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.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

God has spoken to me through a movie scene

For quite some time now I have told people that as much as I think I know when I want to retire from teaching and writing God might have other ideas on how long he wants me to do this stuff.  Not that I have wanted to, but I have given in to the idea that when my time has come he will let me know (I am speaking of retirement, not death - although that is in his hands too.)

Well, today I heard him.  He came in through the following clip from the movie, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"  Watch this six-second clip then I will get back to you.

O.K., now that that is taken care of let me fill you in on what it means.

I am grading final exams from my four summer classes today.  I gave each of them a rare treat in my 24 years as a professor - a take home final exam. 

They got the exam in late June and it was due August 4th.  40 days to read only four chapters, watch some lectures online and answer five questions.  Every bit of each question could be answered by reading only four chapters and watching a few lectures.

In 40 days I could have translated the Bible into some ancient Navajo dialect.

In 40 days I could have learned how to speak Spanish, or walk to Tennessee or painted a good part of the Great Wall of China.

40 days later, most of my students turned in failing exams.  I mean grades that are so bad that it looks like they had 40 minutes to prepare for a test in particle physics while smoking weed.

Somewhere in my profane thoughts and loud declarations to my wife that there is no hope, no point and no reason for having hope, I heard Him.

Like James Earl Jones in the movie "Field of Dreams", I heard, "The man has done enough.  Leave him alone."

So that is it.  Six years to go.  In six years I will have done this stuff for 30 years.  Then Valencia will send me some retirement income and I can head to somewhere far away where there will be no grading, no writing, no blogging, no nothing but fishing for walleye, watching sunsets and not giving one rat's rear end what happens to this nation filled with (see video clip above).

I just hope during that six year stretch my students don't kill me off with their incomprehensible musings on things that have nothing to do with what I have asked them.