Tuesday, August 25, 2015

It is time to pay college football players

What follow is my August 16, 2016 column in The Orlando Sentinel.  Enjoy!
Like millions of my fellow Americans, I love August. August means that seven months of sports purgatory (see golf, NASCAR and the never-ending baseball season) ends with the blowing of a whistle and the kicking of a football. Once this opening kickoff takes place, life in America returns to normal, and we can all sit back, relax and watch exploited young men crash into each other while institutions of higher learning rake in billions off their injured backs, heads and knees.
In other words, as a fan of college football in general (and the University of Oklahoma in particular), I annually participate in, and tacitly support a cartel that would put OPEC to shame. That organization is the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
According to the Department of Education, in 2013 alone, college football generated $3.4 billion in revenue. Out of that figure, top coaches like Nick Saban of Alabama and Urban Meyer of Ohio State earn millions of dollars per year in salaries and endorsements. Those same coaches, along with athletic directors, band directors, team doctors, field-maintenance supervisors and others, all were paid by universities to work at their craft and were free to leave for another school that might offer $1 per year more.
Not the players. College football players not only receive no salary, but are restricted by NCAA guidelines in where they can move if they want to change schools but continue to play football.
As a former college athlete and professional sports agent, I have seen firsthand what a farce it is when people say, "But they are getting a free education!"
First of all, nothing is free. These players work dozens of hours per week at their sport under much tougher conditions than most of the rest of us. Second, spending this time on football creates a huge opportunity cost in the form of time lost studying or the ability to pick a challenging major that would reward them in the labor market if football does not pan out. Moreover, this "free" education comes at the cost of injury risk that can shave years off a young man's productive life.
Let's face it. Football players like the former Gators quarterback Tim Tebow are essentially employees of their university. They work at football and create millions in ticket sales, jersey sales, video-game productions and television rights.
It is time to end the indentured servitude these young men face because of the NCAA monopoly.
Every high-school player in America, if approached by a college recruiter, should be able to say, "Well, I might be willing to attend your university, but this school over here is offering me $146,000 per year to play. What is your offer?"
Critics will argue that a market-based approach would create chaos. I would ask those critics how chaotic it would be if they had 10 offers from 10 different companies at 10 different pay grades. As long as someone can do math and has a map, there would be no chaos, just an orderly meeting of the forces of supply and demand.
Colleges should be forced to treat football players like they treat other potential employees. They should have to pay the market-going value and enter into contracts. Players should have the option of attending or not attending classes. Players should have the option of signing contracts of any length — one year to 10, if they choose, and switch to other schools once their contract expires — just like their coaches do.
Under this model, Tebow might still be the quarterback at Florida. After all, he was great there, but not so great at the NFL level. I am sure Gator fans would love to have him back.
In the meantime, as the new season begins, all of us college football fans should stop for a moment to reflect on what our lives would be like if we faced the same labor-market conditions as college football players.
If we are honest, we know that they have none of the liberties we enjoy. As a result, the only conclusion we can honestly reach is that the NCAA has successfully exploited young Americans by denying them the opportunities the rest of us have.
It is also worth noting that the vast majority of college football players at the top schools happen to be African-American. Many are from impoverished homes. The NCAA would do them and their cohorts a tremendous service by allowing market-based compensation to improve their lives.


  1. Professor,
    I like your posts better when you are speaking for yourself and not on behalf of God.

    So what is the other side of the coin? Surely there is more of concern than just chaos.

    By the way, one of your former students casually mentioned this economics phrase "opportunity cost" the other day in conversation. Slowly you are taking over the world!

    1. I was not speaking on behalf of God, just about what God said to me. Other side of the coin? There is none. It would be a marketplace just like for teachers, doctors, etc. You get offers, weigh them out and decide what you want to do. I suppose a possible argument on the other side of the coin is that it would ruin the tradition of amateurs playing for their school. Traditions that deny liberty need to go away.

    2. Well, it certainly gave my wife and son and I something to talk about. Between the three of us, we just couldn't figure out why it isn't done. One person in the conversation wondered if tuition would need to go up to afford the athletes. Perhaps one of your readers of this blog can explain why this is not a regular practice. It seems so...obvious.

  2. Hi, I LITERALLY just left your first macro economics class of 2015 (2:30 class) ... After reading this post I am even more excited to start this school year! It's really nice that in your conclusion you recognized the struggle of some of my African American community members especially in a time like this when it feels like we can be sometimes overlooked. I have one question though.. In your opinion If we ever start to pay our college ball players...should we start to pay our cheerleaders or top students who bring any kind of revenue into the university as well?

  3. Many thanks. A market for cheerleaders, 200 IQ math geniuses, etc. would work the same. If "Miss America" wanted to be a college cheerleader she would be able to command a nice payday. The same for the math whiz. Anything the promotes our liberty to negotiate the terms of our labor is better than what we do now.

  4. Mr. Chambless, have you ever listened to Dave Ramsey? He says 'Live like no one else, so, later on, you can live like no one else.' Most college students are impoverished whether they are scholarly or athletic. When I took on a full time college schedule, I new I would be poor and broke until I finished and became a professional. I knew what I was getting into. Now, having been graduated from Valencia College over 3 years ago, I have been able to produce a great living for me and my family. I 'lived like no one else so, later on, I could live like no one else.' College is an investment in one's self that everyone has the LIBERTY to endeavor. You go paying with time and money. You forego many lesser opportunities during your journey. But the return on the investment, if planned out accordingly, can be fruitful.