Disclaimer: this fanpost pertains to the subject of college athletics. The more degenerate among us looking for other amateur, ahem, hobbies look elsewhere.
With all the offseason happenings and controversy surrounding agent parties, jersey sales, and subsequent suspensions, the idea of paying star athletes for their services has become something of a topic du jour. We have heard tales about players too poor to participate in normal college life being tempted to take money from agents. We have heard about the dirty sports agents preying on these impressionable young men. We have heard that college athletes are supposed to be student athletes, not the other way around, and we've heard about the hypocrisy of the NCAA making millions off of them. We've even heard words like "plantation mentality" and "slavery" thrown around, portraying the colleges as slave owners and, well, you know the rest.
For me, this is not an easy issue. On the one hand I sympathize with the plight of the star player. He is expected to give maximum effort to the cause of winning games for his school, putting his professional career on the line while receiving no real monetary compensation. Fact is, the college education he receives won't be as valuable to a professional athlete as it is to others. To make matters worse, he walks in the campus bookstore and sees jerseys hanging on the rack with, coincidentally of course, the number he happens to wear in the games. He sees a commercial on ESPN featuring him in an upcoming game to increase viewership. The schools make absurd amounts of money off these kids and their likenesses.
On the other hand, of course, you have the basic concept of amateurism. College athletics, for all the money that is made by some schools in some sports, are still almost entirely comprised of student-first athletes. Take the biggest money maker of all, Division I FBS football. If every FBS school handed out every scholarship they have available to them (and every player stayed all four years), there would be around 2,500-3,000 football players eligible to enter the NFL draft after each season. The NFL actually drafts around 220 players per year. Not hard to figure out that over ninety percent of the players are playing the game because they love it and to pay for the education necessary to succeed in a field other than football. This, of course, doesn't include walk-ons or kids who participate in non revenue sports. Would it make sense to change the concept of amateur college athletics to suit the elite few who have the chance at a career in professional sports?
For my money, I think these kids have to remain amateurs. What this means is anybody's guess. Would I have a problem with a kid signing an endorsement deal while still in college? I don't think so, but what then would stop agents from funneling players to their preferred programs? Should the players get paid a share of the profits? Maybe, but how do you distinguish who gets what? Paying the last player on the bench the same amount as the star QB doesn't make sense. Do you let some schools pay more than other schools based on the money they generate? What if some schools can't afford to pay? Talk about creating competitive imbalance with regard to recruiting. I can't imagine an acceptable means for colleges to pay athletes.
The bottom line is that college athletics by definition cannot be made up of professional athletes. There are endless examples of athletes who achieved greatness at the college level but just didn't quite have the skills the pros were looking for (Jay Barker anyone?) Those types of players cause us to root harder. Those players are the reason college sports must have some level of purity. Those players are the reason I watch.