Panel has ideas to fix college football
Before we talk about fixing college football, we must agree that it has always been broken.
It has always been broken because playing football (extremely well) and attending college are inherently independent activities. YPG has no correlation to GPA. Passing the pigskin is entirely divorced from passing chemistry. From Jim Thorpe to George Gipp to Reggie Bush to Terrelle Pryor, this has always been so.
The best players, the All-Americans, have always been less students than they are commodities. They know this. Red Grange, who cut out of Illinois before semester’s end in 1924 to pocket $100,000 from the NFL, knew it. So does Andrew Luck, the Heisman favorite who will return to Stanford for one last season to play quarterback. How many of your fraternity brothers have taken out a $5 million insurance policy on themselves?
In just the past month, besides the Pryor fiasco at Ohio State, Oregon has found itself being investigated over a $25,000 payment for a bogus recruiting service; a sports blog revealed that an Auburn football hostess earned $12,840 last year (and that isn’t even a violation); the wife of former Texas quarterback Colt McCoy phoned into a nationally syndicated radio show to say, “You cannot expect 19-, 20-year-old kids to say no to free stuff;” and former USC wide receiver Lonnie White, a sports journalist who played for the Trojans in the early 1980s, revealed in The Daily that he’d pocketed $14,000 while at USC.
The Daily compiled a panel of experts to tackle some of the key issues facing college football:
• Charles Davis, age 46: A college football analyst at FOX Sports, FX and the Big Ten Network as well as an NFL analyst at FOX and the NFL Network. Former defensive back at the University of Tennessee.
• Jay Paterno, 42: The quarterbacks coach at Penn State will begin his 17th season with the Nittany Lions in August. Paterno was a reserve quarterback at Penn State in the 1980s, where his father has been head coach since 1966.
• John Infante, 27: Author of “The Bylaw Blog” on NCAA.com. He also is the assistant director of compliance at Colorado State University.
• Gary Andrew Poole, 45: Author of “The Galloping Ghost: Red Grange, an American Football Legend” and “PacMan: Behind the Scenes with Manny Pacquiao.”
The all-encompassing issue, of course, is: Can college football be fixed?
Before we tackle that in this, the first of a two-part series, The Daily's panel examines the most talked-about option in college football since Navy’s triple-option: whether to pay the players.
The Daily: Let’s get this out of the way first. Are you for or against paying college football players?
Infante: I’ve gotten to the point, with all the money that everyone is making off these players, I’ve flipped over to yes.
Poole: Definitely. The way the system is currently set up, most economists would call it slavery.
Paterno: I’m not for just anything, but I am for more benefits in terms of the student-athletes. Perhaps maybe a stipend.
Davis: When I was a student-athlete (Davis played safety at the University of Tennessee), I was all for it. I’m in favor of exploring ways to make it more equitable. I wouldn’t call it slavery, by the way.
Paterno: Some kids are getting $5,500 a year via the Pell Grant, so they’re already getting over $100 a week. Some of them use it very wisely; some of them go ahead and buy stuff they shouldn’t buy with it. I don’t think there’s any way to police that, if you do give them a stipend, unless you want to add another employee who oversees, gets receipts from them on everything that they do, you’re not going to be able to control what they spend it on.
The Daily: Let’s say schools are not paying student-athletes, but the jocks are welcome to make income outside campus however they see fit as long as it isn’t illegal. Would this create more corruption or less corruption?
Davis: I thought we were able to do that now. That we have said when your sport is not in season you can get a job.
Infante: But they still can’t go get a job where they’re getting paid based on their athletic reputation and their athletic talent. So when we’re talking about paying them through endorsements, or local business wants to put their picture in the window, or Nike wants to have active student-athletes in their ads, they currently can’t do that. I don’t think that leads to more corruption.
Poole: I don’t know why it has to be outside income. The universities are making a lot of money off these players. As a guy who wrote a book about Red Grange, these are issues that were existent in the 1920s and were wrestled with. The whole system needs to be rethought here. What’s the point? I mean, is it to create billions of dollars for the university? And the universities are rich. Penn State has a $1.5 billion endowment. USC has a $3.7 billion endowment.
Paterno: It’s very easy to focus on football and basketball and say, “The universities are making a lot of money off that,” which they are. But at a school like Penn State, we have 31 sports now. The money that is made in football and basketball is educating not just the 85 football players on scholarship and the 12 basketball players on scholarship, but it is educating 800 kids. So at the end of the day, there’s only about 20 schools at the major college football level that are making money. I’m talking about the entire athletic department.
Poole: If you’re talking about educating people or even educating underprivileged sectors of society who are often the people who are the star athletes. I think it’s almost the responsibility of the university to educate them, pay them for the work they’re doing, which is bringing in a lot of revenue. Even helping out their families, educating siblings. That’s a way to decrease poverty. So if the star athlete comes from South Central LA and plays at USC, why can’t that person’s siblings get full rides as well?
Davis: If we’re going to do the things you’re talking about, Gary, which I think are terrific, and I stand up and applaud, then I have to ask how the other sports are going to be funded if the university’s not going to do it.
The Daily: Jay, let me ask you this: If all of a sudden Penn State said, “We are going to figure out a stipend for football players and men’s basketball players,” I don’t imagine that any cross-country runners are all of a sudden going to say, “We’re done with Penn State.”
Paterno: No, but I think what you’ll have is pretty quickly some women athletes at Penn State, all of a sudden your Title IX number is going to go out of whack. If you add a hundred guys at $3,000 a pop, you’re looking at $300,000 that your budget just increased that you have to meet in some way in spending for women’s sports. And if it’s something as visible as a stipend, you’re going to be asked specifically for a stipend for the women. Whether it’s right or wrong is a whole different story, it’s just the reality of the situation.
The Daily: Imagine the NCAA throwing up its hands and saying, “We are no longer going to prevent student athletes from making money based on their fame. A.J. Green, for example, may sell his jersey.” What happens next?
Davis: I’d hate to be Jay. I would hate to be Jay.
Davis: Here’s what I’m saying: The A.J. Green story, selling a jersey, that’s not going to be a major issue. Selling a jersey?
Paterno: Yeah, but if I go out and recruit, and a kid’s allowed to sell his bowl jersey, I can go out to a kid’s home and say, “Hey, we got a guy who will buy your bowl jersey at the end of the year, no matter what bowl it is, for 10 grand.” On the front end you’re going to be negotiating deals and you’re going to have your alums involved.
Davis: In the old days, as a player, you had hard tickets in your hand. Remember those old days, guys? They gave the players hard tickets, and then the players sold them, OK?
Paterno: Years ago you could give the kids tickets and they could do whatever they wanted with them. So School A would say, “Our games are all sold out, but we can give you 10 tickets per game. There’s four members of your family. We got a guy who will buy the other six each week for five grand (total).” And that’s what was going on. So that’s why they instituted the ticket rule with limits on tickets and names on a pass list.
Infante: One of the fundamental questions when you’re paying athletes is, are we trying to make sure they get a fair deal, or are we trying to allow them to live a lifestyle they want to live? And, if you look at how quickly athletes are going bankrupt in the pros, I’m not sure handing an unlimited amount of money to a kid that young with that little training in what to do with it is a good idea.
Poole: If we’re just sort of dreaming, we could always just put a cap on the money. For example, a player gets $20,000 a year, and if the player makes more than that, then maybe it goes into some kind of trust. I mean, this is a free market. These guys have talent. Why do we have to dictate that they can’t make money off their talent? They’re 18 year-old men.
Davis: Gary, is everyone getting the same amount of money?
Paterno: You’d be amazed, and we’re not even talking money, at the potential for resentment even now. Just with things like our media guide a guy will ask, “Why am I not in the media guide?” Or, “Why am I not on the cover of the media guide?”
Davis: And they legitimately ask that — I’m not just diving in just in support of Jay — that question is legitimately asked. And guess what, guys? It’s not just asked by the player. Mom and dad call.
Paterno: Mom and dad, absolutely.
Davis: The high school coach calls. The person who helped them get to that school wants to know.
Paterno: We had parents at the Orange Bowl in ’05, (parents of) two offensive linemen complained because there was a typo on the depth chart. And their kids weren’t listed as starters. Now if all of a sudden the left tackle has got a deal and he’s getting $15,000, um, you know, the right tackle’s gonna say: “Where’s my deal? How come this? How come that? I’m not getting that kind of deal.” So I think you get into some real issues there, as well.
The Daily: We spoke to Charle Young (former tight end at USC, San Francisco 49ers, won two Super Bowl rings). Here’s his idea: It should be like a Wall Street banking firm. If you win a BCS bowl game, your team gets a certain amount of money. And then the players divvy up the bonus, just the way they do at Goldman Sachs. Good idea? Bad idea?
Davis: You’re dealing with 18- to 22-year-olds voting on their teammates, but I would not throw that out, out of hand. I think that’s something I would mull over.
Paterno: Most teams that go to bowls give their kids bonus money as it is. If we go to a bowl in Florida, a lot of our guys take the plane money and drive down. So they’re getting some money already. If all of a sudden you say, "If you win the BCS bowl game, you’re going to get a playoff share, and we’re going to vote on who gets what,” I mean, if you told me it was going to be equal for every kid on the team, then that’s a different story.
The Daily: There’s a hostess at Auburn who was paid $12,800 last year for assisting in the recruitment of football players. Granted, she wasn’t on scholarship, but in the free market, if she’s worth $12,800, what are these players worth? And is the corruption that is rampant in college football more a product of players realizing their worth than their needs?
Davis: The hostesses at SMU in the '80s were worth well more than that.
Paterno (chuckling): I’m not even going to ask you how you know that.
PART 2: Should players be paid, and more