Let me begin by admitting that, as a fan of college athletics, I followed the autograph signing case of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel pretty closely, but I don’t have anywhere near all the facts and I couldn’t care less about the recent eligibility settlement of the case with the NCAA. However, there are larger issues here that concern me, as follows.
A large portion of the commentary on this case maintained that, whether or not Manziel was guilty of receiving compensation for his autographs, the NCAA rule prohibiting such compensation is antiquated and should be repealed. In fact, significant opinion over the past several years has it that college football players should receive compensation for their efforts that produce significant revenues for their school, and that this unfair exploitation should be ended. For at least a beginning to the resolution of this issue, we await the judgment of the court in the now pending case filed by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon and co-plaintiffs, which pleads for a share of the revenues in college athletics to be shared with the players. Needless to say, a ruling for the plaintiffs in this case would result in a massive transformation of college sports as we know it. In fact, of the 125 Division I football programs, only 20 of them were profitable in the past year, and only about a half dozen of them were profitable over the past five years, so it is not difficult to forecast the impact that player compensation would have, even at a nominal level. Quite simply, the top division of college football would quickly shrink to 30 or 40 schools. Moreover, the entire concept of the student/athlete, which has already been rendered a joke, would disappear along with the NCAA itself, and the top division of college football, possibly along with basketball, would become simply a farm system for the professional leagues, finalizing their prostitution that has been underway for several decades.
The proponents of compensation for college athletes have a point, however. We have for some time defended the notion that players receive sufficient compensation in the form of four years of free tuition and a college educati0n, along with various perks, notoriety, etc. But the numbers have become so overwhelming that this argument has lost its relevance. My alma mater leads the nation in its athletic budget, which now approaches $200 million and nets $60 million or so annually, pays its head football coach $5 million, and affords me a tax deduction for the football seating option I purchase (go figure). So the balance between the compensation to the players and their value-added to the enterprise has become grossly distorted.
NCAA President Mark Emmert poses the question, shouldn’t Texas A&M have a share of the value-added to Johnny Manziel when he enters the NFL, and this is where I believe the changes need to be made. Some think that the outstanding player does more for the school than the school does for the player. I disagree, but I think this is an empirical question. If I could be “czar” for a day, I would dictate the following: (1) After signing a college letter of intent and registering, no college player could be drafted by the NFL or NBA before their 21st birthday and (2) For each player drafted and signed by the NFL and NBA, the drafting team would pay compensation to the college of the draftee the amount of, say, $100,000 or some percentage of the first year’s salary, with appropriate escalation clauses. This would certainly and swiftly result in a lawsuit, but bring it on. If the professional leagues want to continue to exploit the colleges as their farm system and corrupt the academic mission, at least they should pay for the privilege.