An incentive clause for college athletes?

Marketplace Staff Jan 8, 2007

KAI RYSSDAL: It’s Buckeyes vs. Gators tonight. The Ohio State University takes on Florida for college football’s national championship. The men in charge on the sidelines are members of a pretty pricey club. Both of tonight’s head coaches bring home more than a million dollars a year. The players, though, won’t see a dime before they graduate. Commentator Dwayne Ballen says there’s a way to remedy that uneven economic playing field.

DWAYNE BALLEN: The most recent addition to the exclusive club of college sports coaches is Nick Saban. He actually left the NFL’s Miami Dolphins for the riches of the University of Alabama.

The Crimson Tide will pay Saban a staggering $32 million over eight years to resurrect their history-rich program.

You think you know where I’m going with this, but this isn’t an attack on the size of the salary.

This is big business and entertainment. The TV networks, athletic conferences, and big schools all reap considerable financial benefits from this mercantile colossus.

But the de facto labor force, the players, aren’t part of the monetary equation. Without their sweat and effort, there would be no games for which to negotiate big deals.

When it comes to the big dollar sports, college football and college basketball, let’s dispense with the charade of amateurism. You know, doing it for the love of the game and the opportunity to get an education.

If a coach is paid millions of dollars, why shouldn’t a player receive some sort of compensation?

No, I don’t mean straight pay for play. That would open a Pandora’s box of problems: agents, transfers to “bigger market” schools, salary caps, strikes. Imagine scab players at the Final Four.

I suggest deferred trust funds, accessible when college eligibility is expired. Why not include financial incentives for academic excellence?

Say an extra few grand for straight A’s — or tell a kid they will not see the money until they’re thirty if their grade point average sinks below a C.

That would make this a double reward. And isn’t that the promise of capitalism? If you are part of the production of a successful product you get to share in the financial return.

And remember, that’s what it is: a product, subject to market forces. Those forces are largely driven by the efforts of the young men you’ll cheer for and against tonight.

RYSSDAL: Dwayne Ballen is a television journalist in Durham, North Carolina. He owns a media company there, too.

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