Player pay is coming, but it won't be a panacea
Posted September 25, 2013
Although there will be extensive legal obstacles to clear along the way, the day almost certainly is nearing when some college football and basketball players will be paid by their schools to play.
That’s pay apart from the full scholarship funds they already receive – totals that exceed $40,000 annually at some of those schools and more than $20,000 annually at the majority.
Player salaries will not be practiced in the Ivy League or at the current NCAA Division II and III levels, of course.
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Those schools, which number into the hundreds, will continue to operate sports program much the same way everyone did until midway through the 1970s. Athletic scholarship help will be based entirely on need, the staffs will consist of modestly paid coaches, ticket prices will be nominal and television income virtually nonexistent.
Many of the advocates for paying players believe the practice will eliminate the illegal payment problem that has become a foul, smelly byproduct of the current culture.
Clearly, many football and basketball players are getting under-the-table cash from various sources at many schools.
'Pass The Hat' Culture
In one manner or another, bonus money has been a sports fixture since the 1920s. It’s rooted in the “pass the hat” tradition of semi-pro baseball competition that was common in small towns throughout the country during the ‘20s, ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s.
Game stars routinely were rewarded with bonus money (usually $10 or so) that was raised in the same fashion of church collection plates. In the stands, one fan would take off his hat, put in a dollar bill or some loose change and pass it through the stands. At game’s end, the star pitcher or hitter got the negligible windfall.
As football and basketball steadily gained popularity at the college level, the most aggressive and/or unscrupulous schools found a way to escalate the hat-passing practice to previously unimaginable heights.
Former Oklahoma football coach Bud Wilkinson called it feeding “The Monster.” And that was in the 1950s.
Later, another successful Sooner coach, Barry Switzer, was fond of saying that his primary job wasn’t to coach but to “keep feeding the monster Coach Wilkinson created.”
That food, of course, was recruiting and performance cash.
But legalizing player payments will not eliminate The Monster. Those who think otherwise either are doing so out of convenience and/or blind faith.
Here’s why: Let’s just say the NCAA (or whatever the governing body is named) passes a rule that allows for football and basketball players to be paid $500 monthly by schools that wish to join the new semi-pro division.
So what happens next? School A tells a player he’ll not only receive the $500 in legal money monthly but an additional $500 monthly under the table.
School B finds out what’s going on, then approaches the player with an offer of $1,000 monthly under the table plus the $500 salary.
School C ups the action to $1,500, and so on.
In other words, paying players is no more going to end that sort of cheating than the end of prohibition ended bootlegging or the sale of whisky to minors.
I’m not saying that the idea of sharing the bounty with the players is a bad idea. It’s obviously the direction of the future.
The courts aren’t going to like the idea of putting some athletes on the payroll while denying equal payments to all. Maybe there’s a way for lawyers to get around that challenge. Maybe there’s even a way to pay the athletes proportionately.
After all, does the third-string Texas A&M quarterback deserve the same salary as Johnny Manziel? That’s a huge question/issue unto itself in and apart from the launching point of play pay.
But there is no way paying players will stop the flow of illegal cash from fans and coaches to players and parents.
It’s just not going to happen. There are too many hats out there.