BY Todd Dybas 01:17PM 05/02/2011

Dybas: Pay college players? Nice idea, hard to do

Redirect profits into the right place, not the players’ pockets.

Washington running back Chris Polk banged his way to back-to-back 1,000-yard season. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Under a canopy just outside Husky Stadium during spring practices is a mobile version of the Washington gift shop.

Footballs with a single white panel for autographs are available. Other knicknacks, jackets and hats are shielded by the tent. In the back John Timu’s jersey hangs.

It’s impressive, considering true freshman Timu has never played a down and just enrolled in school early. The wares peddlers are selling his No. 10 jersey for $65.

His name is not on the back of the jersey because it’s not his jersey in the merchandise world per se, just a generic No. 10 Huskies jersey.

The explanation is that the school is wringing every last penny out of the Jake Locker Revenue Machine.

No program leaned more on one player the past four seasons for marketing  football than Washington did on Locker. Locally and nationally, the university displayed the down-home quarterback on buses, merchandise and downtown store fronts.

Even up to the draft, the program still benefits from Locker’s exposure.

Not so for Locker. At least not directly into his pocket the way his exposure brought television, merchandise and ticket revenue into the university’s coffers. There lies the rub.

Do the players deserve a chunk? Well, it’s complicated.

The current system benefits each side for participation in athletics.

In 2009-10, the rebound season for Washington football, the team brought in $33.9 million in revenue. Costs were $19.2 million, for a profit of $14.7 million.

Men’s basketball, which advanced to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament the same year, generated $11.5 million and cost $5.4 million to operate for a $6.1 million profit.

All other sports are a financial drain. They brought $18.6 million and cost $37 million to operate.

Add it together and the self-sustaining athletic department made $2.4 million. Washington says the athletic department profit “is used for capital improvements to athletic facilities.”

That’s pennies compared to annual football powers Texas and Ohio State. The Longhorns football revenue was $93,942,815 for 2009-10, according to Forbes. They even launched their own electrical company, Texas Longhorns Energy, which encourages Longhorns fans to switch, since the profit benefits the athletic department. Overall, Texas athletics made $29,603,034.

The Washington revenue numbers should rise as the football program does. The final numbers for 2010 were not set yet because contributions continue to be counted well after the season is over. The school should have final numbers in the summer.

Whatever the profit, should players receive some? Or do they already get enough?

During 2010-11, 291 athletic scholarships were supplied at Washington, 95 of which were for in-state athletes. A full scholarship for an in-state student-athlete costs $19,285. For out of state, $35,913. That includes tuition and fees, room and board and books.

It also includes a $1,109 monthly stipend check provided to off-campus dwellers during the nine months of the regular academic year intended for room and board (that amount is included in the above totals). Thing is, many student-athletes use it to buy whatever. One Washington athlete recently talked about buying a big-screen television with the stipend since the money was not needed otherwise.

To students with loans, that sure sounds like payment. It also does to Washington’s head coach.

“In my opinion, they already are,” Steve Sarkisian said of players being paid. “They’re getting a free education. Some get paid more than others depending on what the school costs that they go to, but in my opinion they are.”

That’s where the debate begins. It’s also where it ends for some.

Since players fall under the moniker of student-athlete, an over-used and rightly oft-ridiculed label, they are not employees. In order to pay them based on revenue, a dramatic shift would have to occur.

It would be too much, too complicated, too dangerous.

The current system is layered with ills. From abuse by Fiesta Bowl officials to the shopping of players, backdoors will always be open when such a staggering level of money is at stake.

Paying the players a large chunk would result in a fresh set of problems, resolving little beyond the inequity of pay between the “labor force” and the overseers.

After all, the top having a lot and the masses having little is now the American way.

The discussion around player payment — by schools — has risen because revenues have lurched to massive sums the last 10 years. Ohio State and Texas have blown by $100 million in annual revenue from sports.

In tow are the salaries of athletics directors and coaches. Sarkisian received a new contract during the offseason after his second year with the university.  He reportedly will receive a guaranteed $2.25 million in 2011 with numerous opportunities to tack on bonus cash and other perks, making him the state’s highest-paid public official, pending the contract of new UW president Michael Young.

Sarkisian received a raise from his previous job as a USC assistant when he came to Washington as head coach. Turning 0-12 into 5-7, then 7-6, provided him with another raise.

During the same time period, Washington running back Chris Polk has received no such increase in his direct financial benefits. He was a redshirt during the merciless 0-12 season. He broke the school’s freshman rushing record in 2009 then bumped his yardage to 1,415 yards in 2010.

Despite his substantial contribution to the success of the team, he does not receive a bump. Though the university does. Polk’s success helps put behinds in Husky Stadium’s dilapidated seats. His No. 1 jersey will populate the tops of bodies in the stadium. He’s expected to carry the offense this season. His scholarship, renewed annually each season at the coach’s discretion, has remained the same.

Polk decided to come back for his redshirt junior year because he felt he had unfinished business. That’s good business for the school.

But it’s also another year for Polk who can work on catching passes out of the backfield, something he has not shown. Middle linebacker Cort Dennison raved this spring about Polk’s increased lower body strength. He’ll have the learning and experience that come with another year of college football plus another massive step toward a degree. All things of high value, though not direct cash at the moment.

Polk, always honest when he speaks, thinks players should be paid. Sort of.

“I feel like they should be but that would be a distraction from college,” Polk said. “That’s why I think … college football, they play harder than the NFL, because they’re trying to get there; NFL, they’re trying to maintain it. I don’t know which way to go on that one.”

He is aware of the money machine that college football has become.

“When you really look at it behind the scenes, the university, they make millions off us,” Polk said. “They can sell our jerseys, we get nothing from it. Ticket sales. Games on TV. But we get a stipend of ($1,109) a month.

“When it comes down to it, we’re still paying for things out of our own pocket. It would be nice (to be paid). That’s the way it goes. It’s a gift and a curse in a sense.”

That all said, since he is in his fourth year on campus, Polk has a full understanding of college and lack of budgetary management that accompanies it. Picture dozens of 19- and 20-year-olds on campus with $50,000 in their pockets.

Add in how to decide who gets what. Should Polk receive $50,000 and a scout team member $1,000? What about an offensive lineman who starts and one who plays with the twos? What do they get? Is it dependent on performance or participation? Better stats, better athletic budget revenue, more individual cash? Or is it a flat payment based on year in the program?

Paying players would not resolve the mess. It would just shift it. How the money was doled out would become the issue, with internal questions of fairness still at the fore.

What if one player received significantly more than a comparable one?

“That would piss off teammates,” Polk said. “College, it’s more team oriented. If you see one of your teammates getting way more money than what you’re getting, there’s going to be a little sign of jealousy.

“Plus I think that really would distract from the whole point of college football. We’re still young. Trying to grow up. We wouldn’t know what to do with all that money. We would just blow it. The majority of us would just blow it.”

Greed is an eternally unsatisfied desire. If a player received $25,000 from a school, that would not stop a parent from shopping his services if the parent thought there was more to be had. It would never be enough.

The best adjustment — there is no remedy to this endless issue — is a moderate stipend increase to the players. A summer bonus perhaps, giving them enough money to not have to work and receive an actual break.

Then shift the department’s annual operating surplus back into the main mission of each school. Apply the money where it’s needed most. Stop simply making coaches and administrators rich.

It’s a Utopian ideal that can be passed off as naive by those who simply want to give all the money back to the players. So often that statement does not come with a plan, rather is accompanied by carping generalizations.

One key: The NCAA cannot continue to profit from a player’s likeness when they leave school. That’s it. Once eligibility is gone, so is the NCAA’s and school’s control of the player’s likeness. Let’s hope Ed O’Bannon wins his lawsuit.

In the interim, there is one other reason that pervades all of this: the players choose to play.

“It’s love of the game,” Dennison said. “That’s what makes college football so special and that’s what separates us from the pros. They’re getting paid and we’re just doing it out of pride and fun and tradition of the university.

“We get the scholarships. I don’t worry about (getting paid); I don’t think anybody on our team worries about it. We just worry about going out there and having fun.”

It can be that simple.


  • Sean Wirtz

    They should play for tattoos. Money complicates things. How much should they get paid, do they need an agent to negotiate scholarships, cars, money and other perks (tattoos.)

  • huskies2010

    Solution: don’t have the school pay players directly, but allow them to do paid endorsements and community appearances.

  • DoctorChimRichalds

    Solution: don’t have the school pay players directly, but allow them to do paid endorsements and community appearances.

  • Bayviewherb

    I disagree to a point. Many great atheletes come out of disadvantaged homes. Before pc we would have said the ghetto. Their parents cannot suppliment their income. They can’t even take a cheerleader out to lunch. Young bucks make great players, but they need at least some pocket money. Not salaries as such, just a few hundred per month for the soul.

  • Bayviewherb

    I disagree to a point. Many great atheletes come out of disadvantaged homes. Before pc we would have said the ghetto. Their parents cannot suppliment their income. They can’t even take a cheerleader out to lunch. Young bucks make great players, but they need at least some pocket money. Not salaries as such, just a few hundred per month for the soul.