Dorm Report: Released study heats up pay-for-play discussion

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Updated: 4/23/2014 2:31 am

Philadelphia, PA ( - With so much talk in college football surrounding the Northwestern University players' attempt at unionizing, the focus of discussion has swayed heavily in the direction of annual salaries for football players.

This despite the Northwestern players saying the reason for unionizing has almost nothing to do with the pay-for-play notion.

The original focal point of the union talks centered around players receiving medical insurance for injuries pertaining to their football careers. If a player was to be injured in a football-related manner, the union would make sure he received some form of medical aid after he left school but still needed to seek treatment without the previously offered help from the university.

But the idea of paid compensation for performing a service to the university (which, depending on the school, makes a sizeable amount of profit yearly thanks to its football program) was always on the back burner, and has been discussed regardless of the fact it wasn't part of the original itinerary.

A recent study performed by the National College Players Association and Drexel University in Philadelphia found that, based on numbers from recent football seasons, the fair annual salary for a Division I college football player from 2011 to 2015 would be about $178,000.

Obviously, there's plenty of room for error, but assuming the number is somewhere in the ballpark of an accurate average, it's a hefty salary for a non-professional, granted the payment would essentially make college athletes professionals and university employees.

NBC's Mike Florio weighed in on the study, saying it would be nearly impossible to prove its accuracy.

"Without scrutinizing the methods and assumptions and hard data on which the report is based, it's impossible to assess its accuracy," he wrote for NBC Sports' Pro Football Talk Tuesday. "And since the NCPA strongly supports the efforts to pay college players, potential agendas and biases come into play."

The accuracy of the report seems as though it would be just the tip of the iceberg. Paying college football players eliminates the idea of being, well, a college student. Education could go out the window. Being recruited to a university to play and receive a solid pay day is exactly like handing a job to a standout high school athlete. The player would stay on a team (that would act like a temporary NFL minor league system), and then move on up when ready to make even more money.

Taking the profit the NCAA makes from college football into account, there's no doubt the players should be compensated in some way (a free education isn't enough?). According to a 2010 finding, the six wealthiest collegiate conferences all made more than $1 billion in profits. The teams within those conferences made an average of $15.8 million that year. The fans are there to watch the players play and the teams compete. It would make sense for the star attractions to get something in return.

The study determined not all players would make the same amount of yearly income, with the better performers pulling in a higher pay wage. For example, during his 2011-2012 season, former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel would have made $547,000.

Ellen Staurowsky is a professor of sports management at Drexel University and a co-author of the study. She said in an interview with CNBC the pay-for-play dynamic would turn the college football recruiting process on its head.

"The bidding war for athletes would likely be in the millions," she said. "However, I think it all depends on whether or not a players' association ends up representing the teams and players. The salaries could be effectively bargained to have some sort of minimum guaranteed salary for all."

Of course, the whole discussion about compensating football players for their play could be entirely moot, assuming the NCAA maintains its stance against paying college athletes and its silence on the unionization debate.

The major snag in the talks has to do with the varying levels of success in college football. Not every program plays in the SEC and gets such an attention and revenue buildup. How can players be compensated fairly when the disparity is so large? And why would a mid-level prospect want to play for a mid-major program, earn a few thousand bucks for four years, and then move on to some other profession for which he may be underprepared?

Then there's the other collegiate sports to think about. It's no secret college lacrosse or volleyball, for example, aren't as big in the money-making department as top-notch football and basketball. Would the players still be compensated, and would it be worth it for all those hours spent investing time and effort? That certainly doesn't seem like a fair balance.

The talks will be ongoing, with no real conclusion in sight. The study released by the NCPA and Drexel is simply a vehicle to further those discussions, whether the numbers are right or as far from it as possible.

Formulate your own opinion on the matter, but remember this: College athletes are not exclusively athletes, regardless of how much time they spend on the field, court or track. Perhaps it's time for an actual minor league system for the NFL for players coming straight out of high school. Who knows? At least for the time being, the NCAA will continue to ride its model of success until the very last minute.


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