Making Things Right

How to get college athletes what they deserve

Getty Images

Over the past couple of weeks I've been in a couple of twitter battles with advocates of paying college football players. It's a noble pursuit. "The man" is lining his pockets with billions of dollars off the sweat of "slave" labor.

In a perfect world the players who fill the stadiums would get paid. They're the ones who people come to see, not coaches or athletic directors. Yet they're the ones who are cashing big checks while the players get paid in tuition, room, board, books and stipends. Doesn't seem equitable.

And somehow it's become racial. But this is 2019. Everything is racial.

Sports Illustrated writer Robert Klemko tweeted this out last week:

"If the most adversely affected class was wealthy white kids and not poor black kids, athletes in NCAA revenue sports would have been compensated fairly for a long time."

Hmmm.

How did we get here? Players have been filling stadiums for about a century now.

In 1937 two Chicago high school teams (St. Leo and Austin) played a game in front of 120,000 people in Soldier Field.

In the 50's 70,000 would regularly fill Rice Stadium.

The Cotton Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Rose Bowl, Peach Bowl were all filled to the brim long before integration.

The point being, football players have been making "the man" money for a while now. Granted, the money is better than ever. TV deals are through the roof. It's a billion dollar business now but all that ticket money over all those years before integration went somewhere and it wasn't in the players' pockets. It's been this way since the beginning. This is not a racial thing. It's an economics thing.

Don't get me wrong. There's money out there. The stories about bowl directors who make hundreds of thousands, even millions off one game every year are sickening.

Coaches are making upwards of $10 million per year now. Athletic directors are raking it in as well.

Meanwhile the worker bees continue to toil for what is a minute percentage of the pie. A stipend for living expenses was added to the mix a few years ago and it's helped some but the inequity that is big time college athletics remains. Stipends and tuition, room and board and books don't come close to an equitable compensation at the highest level. The big time programs bring in millions.

The problem is that the big time programs are the exception not the rule. Not everyone is Texas or Alabama. Very few programs actually make money when all is said and done. Ask most athletic directors about paying players and the first response will most likely be "Where is that money coming from?"

I asked UH Athletic Director Chris Pezman what would happen if he needed to pay players. "We couldn't do it. We have two revenue generating sports but you can't just pay them. Title IX won't allow it. You'd have to pay everyone. We have 458 athletes in 17 sports. We'd be bankrupt."

But there is a way to get players what they deserve. Let the market dictate it. Let athletes who are in demand make money from their likeness, their autograph, their commercial appeal. Sure it would be dominated by football and basketball players but in Connecticut the women's basketball team would be the most sought after. In Iowa it might be a wrestler, at UCLA a gymnast, at Cal a sprinter.

There would have to be checks and balances. Overzealous boosters would pay the moon and the sun to get recruits to come to their school but it's not like that's not happening now. If you have to put a limit on what each sponsor can pay and a compliance department in each university run by the NCAA and not the school itself you might be able to keep the cheating at a minimum as opposed to what's going on now.

Players look up into the stands of 100,000 seat stadiums with thousands of fans wearing their jerseys and feel like there's an incredible inequity and rightfully so. It doesn't have to be that way. Let the marketplace decide who deserves to be paid. I'm not sure that the NCAA has heard but we live in a free market society. They need to start acting like it.


Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

ESPN Houston 97.5 FM
Let him cook! Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Houston Rockets are in the midst of a rebuild. Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr are studs. KPJ just signed a four-year extension with the team. Other guys like Jabari Smith Jr, Kenyon Martin Jr, Alperen Sengun, Josh Christopher, Tari Eason, and Jae'Sean Tate are really good pieces to surround Green and KPJ with. The only issue with this group: they're REALLY young! Tate is the elder statesman at 27 of the young nucleus. Most are barely old enough to buy a drink. Some still aren't old enough! They're a bunch of green bananas waiting to turn yellow to slightly brown and be ripe enough for consumption.

We need to give it time. Just like bananas, they take time to ripen. Coach Stephen Silas is known for developing young players. His most prized student is the star player for that team in South Oklahoma up 45. Number 77 for that team credited Silas with helping him realize his All-Pro potential while Silas was a part of the coaching staff there. To a man, all his former players credit him with being a positive influence on their careers. So why are fans in a rush to get rid of him?

When you look at the Rockets' record over the last few years, it's gross. Sure, they've been a lottery team the last couple of seasons, but that was by design. As part of the Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook trades, they gave away pick swap rights. Had they not been that bad, they wouldn't have been able to draft Green or Smith Jr. Those two guys are building blocks for the future, along with KPJ. Giving those picks away would've put this team further down the totem pole of developing themselves into a contender. Losing pays off when you can hit on high lottery picks.

If you give a chef dirt, bread, ham, molded cheese, and spoiled mayo, can you expect anything else but a nasty ham sandwich? How about if the chef was given a steak that is almost rotten, potatoes with root growth, and spoiled butter? Could you expect a better meal than the sandwich? Yes! However, that meal may still cause a stomachache. Now, give said chef a full complement of gourmet groceries and guess what you'll get?

This is why I say let Silas cook. He's the perfect coach for this group of kids. He can teach them all the fundamentals of the game at this level and help them grow into their full potential. If there's a change to be made on the sidelines, move Silas into a front office role, but DO NOT get rid of him! Guys like him are too valuable. Why do you think Mark Cuban hated losing him, but knew he couldn't retain him because he had a head coach already? Cuban knew what he had in Silas and what Silas did for Luka Doncic. He can do something similar for the Rockets if given the time to work his magic.

Should Tilman Fertita find the need to move on, I'd look for a more experienced coach who can guide them from bottom of the playoff ladder into top four in the West and real contenders. For now, Silas is the head chef. Continue giving him the groceries he needs, and he'll continue giving these kids the lessons they need to develop. Changing the coach now could stunt their growth. Let him cook!

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome