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College recruiting: Next promise could be paycheck

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They come calling with promises of a good education, a chance to play on television and some of the best facilities that money can buy.

There may come a time, though, when recruiters chasing the best high school football and basketball players offer something else: a nice paycheck to take with them as a parting gift when their college days are over.

Football players could get several hundred thousand dollars. Basketball players would do even better, perhaps becoming millionaires even if they never play a day in the NBA. Under some scenarios they could take the payments in lieu of what they would have gotten for tuition and room and board. They would be college employees of a sort, able to take classes if they wish or simply play sports.

And the Indianapolis-based NCAA might still be able to take the high road and continue to run big-time college sports as "amateur" programs.

"There's nothing inherent in the word amateurism that says increasing substantially the amount paid athletes would violate the principle of amateurism," said Stanford economics professor Roger Noll, who testified on behalf of the plaintiffs in an ongoing federal court trial in Oakland. "There's no reason to believe that."

It's all theoretical, of course, based on models that may never come into play. But just what the future of big-time college athletics may look like if the NCAA loses a landmark antitrust suit is beginning to come into focus as attorneys representing former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon and others press their case in court. The trial is scheduled to run through this week.

No one expects the current system run by the NCAA to be completely blown up. But at a time when billions of dollars are flowing into college sports there is little dispute that players will get a bigger chunk of the pie.

That may come as soon as next year when the five major conferences move to separate themselves from football programs that aren't nearly as profitable and give athletes more money and greater benefits. Among the proposals is more money to cover the full cost of attending school and better medical and travel benefits.

Whether the extra money will amount to covering laundry expenses and date nights or comes to a much larger payment may depend on how successful O'Bannon's attorneys are in winning a ruling that the NCAA is acting illegally by not allowing players to profit off the use of their names, images and likenesses in television broadcasts and videogames.

If the plaintiffs win, lawyers have hinted in broad terms how they see college sports changing. The NCAA would still run athletics, but Division I basketball and Bowl Subdivision football players would be allowed to band together to seek payment for the use of their names and images in television broadcasts and videogames. Those payments would go into a trust fund, with players getting equal shares when they leave school.

University of San Francisco economics professor Daniel Rascher testified that using something akin to the professional model—where players get something close to the 55 percent of broadcast revenues NFL players currently receive—a football player at Vanderbilt might get $325,000 over a five-year period because of the lucrative television contracts in the Southeastern Conference.

A basketball player at a Pac-12 school like Oregon, he said, would do even better, perhaps walking away with more than $1 million by the time his career is over because there are fewer teammates with whom to split the money.

If players are allowed to be paid—even if that money is put in a trust to be given out only when they leave school—coaches and other recruiters would surely begin emphasizing how much an athlete might look forward to at the end of his college career. The money would be doled out to each player equally, but that doesn't mean every school would offer the same amount.

Some smaller conferences may refuse to offer anything at all, believing the concept of amateurism is too important to lose. But at the top levels of college sports it's hard to imagine schools not joining in and risking the loss of the best recruits.

"It would pain me greatly as a university president and I would try to protest that but we would probably continue to compete in football and basketball," University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides testified. "I think our fans and board of trustees would probably replace me if I decided to drop out of that type of competition."

NCAA attorneys have suggested paying athletes would lead to a competitive imbalance, where the richer schools got all the best athletes. But Rascher said big and smaller schools rarely compete for the same athletes now and, when they do, the big schools almost always win.

Former Vanderbilt linebacker Chase Garnham testified that he would have been interested in the money had he had a choice. Garnham said it would only be natural for an athlete to go where the money is if everything else was comparable.

"If I was a recruit, that's what I would do, yes," Garnham said.

NCAA President Mark Emmert testified Thursday that paying student athletes would damage the popular appeal of college sports.

“To convert college sport into professional sport would be tantamount to changing it into minor league sport and we know that minor league sports are not particularly successful,” he said.

The NCAA had $912 million in total revenue last year, including $838 million from television, championships and marketing-rights fees, according to its financial statement.

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  • RE: Greedy Todd?
    I completely agree that the pay for college coaches have gotten completely out of hand. There is no reason for coachse to go to the professional level now becuase they can as much money in college. But to go from paying a college coach too much money to paying college athletes too much is notthe answer. There needs to be some sense of equity built into the current system to even the palying field, but the concepts discussed in the article are not the answer in my opinion. You are gointo go from one problem to another. Do you think the greed from the college prgrams will end once they start paying the players? Hell no, it will just get worse as the major programs try to figure out how to one up each other.
  • Greedy Todd?
    Who is greedy Todd? How about Nick Saban making $7 million per year to coach football, sickening that he is the highest paid state employee in Alabama, this stuff is country wide, but Johnny Maziel can't sign a few autographs while the NCAA makes millions on his jersey?...University presidents and Athletic Directors getting bonuses when some kid on the wrestling team wins an NCAA championship (see Gordon Gee)...the plantation system of college sports and the myth of the student athlete is about to be exploded (thank you Walter Byers)...it is the appalling greed of the universities and the NCAA that has set all of this in motion, and players will likely be getting paid...and I predict all of you who are sounding the death knell for college athletics will find that your college team will still be competing, as the AD at South Carolina noted...there is nothing ridiculous about the concept of treating the people who actually provide the entertainment, whose talent drives the revenue, to have their fair share of that revenue...that is the only fair thing to do...
    • Ridiculous
      This whole concept is ridiculous. The unintended consequences will be enormous. Say goodbye to amateur college athletics as we know it. I thought this whole thing started based on a small stipend to give the student-athletes for spending money since they can't work part-time? Now we are talking about paying a college athlete a $1M? Crazy!!!
    • NCAA's monolopy restrict opportunity
      I believe the issue is not if the NCAA is at fault, but has the NCAA used it's monopoly power to give schools great profits while preventing individual athletes an opportunity to profit(and attend class). Add to that the government granted monopoly in professional sports, rules restricting (less now than ever) taking college players. If the NCAA was not a monopoly and schools competed.....every league would be offering the athletes more. The NCAA works to hurt athletes with the no-fly rule...having students miss class as they ride the buses to visitor locations. The rule should be "MUST FLY" to avoid missing class. NCAA is motivated by money for the school and zero concern for the players. Thanks to the attorneys and judges who care about these students and not school profits.
    • Whatever happened to Education?
      Aren't these kids going to COLLEGE? Aren't they supposed to be getting an EDUCATION? If they're going to be paid to be playing a sport, then take away ALL their SCHOLARSHIPS and FREE PERKS and let them pay for their education. My child in college is there to learn and work hard and get good grades which she is doing. She's made the Dean's list every semester. And NO ONE is paying her to go to school. This whole thing is ridiculous. If they think they're so good that they should be paid, let them leave the school and go play for pay in the real world. And when that tanks, then where will they be?
    • Greedy
      It boils down to greedy attorneys. Theses guys "ALREADY" get paid! It is called a scholarship. They will ruin college sports, Houston wait and see. America is full of greed, nothing is sacred anymore.

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