the NCAA/NBA will identify 75 juniors using the same criteria. Everything will remain the same except the top 25 juniors will earn $275,000 and the next 50 will get $225,000.
Step 6: The senior class will be trimmed to 50. The top 25 receive $500,000 and the next 25 receive $350,000. Everything else remains the same.
By Year 4 of my system, there are 300 basketball players — 100 freshmen, 75 sophomores and juniors and 50 seniors — enrolled in the NBA SIP. That’s a payroll right around $60 million. It’s a bargain for the NBA and the NCAA. Instead of having unprepared, no-passionate-fans kids tying up space on an NBA roster, NBA owners would get 22-year-old TV stars and superstars entering their league. The NCAA and its television partners would get ratings-driving stars in their sophomore, junior and senior seasons.
College coaches wouldn’t lose their leverage over their best players. They would get kids incentivized to embrace the academic process and coaching because academic achievement and recommendations would play a role in whether a player could enroll in the NBA SIP. A player would be very reluctant to transfer because he wouldn’t be eligible for the NBA SIP during the year he sat out as a transfer. If a player ran into academic trouble and needed summer school, it would prevent him from participating in the NBA SIP.
The kids would benefit because the best players would earn $1 million over four years and half of it would be conservatively invested and given to them as they entered the workforce. They would also benefit from the chance to mature on a college campus.
Obviously, this plan would need to be refined and safeguards would have to be put in place to protect the athlete. I’d make the athletes sign an agreement forbidding them from taking out any loans (or co-signing) during their four years in college. No credit cards, either. You would want a wall to protect them from themselves and predatory lenders.
As for the non-NBA prospects and role players? I say grant any Division I player who doesn’t qualify for the NBA SIP as a junior or senior a fifth year of playing eligibility and one year as a full-time traditional student. That’s right. Six years of school. Many of the athletes arrive on campus academically unprepared. Why not give them two extra years to catch up? And why not give the prepared ones, two years to work on a graduate degree?
As much as I regret not playing football my fifth year at Ball State (and I deeply regret it), the chance to spend one year as a legitimate full-time student has paid off for me tremendously. I worked for the school newspaper and actually made good grades. All of these athletes, particularly at age 22 or 23 when they might appreciate it, deserve one year on campus solely as a student.
That’s my solution. I’ll fix/tweak college football in another column. And I’ll come up with a plan for women’s college basketball, too.
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