Wednesday, November 02, 2011

11/02 (Pay College Athletes?) Quickie

What to do about paying college athletes gets a bump today. In this week's SI, George Dohrmann takes a deep dive not on the morality, but simply the feasibility. On Grantland today, Charlie Pierce takes on the morality -- and the NCAA's impossibly FUBAR logic.

I go back to an old Shanoff staple: The crux of the problem is the perceived exploitation of the star college football players, the ones who are worth far more than any college could ever afford to pay them, under any system.

The simplest solution is to create a pro football minor league that allows the best/star players (read: top NFL prospects) to skip college at any point -- before their freshman, sophomore or junior years -- to enter a minor-league system that (a) prepares them for the NFL better than college would/could and (b) pays them rather well for it.

College football would be fine -- it doesn't need "star" players. It needs its teams and its traditions. That college football put an emphasis on its biggest future-NFL talents was a huge reason it got itself into this mess (the media have been complicit). The perceived exploitation -- not to mention the levels of compensation in a pay-for-play system -- would be mitigated.

The players would be better off: They would be getting paid. They would be focused full-time on maximizing their NFL potential. Back on campus, scholarship slots would be given to players with no pro future -- the ones for whom a full-ride college scholarship helps set them up for a non-football future.

The NFL would be better off: The league doesn't need the marketing bump of college football to get fans excited about its rookie players. And instead of college players learning college systems and playing for coaches with no incentive to train them for a pro career, they enter a system whose entire rationale is to maximize their NFL potential. While paying them.

I wish Mark Cuban would stop futzing around with a college playoff when the more valuable arbitrage is so obviously the three-year gap between the moment a star player enters college football and the moment they leave for the NFL Draft.

If the minor league gets a nominal, reasonable piece of the players' financial future (we're talking fewer percentage points than an agent would demand), the minor league could be self-sustaining within a few years. There is even a compelling (and ironic) case it be created as a non-profit.

-- D.S.

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