Paying College Athletes Is A Slam Dunk, Right?

Written By Darren Cooper on March 30, 2022 - Last Updated on April 4, 2022
Civil rights complaints over NCAA athlete compensation

Maybe you’ve still got that Anthony Peeler Missouri basketball jersey in your closet.

Or, if you’re a real old-timer, you have Kellen Winslow’s No. 83 jersey from back when he was a Tiger before his Hall of Fame NFL career.

It’s upsetting to realize now that someone, well, we know it was the school and the licensee, was making money off those jersey sales, but not Peeler or Winslow. We’re past the point of wondering whether college athletes should be paid for their ability. The problem is structuring a system that works.

The National College Players Association (NCPA) filed a nine-page complaint about NCAA Athlete Compensation last week, alleging that players, specifically Black college players, lose tens of thousands of dollars while playing in college.

Guess what? They’re correct.

This is a case where the employee is being taken advantage of by the employer (in this case the school). To use a tired sports term or two, this is a slam dunk case, a home run, a touchdown. Lawyers will delay it as much as they can, but the final outcome is known.

Now, you throw out the likelihood that there could be Missouri online sports betting entering the equation and that just muddies the waters even more.

What happens next?

The NCAA, the governing body for the college athletics that you care about, is being besieged on all sides about its rules and treatment of college athletes. Athletes in college (and high school) can profit off their Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) now by creating side deals with businesses and promoters.

Today, Peeler and Winslow would get a cut on those jersey sales. But how do you directly pay college athletes? Are they employees? It’s not as easy as it looks on the surface.

Taking a big-picture look at college athletics

Unfortunately, we have to view college athletics through the prism of the two big revenue-producing sports: football and basketball. The NCAA is hailed for running the NCAA basketball tournament and receives big money from CBS to do so.

But basketball tournaments are pretty easy to run. I remember playing in them in grade school and high school, you know what I mean? Book the venue, get the officials, seed the teams with a committee or group of coaches, tell me what time we’re going to play. The best team wins.

Football is the problem

That’s because college stadiums and entire athletic budgets are based on crowds at football games and television revenue. This may be a simplistic view, but it’s accurate. Football foots the bill for other sports at colleges.

Prominent high school stars choose what schools to go to for education, yes, that’s still at least talked about, but mainly it’s where they want to play ball. Throw money in the equation and then what?

If Mizzou can offer a 17-year-old linebacker $100,000 a year and Kansas can offer $200,000 a year, who’s turning down Kansas? So then, how do you make it fair?

We still want Homecoming for football, don’t we? And we still want the packed house for a basketball game against a rival? You could lose all of that if athletes start getting paid.

Because the compensation wouldn’t be equal, which means the talent wouldn’t be equal, which means the games aren’t competitive. Some of the challenging and interesting questions that arise are:

  • Will each program essentially have a salary cap?
  • Do the athletes even have to go to school?
  • Are athletes given scholarships?
  • Do they get an education?
  • Do we think education should stop for kids at age 17?

Are there any solutions to NCAA athlete compensation?

The system is a microcosm of business in America right now, where it seems like an elite few are getting rich and the majority is getting left behind.

We need solutions.

The NCAA could become one giant clearinghouse with a massive budget and when kids enroll in a college and play sports, they get a piece of the pie. How much? I have no idea.

The star quarterback at Alabama and the star gymnast at Oklahoma are college athletes. How do you determine what they are worth?

I can’t see the NCAA remaining alive much longer in this form. But remember, if it goes away, college sports will be changed.

Football, again, is the problem

Is it time for a true minor league for 18-year-old players that pays and has health insurance for players? Could the NFL, yes, the NFL, create junior “club teams” that play one another?

Like, here are the Missouri Junior Chiefs, made up of prospects (just like a college team) against the Kansas Junior Jayhawks?

If this model takes off, where would St. Louis fall into the equation? That’s especially true if the NFL considers expansion.

Hey, play the games on Saturdays. Have the bands show up.

Could the individual college football teams just sort of branch off and become separate business entities with a relationship to colleges? Maybe the kids go to school. Maybe they don’t.

Eventually, what’s to stop one of these big NIL brokers from saying, forget going to Missouri, get 12 of your buddies and great basketball players and we will make a team called the Burger King Tigers and go around and barnstorm.

This is the club model. But people don’t want to see the Burger King Tigers. They want the Missouri Tigers.

It’s a circular argument, paying athletes in college sports could change college sports so much that there may not be money to pay the athletes.

Maybe the hybrid model of the NIL money out there for athletes and keeping kids in school isn’t the worst thing after all.

Photo by Sam Craft / Associated Press
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Darren Cooper

Darren Cooper was born and raised in Southern Louisiana, just a short pirogue ride away from New Orleans. He started his journalism career at the New Orleans Times-Picayune and has been a writer and columnist in New Jersey since 1998. He's won 14 statewide press awards and earned his first Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 award in 2022.

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