There seems to be a rising swell of support for paying scholarship college football players a cash stipend. The argument most often offered favoring paying football players is that it isn't right for the university, coaches, and media to make millions off players who receive virtually nothing. The idea does sound good in theory, but there are many questions which should be addressed before such a drastic change is adopted.
The way the situation is supposed to work now is that an athlete gives his services to the school in exchange for a free education —including room and board —in the field of his choice, the value of which is substantial by most measurements. This doesn't include the benefit of being college-educated with a degree to prove it.
All that aside, let's examine some of the problems inherent in paying college football players:
1. Who is to determine the amount the student is to be paid? The NCAA or the school?
A. The NCAA : Are the payments to be the same nationwide? Or are there adjustments allowed for the cost of living in the area the school is located. If variable, how does this affect recruiting? For example, will Lane Kiffin tell a kid from rural Mississippi that there is no real difference in what USC and Ole Miss are allowed to pay due to the difference in cost of living? Or will the recruit be allowed to assume that USC pays more because they want him the most? Since the athlete is receiving free room and board, are rent and groceries to be factored out? Are these cash payments taxable?
B. The School : Should the school be allowed to offer a 5-star recruit more than the 3-star? Will the athlete be allowed professional representation when being recruited? Should payments be adjusted based on performance? If the 3-star is a surprise starter and the 5-star is deep in the depth chart, can each have their "salaries" adjusted accordingly upon scholarship renewal?
Will the athlete be allowed to have professional representation at this time? Should athletes be paid based on position; i.e. the QB is paid more than the RG? Or should everyone be paid the same with bonuses paid at the end of the year? What about the inevitable internal dissension when, say, the backup QB is paid more than the starting RG?
2. Are there any unintended consequences?
A. Should the free market be allowed to determine the amount paid athletes? The most obvious point conveniently ignored by those favoring paying players is that only a small minority of NCAA schools, including FBS schools, have self-financing athletic departments. Most rely at least in part on their state legislature and university to provide at least partial funding. Should more money be siphoned from state and school budgets to ensure the football team can compete at the highest level?
B. Wouldn't the disparity between the haves and have-nots of the NCAA only get worse, resulting in only about 50 or so universities being able to afford to compete at the highest level? Even these 50 would likely devolve into a MLB version of large market/small market teams. Meanwhile, the remainder of NCAA football is likely to become a glorified version of the Ivy League.
C. Should the scenario in "2B" above play out, what would happen to competition? One of the best ways to kill interest in a sport is to make it noncompetitive. Once the hotbed of the sport, the Northeast's interest in college football is dormant outside of alumni, girlfriends, family, and a few fans. I'd be willing to wager that there are few on this board who know that until just a few years ago, Princeton had the most wins of any football program in the NCAA.
D. Would the amounts paid athletes go the way of coaches' salaries as the pressure to win increases?
E. Then there are the athletes in other sports. In many schools, men's basketball is a big revenue source. Do basketball players get paid? What about non-revenue sports? How do you deal with Title IX issues?
I'm sure there are many more questions that need answers before pay-for-play college football is adopted.