Update: The idea is so obvious, I’m not the only one who write about it today either. Dan Shanoff’s column on USA Today presents a similar idea.
That’s what the Athletic Directors are saying.
Fair enough. I actually, think they are probably right. As unfair as most of us think it is that big time football and basketball players that make a ton of money for universities don’t get any themselves, the fact is that almost all athletic departments lose money. All that money football brings in pays for all those other sports that the college fields teams in, many of which help schools meet their Title IX requirements. Paying players would be done with money from somewhere, quite possibly taking away opportunities for other student athletes to be on scholarship.
However, this situation leaves a door wide open for someone to truly develop a minor league. If you are between 18-21, want to play football, hope to make it in the NFL, and want to get paid for taking the physical risks that you do every time you step on the field, why go to college? Right now, the only reason is because there are no other alternatives. The NFL has said you aren’t eligible until 3 years after HS. What if there was another attractive alternative, where you could play with and against other players with similar hopes, and be prepared for life in the NFL once you become eligible?
The only real question, in my mind, is who is going to be the first person to form an alternative football league and do it properly. Right now, most of the other football leagues out there are trying to position themselves as an alternative to the NFL. Arena football is fun, but it’s not NFL football. The XFL was silly fun, but tried too hard to compete against the NFL when it should have been trying to compete with the NCAA.
Startups generally need to find a market inefficiency, exploit it, and create their niche. The NFL is not where the inefficiency is. It’s a multi-billion dollar business, wildly popular and not going anywhere. The inefficiency exists at the NCAA level. That’s where kids out of high school have only one path to the NFL, one in which they don’t get paid, are expected to act like just another student, only with more rules, and make a lot of money for other people.
Why isn’t there another choice? Why isn’t there something that is not affiliated with the NCAA that can offer to pay these kids, help them with continuing their education, and have them work with NFL level coaches preparing them for the next level? Why do we allow the NCAA to continue on with the charade of amateur athletics while making a ton of money off of people who are, in many cases, students in name only?
The NCAA can still operate as normal. It’ll just remove many of the kids who really have no reason to be there to begin with. Schools with have to recruit not only against each other, but with another league that offers kids alternatives. (And if the education benefit is as much of a payment that the NCAA says it is, let it compete in the free marketplace, this is America, this is what we do!) There will still be plenty of kids who take advantage of the opportunity to get an education because they are good athletes. Fans with ties to schools will still root for them, they root for the jersey more than any particular players really. There just won’t be as much money involved, because they are having to compete. And with less money involved, we might have a chance to really see some NCAA reform. They can go back to being schools first, athletic departments second.
Meanwhile, the NFL minor league can attract kids who want to prepare for the NFL draft, get paid a little spending money on top of some educational benefit, and play against top level competition instead of rolling over Florida A&M or Savannah State. It’s not trying to compete with the NFL, in fact, we could even have an age limit where once you reach 22-23, you’re done because the goal of the league is to get you ready for the draft, that is all. Basically, it would replace the NCAA option, untying playing football before the NFL from the university model, where it has never really made sense.
The only question is, who is going to try this? And whether they’ll pay me for the idea. 😉