Column: Besides the players, does anyone care if college athletes get paid?

Don’t just show them the money; let them hold on to some

By Hunter Ford

Would the end product of college athletics (especially football) be any better, or any worse, if athletes got paid? Would anybody really care?

Johnny Manziel on cover of Time

Last week, Time Magazine put Johnny Manziel on its cover as the poster boy for why college athletes should get paid. The arguments for college athletes getting paid is a fairly easy one, at least for football and men’s basketball. These two sports rake in bazillions of dollars for universities. And they make a lot of money for TV networks, product licensing and other commercial ventures that capitalize on the popularity of those sports. It’s only fair that the labor (the players) should be able to pull a few apples of those money trees. After all, there would be no product to sell if not for them.

The argument against paying athletes is that is too complicated and expensive to pay all athletes in a fair manner. How much does Johnny Manziel earn, in this scenario? Not counting autographs. What about the long snapper? What about the power forward on the women’s basketball team? If you pay some athletes don’t you have to pay them all? Besides, scholarship athletes already receive a valuable commodity.

Universities wouldn’t have to worry about this issue if the NCAA would reform its rules to allow athletes, in any sport, to take advantage of opportunities to make money that are already there. The schools wouldn’t have to fork out a red cent.

If somebody wants to pay for an autograph, fine. Allow players to sell them if there is a buyer, or buyers. Allow athletes to accept discounts on services, or to sell items they are given.

Do you remember the Ohio State “Tattoo Gate” scandal? Several Buckeyes players got busted for receiving free, or discounted tattoos. They also were pegged for selling jerseys, shoes, awards and other memorabilia. Unlike Johnny Football, who comes from a well-off family, these players were trying to help out their cash-strapped folks down home. They eventually received five game suspensions and had to “repay” money to charity.

The mother of one of those players said this to an Ohio newspaper:

“They didn’t do anything that any other person wouldn’t have done. They looked around to see what they could do to help [their families]. There’s no crime here. None. They’re not involved with agents. They didn’t steal anything. They didn’t borrow anything from anybody. It was theirs. Nobody told them it ‘almost belongs to you.’ It belonged to them.”

That’s a crystal clear argument.

Let college athletes use what’s rightfully theirs to do whatever they need to do to get ahead or to help their families. They are all a compound fracture away from never playing again. They should be able to strike while their irons are hot.

Somebody besides the athletes cares whether they get paid. It’s the people who are making money hand over tight fist. They don’t want even a little loose change to hit the floor. Would it matter to the fans if players got to share in the riches?

Would the Alabama-Texas A&M game be more compelling if Johnny Football had never signed an autograph? Really, it makes it that much more compelling. I’m glad the NCAA didn’t go “Buckeye” on him and suspend him for five games. I’ve been looking forward to this rematch for a long time. Here’s hoping the Tide tattoos his ass to the Kyle Field turf a dozen times or more Saturday afternoon.