NCAA should, but can't implement plan to pay college athletes

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NCAA should, but can't implement plan to pay college athletes
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
It's a shame (maybe a sham) but NCAA players won't get money for their trouble.

You’d like to see it. Players might deserve it.

But paying college athletes won’t happen. It can’t.

Think of the pro-paying proposal: Legislate compensation for the highest earning Division I programs through the NCAA,  compensating amateurs for the value-added from their talents.

No, my laptop isn’t fuming or sparking or spontaneously combusting.

You'd think it would after processing that, an idea rife with holes and contradiction.

For one, you’d need an NCAA with the capacity and coherence and credibility to draft rules, and then police and enforce them. Figuring out how much to pay to players isn’t the toughie—we are, after all, talking about the nation’s top academic institutions. Regulating it is.

We’d be counting on the most overstaffed and under-accountable governing body on the planet to monitor late-night Wawa receipts, making sure purchases aren’t made with dirty money. With 495 employees on payroll, the NCAA has too many cracks for money outside the rules to slip through—like it already does, only worse.

The NCAA struggles keeping tabs on everyone from NFL player agents to neighborhood predators leeching off up-and-comers now. Imagine how the snakes would slither with even the slightest wiggle room if any money changed hands.

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Granted, the problem would be isolated, affecting only the 22 FBS programs that reported an average profit of $7 million in 2011, according to an NCAA press release. (The rest, on average, bleed $11 million a year.) Any green-lit payday would only apply to these schools—one-sixth of FBS and a comparable faction in college basketball, the only other money-making sport—and spoil any illusion of parity college sports clings to.

Imagine the recruiting advantage in being able to mention wages in living room chats. Now envision a long-awaited college playoff (awesome). Now, exclusive shelf space for USC, Florida, Auburn, Texas and Oklahoma, big money teams with big money players (less awesome).

And that’s assuming, of course, we have college football and basketball seasons. Considering how long it’s taken the NFL to tweak a series of collective bargaining agreements on a deadline, starting from scratch might be a lengthy process for a college labor deal.

What? You didn’t think they’d unionize? All that money changing hands, on non-collectively bargained terms?

Please. There’d be almost as much push-back from the new FBSPA as jostling from the Supreme Court.

Almost forgot about Title IX, didn’t we? Wonder how that would feel on wallets, fulfilling the 1972 gender equity ruling by compensating players for women’s programs (ouch) outside of football and basketball (ouch) that burn cash already.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
UConn's Charles Okwandu (above) celebrating the 2011 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship, worth millions he'll never see.

There’s no doubt that something needs be done. College sports are as clean as televangelists’ socks already, and the hypocrisy in Mark Emmel rocking thousand-dollar Armani suits while half of USC’s depth chart watches its families struggle with LA poverty is sickening.

In some cases, that should go beyond Jay Paterno’s estimated $56.25 and $83.25 hourly rates for players, based on NCAA time constraints and Penn State’s in- and out-of-state tuition. The intangible value—job training (coaching), access to facilities, even pleasure in being a D1 athlete—is great, but it doesn't feed, clothe and house you.

They need more. And there should be a way players can cash-in with the rest of them.

But there isn’t, so they can’t. Mapping out logistics isn’t as simple as a UPS jingle.

Even the latest proposals fall flat. The Big Ten proposed a pay scale at its May meetings, and Steve Spurrier pitched a hyperlocal idea, shelling out cold hard green from his own pocket.

Problem is, that’s illegal. A hundred-dollar handshake is a hundred-dollar handshake, check or cash, with Big Ten insignia or the Old Ball Coach’s pocket lint.

Unless, of course, it isn’t. If the NCAA wanted to eradicate the problem, they could always reclassify it as unproblematic, legalizing under-the-table payments from everybody willing and wielding cash.

But if this whole thing was to act in players’ best interests, that feels painfully inadequate. Or, given how it opens floodgates of bad influences and sleepless nights and Allen Iverson-ish baggage, nauseous.

Who wants that? Or deserves it?

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