Free at Last: College Athletics — Yeah, Right!

Free at Last: College Athletics — Yeah, Right!


Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel resigned late last month, following allegations that several of his players sold Buckeye memorabilia to a Columbus, Ohio area tattoo-parlor owner. That move is a big “no-no” in this typically hypocritical world of college sports where universities, alumni and sponsors rake in millions of dollars of revenue from the work of unpaid student-athletes.

Tressel, who amassed a 106-22 record during his tenure as coach of the Buckeyes, winning 8 Big Ten Conference championships and one national title, first learned of the improprieties in April 2010, but decided to keep things quiet. Later, it was learned that as many of 50 Buckeyes players may have received favorable treatment when purchasing cars from a local dealership. NCAA regulations strictly forbid payments to players although there are certain ways players can be “compensated” such as in receiving free ride college scholarships.

Pay For Play

All the noise surrounding Tressel’s departure from Ohio State is just that — noise. The problem of student athletes receiving “favors” dates back decades and will likely continue in some form for many years even if the NCAA decides that football and basketball players should be allowed to draw a stipend.

One way for NCAA to get a handle on the athlete payola plan would be to build upon the free scholarship foundation by including a signing bonus for student-athletes. That bonus could and should be tied to student academic performance — if athletes fail to make the grade, then the monies would be withheld. For example, if a football player flunks a class, then no money would be given. However, if the student passes his or her classes and eventually graduates, then funds would continue to be distributed. Perhaps a monthly pay out would be sufficient, based on performance for the previous semester or trimester.

Signing Bonuses

Of course, schools would be limited by the amount of money they could give and that money might also be indexed to increase as the student progresses through school. For example, first year students would receive $10,000, second year students $15,000, third year students $20,000 and fourth year students $25,000. Limit the pay out to four years to coincide with player eligibility. Consider getting rid of red-shirting too — the emphasis for colleges should be to get students through school and in four years too.

The total pay out for four years is $70,000 per athlete which is less than the $100,000 suggested by John Infante on the NCAA blog this past January. In a four year period, schools would pay $5,950,000 for its 85-member football team, perhaps less as some athletes turn professional before their senior year.

Paying $1.5 million annually to football players alone seems like a stretch for some programs, but television revenue can cover that cost. There are 120 teams playing at the top level of college football which means an annual cost of $180 million. That’s chump change and even less than the 15-year $3 billion television contract ESPN has with the SEC.

Presidents Hold the Key

Will the NCAA push for change? Perhaps, given that it has allowed Infante to even post some suggestions on its blog. But, the push also have to come from university presidents who dictate college athletes and have the most to lose or gain by change as well as by maintaining the status quo.


The Seattle Times; Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel Resigns Amid Scandal; May 30, 2011

Business Insider; Here’s The Only Realistic Way To Pay NCAA Student-Athletes; Adam Fusfeld; Jan. 18, 2011

NCAA; What Would Paying Student-Athletes Look Like?; John Infante; January 11, 2011


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