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Radical Ideas for the NCAA: One Way to Pay College Athletes

by on October 17, 2013 6:10 AM

The NCAA is reportedly pondering some future organizational changes; among them some ideas about pay for student-athletes.

If that is true, how do we give big-time college football and basketball players a slice of the big money their schools generate?

The argument about paying players circles back around every other year; triggered by scandals involving agents, autograph-signings or recruiting payouts.

I am not a proponent of paying players and I still stand by what I wrote on this very website over two years ago (In fact the NCAA ran the column on its website as well). Click HERE to read it.

But I also love to argue and play devil's advocate, so I'll throw out a radical approach to pay players.

In football let's start with the top college teams forming a super-football division. In the profit-making sports, including football, each school puts up money to pay student-athletes that's equal to the number of scholarships multiplied by $5,550 (which is the maximum amount of federal Pell Grants). The money a player gets would be in addition to their Pell Grants so student-athletes with deep needs could get more money.

Each football head coach's "salary cap" is $471,750 (85 scholarships x $5,550). Here's where the fun begins, he can pay some more and some less, but not exceed $10,000 for any one player. Head coaches then face decisions coaches in sports where they split scholarships face—if I give part of this pot to one great player I may not have as much for other players.

This is great training for the players to understand the NFL free agent market and given the number of college coaches expressing interest in jumping to the NFL, this is training in handling a salary cap.

A school that splurges on a big-time quarterback or pass rusher has to remember investing heavily on one player reduces the amount of money left to invest in others.

I'm also proposing a flat post-season bonus of $2,000 per player which would add another $170,000 to the payroll. All told a bowl team would have a total payroll for its players of $641,750 in addition to the scholarships they are already providing.

In basketball the 13 scholarship players on the team would have the same Pell Grant-based pool that would amount to $72,150 annually. There would also be a flat post-season bonus for basketball of $4,000 per player for a total payroll of $124,150 for post-season teams.

For a team like Ohio State that may send football and basketball teams into the postseason this year they would have to pay out a total of $765,900 to the student-athletes who generate money. With an annual budget of well over $120 million this is not a huge sum to add.

(On a side note, with Ice Hockey being a profitable sport for some schools they would also have to set up a system for their scholarship players)

Where would the money come from?

I propose that each school split the costs. Half would come from football and basketball revenues and the other half from the money budgeted for coaches' salaries. If a school budgets $5 million for football coaches' salaries (which is less than some head coaches make) the half share of the $641,750 football salary cap would amount to $320,875—just over 6.4%.

Head coaches would have the option to keep his half share and compete while paying his players less. I'd bet that every coach would opt to pay the players and compete on a level playing field with his peer institutions.

For those worried about how schools will find the money, I guarantee every school will find willing alums to donate the money needed to cover the salary cap. Some boosters are already paying recruits under the table; at least now they can pay into a fund that openly pays players while receiving a tax-deductible donation to their school.

I am not naïve enough to believe that cheating will not still go on, but this should at least bring some of it out of the shadows.

Is this a radical idea? Yes. Will it cure every ill? No. But there are benefits.

Coaches will be hesitant to make early offers to many players and risk having nothing left. The salary cap will also eliminate the over-signing of recruits that is rampant in college football.

This is a radical starting point. In a column there is not space to get into all of the particulars and assess holes that may exist. I know that.

I also know that in my heart I long for the simpler days of strict amateurism. But as a wise man once said, "You can't be just a little bit pregnant. You either are or you are not."

The NCAA's possible decision to pay players is one requiring careful deliberation and consideration of every proposal and the possible consequences. It is a huge decision; one that could alter the game forever.

The easiest thing to do is maintain the status quo. The harder decision is to pay the players, for once that genie is out of the bottle ...

State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at
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