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Let’s Pay College Football Players and Abolish the NCAA

Thursday, September 04, 2014


Photo Credit: Vox Efx via Compfight cc

Ah, early September, when sports fans' inattention lurches from the sleepiness of summer to the Ducks', Beavers' and Vikings' football prospects for the next three months (Hell, this year even George Fox is starting a team.).

And of course, no college football conversation heading into this fall would be complete without the perennial hashing out of the questions over whether to pay players and fix the NCAA. 

The answer? Pay the players and abolish the NCAA.

In fact, there's no better natural redistribution of wealth than letting loose the desire of wealthy college alums to pay poor teenagers to play football for the alums' beloved alma maters.

That’s verboten, according to the NCAA and all the other bluenoses who forget that “amateur sports” were created by turn-of-the-century, big-money snoots who didn’t need to be paid or want to mix with the hoi polloi of their era (Think how Jim Thorpe had to forfeit his Olympic medals because he wasn't an "amateur" athlete.).

But really, why in 2014 should we care if Phil Knight wants to tap a fraction of his wealth to pay $100,000 to some kid from Compton to carry a football for the University of Oregon? Or if T. Boone Pickens wants to do the same for some kid from East St. Louis to sack a quarterback at Oklahoma State?

Not only should sports fans not care, they should storm the NCAA to demand it, like torch-carrying villagers who have learned Frankenstein is holed up in the castle.

It strikes me that there are four potential counterarguments to the ‘Why should we care?’ question, and none of them hold water: 

Argument #1: The “sanctity of the student-athlete”. 

OK. I’ve stopped laughing now. In this age of “one-and-done hoopsters” and players “majoring” in general studies, let’s move on to the three more serious arguments against removing all shackles on alums hankering to share their wealth without a knock on the door from an IRS agent.

Argument #2: “If you let alums pay athletes, who will watchdog the alums to make sure the university’s standards aren’t tarnished?” 

Um, perhaps the university administrators and other alumni who ostensibly care about their school’s reputation. If a college wants to police itself and say: Just like athletes now aren’t supposed to get a cut from their jersey sales or comp tickets, they can’t get pay from alums, so be it.

If a college wants to allow athletes to be paid, again: So be it.

Either way, let the university decide.

Argument #3: “In this libertarian ‘let the alums loose’ world of college sports, no university will decide to unilaterally disarm. The upshot? There will be an arms race with no end.” 

Actually, history provides a different answer. The University of Chicago and the Ivies were among the early powerhouses of college football until they decided they couldn’t, and or wouldn’t, keep going. They “self sorted” themselves out of football entirely or banded together with other likeminded schools at a lower level of competition.

Unsurprisingly, the world kept spinning and college football survived. Similarly, Oregon and Auburn might countenance its wealthy alums subsidizing big-time football players; Stanford and Northwestern might not.

Argument #4: “That self sorting would create crazy realignments that destroy traditional rivalries.” 

Sorry, but that beaver has already left the dam. The realignment merry-go-round creating conference games matching schools from different time zones is already happening. We now have matchups like Oregon State playing Colorado, Rutgers playing Wisconsin, etc.

Argument #4A: “This radical proposal will never happen. The NCAA is too powerful and set in its ways for such a sea change.” 

Probably the most accurate argument out there. But recent court cases show the NCAA knows it is on the run.

Let's chase it all the way back to its medieval castle.


Hank Stern

A native Oregonian, Hank Stern had a 24-year career in journalism, working for more than a decade as a reporter with The Associated Press in Oregon, New Jersey and Washington, DC. He worked seven years for The Oregonian as a reporter in east Multnomah County, Washington County and Portland’s City Hall. In 2005, he became Willamette Week’s managing news editor and worked there until 2011.


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