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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Big Money For College Football

Top division college football players: Are they playing for their schools or are they playing for money? Before you answer this question, consider the huge controversy that exists concerning the influence of corporations upon conferences, universities, coaches, players, and even fans. Just who represents the various components of a major college football program and how are they presently protecting those they represent? It is time to answer, not ignore, such vexing questions.

John V. Lombardi professed, "Throughout the history of intercollegiate sports in America, nothing has caused college sports more trouble than maintaining this construct of the amateur student-athlete. Payments under the table, bribes for recruiting, gambling schemes, secret professional contracts, payments from agents, and an endless litany of other abuses have nibbled at the edges of the amateur student-athlete, each effort captured in some form of NCAA legislation or definition to hold off the contamination of professionalism." (John V. Lombardi, "The Amateur Challenge of College Sports,", August 10 2008)

Michael Rosenberg, writer for Sports Illustrated said, "The great irony of college football is that it is so steeped in Americana, yet is totally un-American. As revenues go up and players work harder, they are ineligible for a raise. (Michael Rosenberg, Viewpoint: "Change Is Long Overdue: College Football Players Should Be Paid," Sports Illustrated, August 26 2010) Considering their great revenue-generating capabilities, gifted college football players should be compensated, shouldn't they?
And, now colleges are not even trying to hide the fact that everything is for sale: conference affiliations, rivalries, game times, luxury suites, buildings, EVERYTHING. Why not pay the athletes for the return they give the universities? Rosenberg had a conversation a few years ago with Myles Brand, NCAA president at the time, that went like this:

Brand: "They can't be paid."
Rosenberg: "Why?"
Brand: "Because they're amateurs."
Rosenberg: "What makes them amateurs?"
Brand: "Well, they can't be paid."
Rosenberg: "Why not?"
Brand: "Because they're amateurs."
Rosenberg: Who decided they are amateurs?
Brand: "We did."
Rosenberg: "Why?"
Brand: "Because we don't pay them."

Donald H. Yee, a pro agent stated, "Yet, I suspect that virtually everyone in our industry -- players, coaches, administrators, boosters, agents and fans -- shed our naivete a long time ago. We know that the sole focus for many star college players is getting ready for pro ball, that coaches are looking for financial security on the backs of teenagers and that boosters enjoy the ego stroke that comes with virtually owning a piece of a team. There isn't anything inherently wrong with these goals, but there isn't anything "amateur" about the process, either." (Donald H. Yee, "A Pro Agent's Case For Paying College Football Players," The Washington Post, August 22, 2010)

The truth of his statements ring true. These college athletes receive one year scholarships, renewable at the head coach's discretion. This is not technically a full-time job with benefits, but it is certainly not old-fashioned amateurism. Doesn't the NCAA's present legislated view of amateurism lack intellectual integrity?

And, as far as NCAA rule violations, some are minor and some are much more serious. Some athletes take money from agents, marketers or others simply because they are hungry (the scholarship is not always enough to buy food). Agendas for violations can be malicious or simply misdirected attempts of good faith such as simple handouts.

Consider the real reason behind the following cloaked dealings. When the Pacific-10 Conference's lured teams from the Mountain West and Big 12 conferences, the realignment had nothing to do with education or amateur sports. Neither did it have anything to do with tradition or football. It had everything to do with money.

Yee reported, "Saddled with expiring television contracts, the Pac-10 wanted to get bigger so it could command larger contracts in its next round of negotiating and possibly launch its own TV network. With the addition of the University of Utah and the University of Colorado, the Pac-10's revenues will grow. Its coaches will make more money, and its players will get bigger and shinier facilities, fancier menus, cushier dorms, more stylish travel arrangements and other perks." ("A Pro Agent's Case For Paying College Football Players," The Washington Post, August 22, 2010)  

Concerning the welfare of players, who was really damaged in the Reggie Bush fiasco? In Bush's case, the NCAA concluded that USC demonstrated a "lack of institutional control" over its football program. Bush's lavish gifts from a sports marketer effectively made him "a pro in college" and the university knew it. For their part, the team received a two-year postseason ban, lost 30 scholarships over three seasons and vacated its victories from the period when Bush was deemed to have been ineligible -- including the 2004 national championship season.

As Yee lamented, "Bush is long gone, now an NFL millionaire. His former USC head coach, Pete Carroll, is long gone, also now an NFL millionaire. Many of the assistant coaches who were there at the time are gone as well, and also became millionaires (e.g. University of Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian). Some left and then came back as millionaires (e.g. new head coach Lane Kiffin). Left to suffer the penalties are the current players, many of whom were in middle school or high school when Bush played." ("A Pro Agent's Case For Paying College Football Players," The Washington Post, August 22, 2010)

A Solution   

Why not simply fix the mess? Wouldn't honesty in college football be a better policy? The sport is a big business that generates huge, untold revenues. Yee suggests a new market-driven reform in ten major steps. All credit for this content is goes to Mr. Yee. The full article is available at

1. All of the major football-playing universities should lease the rights to operate a commercial football program on behalf of the university to an independent, outside company.

Leases would be open for bidding. The university and the company winning the contract would share net profits at a negotiated level.  A new business structure for marketing would exist with opportunities for greater revenue, and universities without marketers would simply drop football and allocate money to the real objective -- educating students. 

2. Each university's football corporation could create leagues, whether long- or short-term, with other corporations.

A group of conferences has already formed the BCS, or Bowl Championship Series and has decided to exclude other conferences.This would further take away from loyalties to geography, fan tradition, and traditions. Or, the football corporations could decide to avoid joining a league, simply scheduling games as a free agent. Again, this is hardly novel -- Notre Dame has done it for years.

3. All of the players would be paid a salary, whatever the market would bear.
With not scholarships, just as in the pros, players would be paid based on their perceived value to their program. Outstanding high school players would be allowed to experience the fruits of American capitalism just like great college players entering the NFL. Companies would be free to recruit any player with anything they want. The players would pay income taxes; the football corporations would pay Social Security taxes; 401(k) plans could be established. .

4. The corporations could offer a range of educational opportunities.

Academically gifted players could take college classes while vocational-minded players take specialty classes thus eliminating the chance at admission because the university made an exception for an academically less qualified athlete. Or, the athlete could simply concentrate on football, sans college.

5. The NCAA can be eliminated, at least as it relates to football.

The NCAA itself states that it does not have subpoena power, which is one way of admitting that enforcement of its rules is difficult

6. Universities could scrap much of their athletic administrations, just as Vanderbilt University has done.

The chief executive would make decisions, and her mandate would be to ensure that the operation was self-sufficient -- no student fees (or taxpayer dollars, in the case of a public university) would be used to subsidize the football program or facilities. Any profits flowing back to the university could go directly to support the general student body and faculty.

7. Congress and state legislatures wouldn't have to waste time investigating or discussing the regulation of college football.

8. Coaches could focus strictly on coaching.  

Players would be employees of the corporation so they could take money from agents or marketers because their amateurism wouldn't be at stake.  

9. Universities could focus on their core mission of educating students.

University presidents wouldn't have to waste their time monitoring a football program, and they wouldn't have to attend any more NCAA functions.

10. Finally, this system would end the tiresome sports media discussions of whether this player or that player was paid.

Donald H. Yee is a lawyer and partner with Yee & Dubin Sports, a Los Angeles sports-management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches, including New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payto

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