Like coaches, college athletes should reap benefits of postseason success

Wisconsin Badgers head coach Paul Chryst and quarterback Alex Hornibrook led their team to a 12-1 record in 2017.

Losing in the Big Ten championship cost the Wisconsin Badgers a chance at making the college football playoff. It also cost their coach in other ways.

With Wisconsin winning 12 games, Paul Chryst pocketed an additional $200,000. Making the Big Ten title game got him another $40,000. Winning it? It would have put another $50,000 in his bank account. Making it to the college football playoff would have netted him $200,000 more and if the Badgers won, Chryst would have been $250,000 richer. A national championship would of course had been unforgettable, and such a victory would reaped Chryst another $300,000.

More Badgers coverage

This is not to condemn, Chryst, however. While incentivizing coaches to win seems silly to me — after all, isn’t that part of their job description? — every other Big Ten head coach has similar bonuses with varying payouts (not to mention such things as free cars — and in some cases even the insurance for the vehicle — membership to a country club, free tickets and use of a private jet — not just for recruiting but some get X amount of hours for personal use).

I posted these bonuses for Chryst on Twitter days before the Big Ten title game, along with a line at the bottom that all the players will receive is a hat and t-shirt.

The response was near unanimous: No outrage over the bonuses or disparity of players getting nothing. In fact, many people tweeted back that if Chryst can win a national championship he’d deserve more money. It was pointed out to me that he’s on the on the bottom half of the Big Ten coaches payroll (albeit he makes millions of dollars per year) while another said “The nat title bonus should be about 10x that given the huge disadvantages of wi.”

This is obviously a small sample size based not only on the number of responses but also my limited Twitter reach, but the feeling here is more people fall in this camp than those who think players should be rewarded.

And I get it. Although I’ve seen pundits wonder how people could think this way. It’s actually really simple and comes down to two main points.

First, is the dreamers. Most kids who like football want to be the guy who makes the clutch pass, the long run, the great catch or the big hit. To hear the roar of the crowd and feel the adulation of tens of thousands of people. Who dreams of being the person who calls the play?

Even as adults, the feeling is it is a game and those playing should treat it as such, be glad they are able to play and feel the love of fans, be the envy of millions who would like nothing more to be in their place.

Second, the majority of those who went (or go) to college had to pay for tuition, housing, books and food. Unlike football players they didn’t get a “free education” (as it is often put, including by one of my Twitter responders) and likely had to keep paying for college years after graduation thanks to student loans. Fans see players get free swag, train in big and beautiful complexes built just for them and in the case of basketball, get to travel to places like Australia, Hawaii and the Caribbean, where when they aren’t playing they are posting pictures of having fun in the surf and sand. These are things not afforded to the “normal” college student.

The psychology of it all is simple.

The practicality of it isn’t.

As we’ve seen with the recent studies on CTE, players might literally be killing themselves by playing football.

Even if you don’t want to take it to that extreme, these kids — they are aged 18-22, after all — are risking future health issues to play this game, to win games, give fans joy and perhaps create a memorable experience for them and all those who follow Wisconsin football.

Of course, they also could be left with lingering issues. Just ask Justin Ostrowski or Sam Arenson, both of whom will never know what it’s like to have two healthy knees and at a young age can’t even run without pain. There are plenty of unreported stories out there like them. How many of the current Badgers who are listed out for the season due to injury — and there is a long list — will be permanently affected by those ailments and/or face future surgeries?

It’s easy to say that’s the risk of playing football. Certainly, they know that going in. I’d also argue this is why their education isn’t necessarily “free” — yes, they are on scholarship, but there is a price that can be paid.

And the bottom line is the more games these kids play, the greater chance of injury. The NCAA already allows teams to play 12 games in a season instead of 11, as it used to be when I was growing up. Add in a conference championship and bowl game and you’re up to 14. The two teams playing for the national championship likely will have 15 games under their belt — NFL teams (you know, those with professionally paid players) which don’t make the playoffs only play one more game.

BADGERS DATABASES

I, like most people, used to fall in the camp of “You can’t pay the players.” And I still think the idea of player compensation, like an employee, is fraught with issues. How much do they get paid? Do you give the No. 1 quarterback more than the No. 3? What happens if the starter gets benched — does he lose money and his backup make more? Does the money change depending on the depth chart, playing time or seniority?

And where does this money come from? Will boosters get involved? Will there be bidding wars? How can smaller schools with smaller budgets compete for players? Will there be holdouts? Can underperforming players get fired? And what about the poor walk-on?

I don’t pretend have all the answers, but I do have another idea. Take it out of the TV money.

The Big Ten, for example, is getting $2.64 billion — that’s with a B — over six years in its latest contract. That’s quite a lot of money for the conference and its 14 schools, which in turn helps them dole out the big bucks — and incentives — to coaches. It’s not just the Big Ten. Every conference has a TV deal.

Why not give a percentage of that money to the players? There seems to be enough to go around. No one is saying give these kids $1 million to play college football, but at least give them a piece of the pie that earns everyone else millions.

In addition, for those conferences with championship games like the Big Ten, I’d propose putting aside some money to be divvied up by the players on the teams which meet for the title. Perhaps give 60 percent to the winner and 40 percent to the losing team, to be divided among all the players.

Badgers spotlight

They, after all, are the ones playing the game. Shouldn’t they reap in some of the reward? For the majority of college football players, this would be the only time in their lives they could earn any money playing football. Yes, college football is the breeding ground for the NFL, but even for schools like Wisconsin and Ohio State, the number of players who don’t ever even sniff the next level is far, far greater than those that do.

Is this solution perfect? I’m sure it isn’t, just as sure someone will try to poke holes in my plan. I’ve only laid out a basic idea here; but I think it could be molded into something that could work, rather than just straight pay the players.

Like I said, no plan is perfect and I know there will always be those adamant that players receiving scholarships is enough.

Hopefully players do get their degrees. Maybe one day they can use it to become a coach, and then they, too, can make a quarter of a million dollars just for winning one game.