It’s Past Time to Pay College Athletes

No intro today. Let’s get right to this. Here are five reasons why it is ludicrous that we are not paying college athletes in 2017.


1. Three Words: Fair Market Value

This idea was presented to me by friend and professional financial advisor, Chris Wright, when I used to argue against college athletes being paid. The concept is simple: Fair market value says a seller and a buyer come to an agreement on price based on what is reasonable in an open market. There is a reason that the NBA will always bring in tons of more money than soccer or the WNBA in the US: People are willing to pay more to watch it.

The NCAA has a $10 billion TV contract for the basketball tournament and $500 million for the football playoffs. Many athletic departments in the NCAA bring in nine digits a year. People are getting rich off of this. Very rich. But not the players. In 2013, when my dad bought tickets to take my three brothers and me to Florida for the Outback Bowl, we paid a lot of money to watch Jadeaveon Clowney knock a guy’s heltmet off and Steve Spurrier go for the TD bomb with 30 seconds left. Yet one man got a big check for that game while the other got no compensation from our expenses.


2. Scholarships are not the same thing as salary

The obvious retort is that they get scholarships: an average of $100,000 over four years at a D1 school, I have read. Yet this rejoinder is faulty for at least two reasons. First, because fair market value says some players in the big money sports deserve much more than that. At least one source says that the projected fair market value of the average college football player was $178,000 per year from 2011 to 2015, while the average college basketball player for the same time was $375,000. That is the average. A quarterback like Johnny Manziel would have been worth much more, with Texas A&M being a huge revenue school.

Secondly, the scholarships cover things like tuition, books and fees. They are not truly paid to play. And at times, the scholarships aren’t enough to live reasonably. At the end of the 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game, UConn’s Shabazz Napier took advantage of being in front of a microphone on CBS to tell the world, “We go to bed hungry at night.” I was so unaware of what he really meant that at first I thought he was speaking figuratively, as in, “We go to bed hungry for a championship every night.” No, he was being literal. How fair is it that a player who brings in far more money for his school than an average student on academic scholarship, should ever have too little money to eat because of NCAA rules?

Like it or not, capitalism rules the US. It’s time to pay these athletes what they are worth.


3. The NCAA is a complete and utter dumpster fire

You may remember a few years ago when six Ohio St. football players were caught selling athletic equipment, rings and similar things for cash and tattoos (which was illegal but were things they owned…think about that for a second), and the NCAA banned them for five games the next year. But they let them play in the bowl game vs. Arkansas. The reason they were allowed to play the bowl was because they didn’t fully understand what they were doing was wrong. What?

Then you have the incredible story of Charleston Southern having to suspend 32 players for a game vs. Florida State in 2016 because they used extra money from their book allowance to buy school supplies.

Or how about the story of how Lane Kiffen at Tennessee allegedly sent attractive hostesses to high school games in South Carolina to get recruits to come? Marcus Lattimore, one of the finest young men of Christian integrity to ever play football in the state of SC said, “I haven’t seen (any) other schools do that. It’s crazy.” And did the NCAA ever find anything of substance to pin on UT? Nope.

Welcome to the NCAA, the worst run, most corrupt and hypocritical sports organization in America.

The NCAA once made Todd Gurley do community service for selling his autograph in addition to suspending him, as though he were some kind of criminal in need of rehabilitation. The NCAA suspended Enes Kanter for life for money he made as a professional overseas that he never touched and was willing to give back. The NCAA sometimes suspends people 5 games for selling things and sometimes 0.5. There is no rhyme, reason or consistency to most of it.

There really is a simple way to stop the madness. Pay the players. Let the people give them however much money they want to.


4. Even if the NCAA were virtuous, they could never fairly monitor recruiting.

Did you hear former Texas Longhorns QB Chris Simms mention recently that he used to get “$100 handshakes” from boosters? Who out there doesn’t think this happens all the time? Who out there doesn’t think every major program is cheating in ways that will always be ahead of the NCAA?

If you pay the players there is no need for any tables to hand money under.


5. It’s time to abandon the pretense of the ideal student-athlete 

Some sports will never have a minor leagues and that is essentially what college becomes. That could be a good thing. Pay them to play and if they want to get an education because they cannot go to the next level, they still can. The “one and done” culture of college basketball is a travesty and an overreach by the NBA. Many freshmen know they don’t have to go to class in the spring if they are leaving. Paying them gives them purpose and could even convince some athletes to stay in school longer and make college sports even better.

I don’t buy that it is a bad idea to give new adults money because they cannot handle it. We do it in so many sports anyway: Tennis, minor league baseball, one and done basketball, etc. Money could mess up some 18 and 19-year olds, but it stands to do far more good than harm.


I don’t have a great plan for how to make paying athletes work as far as specifics, but some people do. I do not think it will ever happen because the NCAA is so powerful. But it should happen. Otherwise the NCAA will continue to deal with injustice and corruption on a massive scale. As long as they hold the power and wealth, I do not think they care. And that is a shame. The players and the fans deserve better.







Gowdy Cannon

I am currently the pastor of Bear Point FWB Church in Sesser, IL. I previously served for 17 years as the associate bilingual pastor at Northwest Community Church in Chicago. My wife, Kayla, and I have been married nearly seven years and have a 3-year-old son, Liam Erasmus. I have been a student at Welch College in Nashville and at Moody Theological Seminary in Chicago. I love The USC (the real one in SC, not the other one in CA), Seinfeld, John 3:30, Chic-Fil-A, Dumb and Dumber, the book of Job, preaching and teaching, and arguing about sports.

12 thoughts on “It’s Past Time to Pay College Athletes

  • September 1, 2017 at 9:11 am

    I’m not sure where I stand on this issue, but you make some compelling points.

    I think my biggest issue is the hypocrisy of the NCAA – and all their double-talk and contradictions. So, I would want the athletes to be paid just out of spite towards the NCAA.

    • September 1, 2017 at 9:56 am

      What he said.

    • September 1, 2017 at 11:42 am

      Yes, while I think market value is a key point, what personally through me over the top was the endless secondary violations they cited at my school over the most bogus and trivial stuff. About 5 years ago it sickened me so much I thought about this topic more and differently.

  • September 1, 2017 at 9:41 am

    The only reason I support this is because it is already happening and if your school isn’t cheating correctly then they are behind everyone else. In theory, I hate the idea of paying college students outside of the scholarship (I am still paying student loans), but the reality is I want my school to be on the same page as schools who are cheating at a remarkable level. Plus, is UNC ever going to get anything for creating fake classes for athletes? That is worthy of the death penalty even more than outright buying players.

  • September 1, 2017 at 9:57 am

    While I agree with many of your posts, I couldn’t disagree with you more on this. When people talk about fair market value for college athletes they are only factoring the cost of attendance as benefits. The division 1 athlete gets much more than that. The college athlete is getting free publicity, and a stage to showcase their skills for their future employers, and advertisers while they are still in school.They are put in front of millions of viewers, setting the stage for millions in endorsements. As far as Napier’s ridiculous claim of going to bed hungry, that is ridiculous, and a complete fabrication. Full scholarship athletes room and board is covered under their athletic scholarship. I have a cousin who played division 1 football. Their food is included, and they are given a per diem to eat on weekends, or when they can’t get food from the school. Napier claimed it wasn’t fair that he had to eat peanut butter sandwiches on the weekend. So what, that is college. I don’t have a problem with instituting some type of stipend so they can have a life off of the field, but I am tired of athletes acting like victims because the school they are playing for is making money off of them. That is not to say the NCAA is without blemish. They need to completely reevaluate their rules and open up some avenues for kids to make money. That being said, athletes are not victims. They are provided a top notch education, free food, free rent, free clothes, free publicity, and the opportunity to showcase their skills in front of millions of people every week unlocking a future of endorsement deals, and multi million dollar deals that will set them up financially for the rest of their lives. As for those who don’t get the endorsements or professional contracts, they walk out with a top tier college degree, and no student loan debt. They all have a leg up on almost every one of their classmates.

    • September 1, 2017 at 11:39 am

      I appreciate your response and perspective Aaron.

      I don’t think publicity is nearly fair when the money disparity is as big as the grand canyon. In fact, it’s almost as far apart as it can be given the culture and economy of the US. Publicity doesn’t buy things and for the vast majority of athletes, publicity will not get them gainful employment at the next level. Advertisers should get paid. Everything about my sensibilities suggests this. If you are a child under a parent or similar authority I can get the “you need to learn how to not take things for granted through work”. But these are adults, and the NCAA does not have a parent like interest in mind. “So what that is college” is great for many people. I have even gone to bed hungry at times in Chicago and it was good for me. But for revenue-generating athletes, it just seems unfair. Not all skills and jobs are equal in capitalism. If the public demands prove your job is worth millions, we should not be denying adults that. Maybe “victim” is too strong, but this is injustice.

      In that vein, I”m sure Napier wasn’t starving but my point is that he is lying on a bed on a Saturday night after practicing that day, eating PB&J while fat cats are rolling in the dough in large part because of what he has done. He is the main attraction. The players are, figuratively speaking, a dog and pony show. I also believe your cousin in what he says but I believe not every situation is the same. Based on some accounts I’ve read the kids get a stipend but based on their diet for their sport it really isn’t enough. It kills me that they even have to be limited when the NCAA just signed a $10 Billion contract for March Madness.

  • September 1, 2017 at 10:11 am

    I could make arguments for both sides and let’s be honest the whole thing is convoluted! My inner capitalist foundation always goes like this: if some dumb booster with too much money for his own good wants to give a college student $100k for catching a football, more power to him. Let them legally get any money, car deals, food hookups, etc… anyone wants to give them.

    The real issue is the NCAA (with all its bumbling hypocrisy and ineptitude), college athletics as a whole, and things like title IX which make it nearly impossible to “pay” college athletes. While most Power 5 teams would have no problem paying the football team, the small schools probably could not. Legally, a case would be made that all athletic teams of a university would need to be paid the same- men and women. Also, the students would then be on the hook to pay for the perks they get now, along with taxes, fines, and the like… Them talking about giving students a meager stipend to solve the issue doesn’t solve the NCAA aspect either because no matter what they get, some agent, booster, or coach will get them more in addition to that(again, more power to them).

    Because the programs we are talking about who could actually make money at this and that bring in enough revenue for it to actually pay is minuscule (probably 50 cfb teams; a few less basketball teams), I would be good with major college teams dropping the NCAA altogether and creating a “pro/semi pro” league attached to the schools and dropping the student aspect of it altogether. While I think these guys need an education, most of them are at college just to play ball and get to the big leagues. If they want an education, it’s still available. This would create a greater divide among the college teams but so be it…you’d basically have the “pro-college teams” and another league of regular college teams.

    An argument could also be made that part of what makes college football so special is that they are “student” athletes and not millionaires playing a game… but I won’t get into that…

    I think I’m done with my random Friday morning stream of consciousness reply… good discussion topic Gowdy!

    • September 1, 2017 at 11:41 am

      Thanks, Paul. I appreciate your balanced comments. Title IX is a big deal but with the people in this country who know law and how to fight for it and get things changed, I think it could be changed. I have no faith that it will.

  • September 1, 2017 at 12:06 pm

    I hesitate to say this because I never have to this point in my life…I fully agree with Gowdy.

    • September 1, 2017 at 12:27 pm

      Agreement from Allen is like the $100 bill in REO currency!

  • September 1, 2017 at 1:48 pm

    I’d like to address the comments from Aaron Harris. I have found no counter-argument to Gowdy’s article that is compelling.

    –Free Publicity and Advertising for Future Employers
    The fact is the athletes are creating billions of dollars of value today and they should be compensated for that and not wait for a payday down the road.

    –Going to Bed Hungry
    I’m going to refute this one with a personal and recent story. It’s easy to turn this debate into a lecture on spoiled athletes and societal inclination to always have a “victim”. My personal story might be a demographic you can more easily support. My son just completed United States Marine Corps Boot Camp. In his letters do you know what one of his major negatives was: He was always hungry! Their food is included, but he also told us later he got tired of peanut butter sandwiches. Do you think Napier was lying? The United States Marine Recruits and College Students have meal plans that include three meals a day. But they still go to bed hungry. For Marine Recruits, that is part of the discipline they are learning in Boot Camp. For world class college athletes, it is unforgivable that billions are being made from their efforts yet they can’t even afford food. And like you and I, they aren’t allowed to even get jobs that might help them pay for a Papa John’s pizza at Midnight, or if you prefer, more healthy alternatives.

    What if NFL rookies were put on this sort of plan? NFL teams could provide dormitories for free food, free rent, and the opportunity to play for future contracts and endorsements. There is no logical explanation on why those “benefits” you are attributing to college athletes couldn’t also apply to rookies.

  • September 5, 2017 at 1:06 pm

    Years ago, I remember an interview with Corliss Williamson, standout basketball star at Arkansas. He commented that it was odd to see the school making money on jerseys with his name on them, but he couldn’t afford to buy them. Today high school standout LaMelo Ball has a signature shoe, and that means he will never play college basketball on scholarship. In the United States, people have the freedom to market themselves any way they want to. The dichotomy of the NCAA is beyond ridiculous.

    What I would really like to see is for some schools to recommit to the idea of a true student athlete and pull out of the NCAA. If twenty power-conference schools would have enough backbone to do that, it would be a new day in college sports. As it is, it’s a legalized form of human trafficking.


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