If the NCAA Allowed It, Who Would Be the Highest-Paid College Football Players?

Amy DaughtersFeatured ColumnistJuly 11, 2013

KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 20:  T.J. Yeldon #4 of the Alabama Crimson Tide rushes against the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium on October 20, 2012 in Knoxville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

While the debate continues about whether college football players should be paid, it's worth considering which athletes would be paid the most if programs began writing paychecks.

To determine which players should be most highly compensated, it’s key to develop a set of criteria that teams and athletes must meet.

First, the employer—in this case the football program—must have enough money to pay its players.

To establish this, USAToday.com's Sports College Athletics Finances database, which has tracked the 2011 finances of 225 public schools, provides the needed information.

It’s important to note that the data does not include many private institutions (i.e. Notre Dame) that are not required to make their financial records public.

By subtracting athletic departments' expenses from revenues, it’s easy to see not only which programs can afford to pay players, but also which can afford to pay players the most.

The revenue available per player is calculated by taking the 2011 “profit,” or excess, and dividing it by the maximum roster total of 105.

Second, the specific athletes must have the ability to warrant being the highest-paid players in the nation.

To determine skill and potential impact in 2013, betvega.com has established Heisman Trophy odds as recently as July 1.

The final element—the subjective component of the formula—is star power, which involves individual marketability or attractiveness to the media.

Though it’s one thing to be skilled and playing for a program with cash, it’s another thing to have established a national following.

The “star power” rankings below reflect a star scale of one to five.

By combining these three factors, it’s possible to come up with not only which teams can pay players but the top earners along with a hypothetical salary.

The salary assumes that the team’s star players would be paid substantially more than the regular roster guys, with the scale sliding upward based on Heisman odds and star power.

Here are the results, ranked for your pleasure.

5. Braxton Miller, Ohio State

Ohio State Revenue per Player: $90,751.92

Heisman Odds: 13/2

Star Power: 3.5 stars

Salary: $1,905,790.40

Even though Ohio State was second only to Texas in 2011 in athletic department revenue, it was also No. 2 in total expenses, giving it less excess to work with than other schools.

To illustrate, Ohio State’s “profit” in 2011 was $9.5 million while Alabama’s was just shy of $20 million.

This drops Miller—regardless of Vegas rating him as the second-most likely guy to win the Heisman in 2013—to a salary level below other national stars.

Miller’s star power could grow astronomically if the Buckeyes manage another 12-0 season, and he can repeat or exceed his statistical output.

The difference in 2013 will be that Ohio State will be eligible for the Big Ten title and the BCS championship.

4. Aaron Murray, Georgia

Georgia Revenue per Player: $110,300.66

Heisman Odds: 12/1

Star Power:  4 stars

Salary:  $2,895,392.25 

With more than $11 million in "profit,'' Georgia could afford to pay its star QB close to a cool $3 million.

Murray’s salary is not higher because his Heisman odds are lower than the other guys listed and his star power hasn't fully risen.

If Murray and Georgia would have managed to nip Alabama in last season’s SEC title game, the trip to the BCS championship—regardless of the outcome—could have catapulted him to No. 3 or higher nationally in salary.

3. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama

Alabama Revenue per Player:  $185,052.04

Heisman Odds: 9/1

Star Power: 3 stars

Salary:  $2,914,569.60

The heir apparent to the running back throne at Alabama,  Yeldon makes No. 3 by virtue of his Heisman potential and the Tide’s big pile of cash.

Alabama finished No. 3 in 2011 in terms of total revenue, which combined with the lowest expenses of the top three means that it can afford a bigger paycheck for its stars.

What lowers Yeldon’s earning potential is that he is not yet a star in his own right, a situation that can be remedied if the Tide make another run in 2013.

An indication of Yeldon’s promise is his equal footing with teammate AJ. McCarron in the Heisman odds. Both have a 9/1 chance of winning.

2. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

Texas A&M Revenue per Player: $85,578.35

Heisman Odds: 9/2

Star Power: 5 stars

Salary:  $3,145,004.45

Despite Texas A&M working with less “profit” than any other team on the list, Manziel has the Heisman potential and star power to be well compensated.

Manziel has garnered more media attention than any other college football player over the last nine months, and at 9/2 Vegas rates him as the most likely Heisman winner in 2013.

These odds seem to forget that in the 78-year history of the award only one player has won it twice; a feat Ohio State’s Archie Griffin achieved in 1974 and 1975.

But, of course, Manziel is the kid who managed to become the first freshman to take home the coveted bronze statuette.


1. AJ McCarron, Alabama

Alabama Revenue per Player: $185,052.04

Heisman Odds: 9/1

Star Power: 4.5 stars

Salary:  $5,829,139.20

Alabama’s McCarron has it all in 2013.

He plays for a team that has the second-most most “profit” in the nation (surprisingly, frugal Kansas State is No. 1). He is No. 3 on the Heisman odds list, and he has loads of star power.

Though it’s easy to think of McCarron as just another cog in the big wheel of Alabama football, don’t forget that he finished 2013 as the No. 1-rated QB in the FBS.

With three national championships—two as a starter—McCarron would be the highest-paid player in college football in 2013.


    Baker Wasn't Taking Any S--t from Cowherd

    College Football logo
    College Football

    Baker Wasn't Taking Any S--t from Cowherd

    Joseph Zucker
    via Bleacher Report

    Former 5-Star WR Robertson to Transfer from Cal

    College Football logo
    College Football

    Former 5-Star WR Robertson to Transfer from Cal

    Timothy Rapp
    via Bleacher Report

    LSU Lands No. 1 CB of 2019 Derek Stingley

    College Football logo
    College Football

    LSU Lands No. 1 CB of 2019 Derek Stingley

    Kyle Newport
    via Bleacher Report

    Finebaum's Contract Talks with ESPN Lagging

    College Football logo
    College Football

    Finebaum's Contract Talks with ESPN Lagging

    Michael McCarthy
    via Sporting News