BY Deidre Silva 07:00AM 05/06/2011

Silva: Pay collegians with endorsements, not TV money

Reducing college sports corruption and hypocrisy can’t be done with TV riches, but athletes marketing themselves is the American way.

Jake Locker, Washington football 2009

Jake Locker should have been able to run down some endorsement dollars while in college. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

I’m not in the habit of defending those who are immensely talented and belong to a seemingly privileged class. Normally, they can fend for themselves.

But I don’t like bullies. And I really don’t like it when they defend amateurism while making billions off the sweat, concussions, broken bones, herniated discs and torn ACLs of those amateurs.

The NCAA is nothing more than a fast-talking bully with a good legal team. Executives prey on the public’s abhorrence of ingrates to deflect any discussion regarding compensation for student-athletes on scholarships.

Such as: those greedy student-athletes. They get full scholarships, room and board  to play a game they love and then talk about deserving more? How vulgar.

I might agree with the NCAA policy to not pay its athletes except that the unrelenting drive to commercialize college athletes is far more repulsive than anything a boorish college kid could dream up.

This week the Pac-10 Conference signed an industry-record media rights contract  — 12 years, $2.8 billion — with ESPN and Fox starting in 2012-13 that will eventually triple its current TV revenues to televise football and men’s basketball and to own the rights to the women’s basketball championship. Also announced was the creation of the Pac-12 Network, which will televise some revenue-sport games but mostly non-revenue sports.

The NCAA already has a deal to receive $10.8 billion through 2024 for the rights to televise March Madness. That’s more than $250 million per tournament weekend. When the deal was done in April 2010, interim NCAA President Jim Isch said that the contract offered security in a time of great economic travail on campuses nationwide.

“We put our money where our mission is: Supporting student-athletes so they
can be successful in the classroom and in life,” he said.

Sniff. Sniff.  See?  It’s for the children.

Unsavory as all this seems, I’m not saying the NCAA or individual conferences give up a dime of the revenue earned from pimping college sports. I am saying, however, that it is time to let the students in on the action.  The best way to do this is to allow student-athletes to accept endorsement money.

Surely, the floodgates will open. Star athletes might get endorsement deals worth millions. Most will receive little or nothing. But it’s far more honest.

Permitting endorsements is not perfect or easy, but it allows for market-based
compensation that TV revenue-sharing cannot address. The former option gives
the athlete the opportunity to get his or her value through work, ingenuity or the mysterious “marketability” gene, which is a coupling of good looks, talent and charisma.

The more popular idea of distributing TV revenues to players presumes it is possible to determine what percentage of the pie each student deserves. Someone, either at the NCAA or at each college, will have to decide exactly how much less money the third-string quarterback with 12 passing yards gets than his all-conference running back teammate.

I’m not up on the latest developments in legal theory, but I think there is a lawyer out there who will have a field day wrangling with that setup.

Smart schools would skip the cruel math and distribute the revenue pool evenly among all student-athletes. In fact, in order not to run afoul of Title IX’s rules about equal benefits and, honestly, common decency, there is no other option.

So the starting quarterback and lottery-pick power forward get the same amount of money as the sinewy wrestler and the golfer with the wicked short game.

Endorsements, however, offer compensation with the bonus of dispelling the hypocrisy and distasteful black market that already surrounds college athletics. Endorsements encourage the marketplace to get in on the fun.

The guard on the No. 1 women’s basketball team gets an offer for $100,000
to promote a line of shoes? Score. A Rotary Club wants to endorse a pitcher? A gymnastics program wants to sponsor a gymnast? The nationally-ranked swimmer wants to appear in ads for the local sporting goods store?  The endorsement deal is a simple business proposition that doesn’t interfere with the contract between conferences and their broadcast partners.

If the disparity in income among team members undercuts team chemistry,
coaching staffs and the athletes will have to learn to cope. No system that attempts fairness will be perfect. It is no secret that certain players are more marketable. Call it the “Anna Kournikova” effect. Get over it.

Endorsements might reduce the financial urgency that some athletes have to jump to the pros.  The NBA and NFL would get more mature players.  Perhaps the specter of losing endorsement contracts would keep wayward collegians out of trouble.  Win. Win. Win. Win.

Some glamor schools can use endorsement potential as a recruiting tool: Come to USC! We’ve got a great brand. But even mid-major conferences will have a new marketing tactic:

Stay local!  We can get you something from Bubba’s Big and Tall.

Wealthy alums can direct their companies to give endorsement to entire teams, not just stars, just as sponsors do in every other sport here and around the world. Nike strongman Phil Knight and the University of Oregon are practically there already.

Never will there be increased athlete stipends served from a media-generated pot of gold.  Too many obstacles. But if you care about getting student-athletes the money they deserve, as opposed to what their colleges earn through media contracts, endorsement money is a feasible option.

Can it go haywire?  Yes.  The reform will require a major rewire.

But reducing hypocrisy, outdated amateurism and the massive circumvention of rules already decades old and getting worse, is worth it.


  • Matt relocated

    Your suggestion has merit. It also would be stronger if it more fairly identified the benefits student athletes already enjoy. This, in mainstream sports media, often gets soft-petaled. Ugly as the NCAA may be in its commercialism — television revenue is admittedly sick, and NCAA piety has its unsightly side, no question — it is fatuous to claim that a full-ride college scholarship with room and board is poor pay. If you face paying for a child’s education, you know otherwise: it can be hundreds of thousands of dollars. For an undergrad! A student-athlete concerned with value can go to an expensive university on such a scholarship and earn a tremendous amount of money in benefits, as can a stellar academe. As a form of pay, a college education is hardly to be sniffed at. If universities use athletic money to fund non-athletic activities, this suits me fine. If an athlete emerges with a promising degree and no debt, it is impressive compensation. If the athlete can turn the paid internship into an athletic career, it is even greater compensation. Endorsements may make sense; they are available to non-athletes, as well, of course. But let’s frame the issue fairly. It’s an interesting problem, and a worthy debate, but it is ill served
    by diminishing the value of the recompense scholarship athletes already
    receive. That compensation is no small matter.

    • Soggyblogger

      College athletes are working long hours in their chosen sport and “earn” those scholarships. If they spent the same amount of time working at McDonalds, they would probably make as much or more than they “make” in the form of a scholarship. Granted, I would have preferred playing baseball to working at McDonalds, but heck, life sucks sometimes.

      This idea has merit, but would bring up its own set of problems – some of which would be so heinous as to make the “good old days” look mighty good to most of us. In this country with too many lawyers and not enough legal issues, one more issue to litigate might not be a bad idea, so perhaps a class action lawsuit to address the issue of whether college’s are infringing on athletes’ civil rights by DENYING THEM THE RIGHT TO PURSUE ENDORSEMENTS ON THEIR OWN.

      This way we can let the courts decide on this issue like they do most important issues nowadays. And reduce the unemployment problem amongst the legal profession. Is this an example of thinking IN the box?

  • Travelinlight74

    Disagree entirely. As soon as you open the flood gates to paying college athletes–whether endorsements or outright cash–fairness goes out the window. Why should a gymnast/golfer/any sport whose percentage of future revenue possibilities that are probably below the teen level not get more than a baseball/basketball/football/sports whose percentage of future revenue possibilities that are probably over the 50% level? Why would you not “penalize” the money-grubbing schools rather than giving more to athletes that are so spoiled with free rides to school, free room and board, and free chances at a quality education (which is why I say spoiled because such a low percentage of them actually take advantage of the BEST part of that deal…the education)? I bring up two points here “penalizing” schools and what athletes are already being paid. “Penalize” the schools in the fact that the billions of dollars floating around will no longer go to the handful that some sportswriter or coach decides should go farther than the regular season…here is where you “spread the wealth” to all schools to even the playing field. Billions of dollars to all college sports programs is still a lot of money for field/stadium/arena maintenance, scouting programs and a scholarship programs…especially if schools will start running themselves like actually businesses and not simply profiteering (i.e. invest, don’t foolishly spend to recruit with first class because coach gets there at the same time, etc). Now of course schools could complain about this, but which one will complain the loudest when they are all subject to the same level playing field…only the ones that have had it better than they deserve for far too long–Pac10, Big10, SEC just to name a few that constantly litter the Top 25 lists every year when less than half their conferences can see .500 and most are hoping for batting average records. The other point I bring up is how college athletes are already spoiled with the free ride. At smaller schools, when you total up the free room, food, gym, and education, you might only be talking about $20-30K, but at larger schools you’re more than likely in excess of $70K. Now, I know the NW lifestyle (and west coast in general) is pretty expensive, but I seriously doubt that you or any of your readers was pulling down $20K at age 18 with a chance at also pulling in a quality education that could generate so much more revenue….much less $70K. Tell me why I should want to see them anymore spoiled than they already are? Do we want more hold outs during the off seasons, do we want to see baseball strikes happen every 4-6 years instead of 8-10, do you really enjoy seeing teams like the Yankees and Heat paying through the nose to buy teams in hopes that it will take them to the promised land? If your answer to any of those questions is yes, then by all means start paying college athletes rather than “penalizing” the schools themselves with socialized disbursements.

  • Bboberson1

    I’m with you all the way…NCAA is nothing more than 1930s gangsters selling protection to the Universities so they can hang on to the kids without having leave to other schools, meanwhile they’re squeezing them like old rags for every drop of money they can get. Did you see Emmert’s new pay?

    It would be super interesting to take a peak at the NCAA’s detailed revenue sources.

  • masonfan

    Also, what does your plan do for the student athletes who are on scholarship for Olympic sports? Does the pie get smaller (it’s all advertising money, right?). So instead of NCAA execs getting six or seven figures in salary, a kid who is not even 21 is going to get the money. I’m pretty sure those guys aren’t going to turn around and sponsor a crew team.

  • Great comments, everyone. The discussion will continue so keep the arguments percolating…

  • Anonymous

    The timeline for basketball players testing the NBA draft has just been squeezed again to the benefit of the NCAA programs (no surprise). They tryout on Sunday morning and have to decide to withdraw or return to school in a twelve hour window. Hypocrisy abounds.