Josh Luchs, a former agent affiliated with the NFL, recently outlined his history in the business, specifically his experiences enticing collegiate athletes to become clients upon graduation by offering them what the NCAA defines a "improper benefits." What made Luchs' story unique was that it named specific names, and upon being contacted, many of the players Luchs mentioned confirmed his story.
For a very brief period surrounding the release of the report, it was the talk of the sports world, even garnering the top story on ESPN's website, which is rare for a Sports Illustrated exclusive. But after only three days, the residual disappointment and shock caused by the confessions was nearly completely replaced in the consciousness of the greater pubic by surprise and intrigue over 19th ranked Wisconsin's upset victory over Ohio State, the top ranked team in the country.
The way the situation played out was a microcosm of the reason that the corruption that occurs in college athletics will continue until serious reforms are made. In short, in the minds of most fans, the entertainment value of college football surpasses the seedy dealings that occur behind the scenes.
The clear problem is that college football is a money industry that does not compensate its talent properly.
A small case in point, A.J. Green, a star wide receiver at the University of Georgia, was suspended for four games to start this season for selling a game worn jersey for $1,000. The suspension most definitely hindered his stock in the NFL draft, not only for the time he spent off the field, but also because NFL teams will likely use his "questionable character" as a bargaining chip when negotiating his first contract.
On the flipside, if one logs onto Huskers.com, the official website of University of Nebraska football, they can bid on the game-worn player jerseys, with some of the auctions, sure enough, being in the range of $1,000. And this is for jersey's from a game that the Cornhuskers lost.
In a society that runs on the maxim that a person should be rewarded for the desirable abilities they possess, it makes little sense for college football players playing in profitable programs to be penalized for capitalizing on their talent, while the institutions they play for unabashedly do so.
The hypocrisy is obvious, but the solution is not. Simply allowing Universities to compensate players unrestricted is not feasible. A report recently released by the NCAA revealed that only 14 of 120 Division I-A athletic programs turned a profit last year. With the state of higher education being what it is, most universities are struggling to maintain a liberal arts department, much less be concerned with paying their quarterback.
The answer, painful as it may seem, is that many schools need to eliminate their football programs.
Before you say "harrumph!" consider the case of Northeastern University, which ended its 74-year football tradition last year. The elimination of the team, which was unprofitable, resulted in the University saving between $3-$5 million annually. It also didn't negatively affect other school affairs: the amount of donors and applications to the university rose despite the loss of the program.
The natural critique to proposing the elimination of football programs is that unprofitable squads may lose money, but they foster University pride, which results in donors and a more cohesive academic institution. I'm unsure how some define pride, but having ones schools be paid upwards to $500,000 in order to travel to a hostile stadium and be defeated by an embarrassing margin hardly resembles my definition of the term. Last year Western Kentucky University was paid $700,000 by the University of Tennessee, one of the few schools that turn a profit through their athletic department, to travel to Knoxville and subsequently be defeated 63-7. It's no surprise that these small schools need such paydays -- many of them are outnumbered in terms of athletic department funding by more than a five-to-one margin relative to large schools -- but the practice is far from prideful.
The athletic departments at large schools that do thrive are self-sustaining, meaning that the vast majority profits made from the football program are fed back into the football program. At large football school, athletes are often hoarded into similar majors, while living in separate dorms and eating at separate cafeterias, all free of charge. In short, if one is worried about athletes getting preferential treatment at their universities as a result of receiving compensation, they should re-visit the current realities of college football.
College football has only become more money-driven throughout its history, and with rising TV contracts and increased media coverage, this is not going to change. At some point a line needs to be drawn in the sand, and individuals need to recognize that the reason college athletes were not paid half a century ago was because there was not a market for it. The schools that have grown their programs into money machines must be responsible for compensating their players, and the teams that have been unable to keep up, much like a failing business, must fold.
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