It Makes Dollars, But Does it Make Sense?
A look at college athlete's profiting from autographs, and an alternative way to pay the players that make millions for Universities and Corporations across the country.
Somewhere in a parallel universe Elvis Presley is doing a human rights awareness tour in third world countries, Al Gore is president, Lindsey Lohan is a natural food dietician, and at age 20, Johnny Manziel is a Millionaire. Ok, ok, maybe hundred-thousandaire, but still. How did he accumulate his wealth, you ask? Easy. Playing college football. He collected performance based stipends from his university, he sold autographs, made public appearances; in short, everything a typical NFL player does minus the endorsements. What is wrong with that, you may ask? Let me tell you. Scotty, beam me up.
Back over here on earth life isn't exactly copasetic for freshman Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, which if you've been within 25 yards of a television, social media network, or hell even a newspaper, you'll already know. He's been accused of being a college student and having fun, which I have no problem with. He's also been accused of accepting money for autographs, which I have a slight problem with. In addition to the fact that he is, (though at times it may be hard to believe) a student first and foremost, there are other issues at stake, namely, parity. It happens to be a pretty big deal when it comes to athletics in the United States. As cool as it used to be to witness a dynasty, nobody wants to see that anymore, and if one does happen, it needs to be hotly contended. If the same teams went to championships year in and year out, it would become incredibly boring to watch for all but a handful of fans. I think we can all agree on this, but if you do happen to be one of those fans who hates parity, then save yourself the time and quit reading now.
Allowing college athletes to sell autographs would ruin parity in the respective sports for good. It would start off innocently enough, the NCAA could put a cap on autograph prices, it would be regulated and everything would be fine and dandy. Then you'd start to look a little deeper, and ask, why the hell is Michigan's back-up center selling 2500 hundred autographs at $1,000 a pop? Just why? Dig a little deeper. Oh hey, all of these autographs were brokered by the same individual, to the same corporation? That corporation is run by Michigan Alumnus, you say? I think you're starting to get the point. Players would start attending the Universities with the richest, football-interested alumnus in the nation so they could make the most money while in college. We'd soon see a handful of schools attracting all the top recruits.
Sure there are a couple solutions which jump out, such as putting limitations on the number of autographs, total income from autographs, etc. Those are bit-part solutions at best, however. It would cost an absurd amount of money and man-power to police the autograph sales of college athletes. Let's look at it in terms of just FBS College Football players. There are over 300 schools in the FBS, and most rosters have close to 100 players each. That's 30,000 athletes that need to be policed in terms of autograph revenue. The manpower it would take to cover all that is astronomical.
Now, the next point that can be raised is that with the millions and millions of dollars of revenue in College football, the players should surely be receiving a portion of that. I agree 100%. There should be stipulations however, which include each player making the exact same amount during the regular season (there can be bonuses for bowl games), no matter which school they go to. Here is what I would propose.
- Each participating FBS school pays a tax of 5% of their gross income to the NCAA. (More on how to choose this number, or a similar one, later)
- The NCAA puts that into a pot, and sets aside 12% of that total for bowl stipends.
- The remaining 88% is divided equally, to the dime, per player, based on games played. For example the player who had a 13 game season would receive a slightly higher pay check than the player who played a 12 game season.
- In order to maintain the pool of money, those players who are drafted into the NFL in one of the first 4 rounds, or at any time during their career sign a multi-million dollar contract, would be required to pay back what they received during their collegiate careers.
- No monetary value received by a player should exceed the total hours spent practicing, watching film, lifting, etc., that the average contributes on a weekly basis. For example, say a player puts in on average 8 hours a day during the season, then, when broken down, that same player should never receive higher than $58 a day before taxes. In situations like this the national minimum wage would be used, despite the fact that it is higher in certain areas; remember, parity.
- Keep in mind the above stipulation only puts a maximum on how much players earn, not a minimum. If reaching the above maximum can't be achieved for every qualified athlete (whether or not due to a lower "tax" amount being used, or something similar), a lower level is acceptable as the amount that every student -athlete then receives.
- Furthermore, to qualify for the stipend players must maintain at least a 1.7 cumulative GPA (translates to a "C-" average) and be enrolled in school fulltime.
- Finally, to prevent schools from getting money for players that don't deserve it, only scholarship athletes qualify for the stipend (This prevents walk-ons from trying to use this as a source of income).
The goal, in all of this, is maintain as minimal an image as possible for these athletes. Yes, they are already exposed to an extraordinary amount of media attention as it is, but subjecting them to alternative ways to make money such as sponsorships, public appearances, autograph signing sessions (they already do some at venues such as fan appreciation days, etc.), or other ways which would market their names. The one thing all those items have in common is increased time in the public lime light, as well as removing the student-athletes from their campuses, and thus decreasing either practice time, study time, or what precious little down time they already have.
It is important to remember that with these student - athletes, the majority most likely do not even qualify as adults. There are rules in place to make sure that they stay in college for at least 3 years, and whether you want to classify that under physical justification or mental I don't particularly care, I am inclined to believe that it is at least 50% mental. Keeping players within the "student-athlete" label then should be a part of the mental and emotional maturation process, and that, In my opinion, can be done by ensuring they do not get caught up in spending time trying to do endorsement deals, or engage in other activities which needlessly thrust them back into the spotlight.
So, maybe Johnny Manziel is doing pretty well somewhere over in a parallel universe. It could very well be he is truly living the dream and his "big man on campus" label applies to his wallet as well as his social status. That universe, then, is a much friendlier, and incredibly less narcissistic universe than the one we all live in. The formula I outlined above may not be the answer either, I'm very open to the fact that there may be outliers, or situations I haven't taken into account, but it is certainly better than treating student-athletes like brands, and taking them off the field, or out of the classroom.