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Bevin is Right: Pay the Players

In this polarized and paralyzed body politic, it’s all too rare to witness opposite tribes finding common cause in controversial policy battles.  But when Kentucky GOP standard bearer Governor Matt Bevin called earlier this week for the compensation of college athletes, your favorite liberal recovering politician stood up to cheer.

In case you missed it, this past Tuesday, Bevin told a Paducah radio station that the sham paradigm of amateur athletics is due for an overhaul:

I think we should pay college athletes. I really do. This idea that they’re not professionals is nonsense…The coaches are making millions of dollars a year. Shoe contracts are dictating what happens on our college campuses. Athletics directors and others associated with it that are making exorbitant fees. I don’t begrudge people making a high living. Good for them, and I mean that sincerely. But if that comes at the expense of those that are delivering the athletic prowess on the field, then maybe we should rethink the fact that this is really like the minor leagues for the professional sports associations, and they should be compensated and treated accordingly.

Bravo, Bevin!

When pressed on the details, the Governor’s response was enigmatic:  “I think we should maybe defer that comp – fair enough, they can defer it — but they and their families should be able to benefit from the sacrifices they make.”  But to be fair, the Governor has a plate full of many other contentious issues to allow for too deep a dive into the nuances of an equitable and just compensation system.

So in the spirit of bipartisan comity, let this failed gubernatorial aspirant re-submit and revise for the Governor my own five-point plan for a pay-for-play college athletic system:

  1. Pay the players a living wage.  It would be too abrupt a shock on the system to throw out the amateur model and replace it with a purely free market professional system.  But there’s no excuse for denying the disproportionately economically-disadvantaged athletic employee base all of the fruits of their labor. Surrounded mostly by students of higher means, lower-income athletes would naturally be tempted by gift offers from boosters and shoe company shysters. Accordingly, an hourly living wage – the same for each player on scholarship; adjusted slightly among universities by local standards of living – would provide athletes with walking around money for the occasional restaurant jaunt or shopping spree, as well as the exceptional luxury of flying their parents in for special games. And it won’t break the bank of our higher education system.
  2. It’s gotta be the shoes. Of course, as colleges in Kentucky and across the country face budgetary belt-tightening, supplemental funding sources would be welcome.  And in identifying new sources of revenue, where better to begin than with the folks that have created the latest credibility gap for college sports — the shoe companies?  Let’s re-allocate the already existing moneys now pocketed by wealthy coaches and shady middlemen to the individuals that need and deserve it the most, and stop forcing players to serve as unpaid jumping billboards for their product.   A fair percentage of any and all shoe endorsement deals could help underwrite an athlete compensation pool, which could potentially sweep in athletes beyond just the two major revenue-generating sports.
  3. Don’t forget about the girls. Gender equity in college athletics is one of the great successes of the modern civil rights era. And even though on only rare occasions will a women’s team generate meaningful revenue, the spirit, if not the letter, of the Title IX laws may require colleges to pay women cagers the same as the boys. Since big-time college football is for the boys only, NCAA policymakers should choose to compensate at least one other women’s sport to provide gender balance.
  4. Say yes to agents.  As any college hoops fan knows intimately, the demarcation line for college eligibility has often been the signature page of a sports agent contract. Coach John Calipari has a better, albeit controversial idea:  Let college players sign with agents now, without penalty.  This seems counterintuitive, but as Andy Staples persuasively elaborates here, instead of the current black market system where athletes develop subterranean relationships with questionable characters, the most promising players could legally and publicly sign up with agents who are regulated and monitored by the NCAA.  Conceivably, through a carefully designed registration system, players could take out significant loans from their agents, as long as it was executed in a fair and transparent manner.  Money is already pouring in the system; legalizing and regulating agents could provide that funds go to those that truly earn them.
  5. It’s the education, stupid.   Finally, and most importantly, remember that the primary mission of the university is to educate and prepare its student body for the postgraduate job market.  The core flaw of today’s NCAA is the ludicrous and pernicious assumption that every “scholar-athlete” has the preparation, the aptitude – or even the need – to earn a four-year, liberal arts bachelor’s degree. For decades, outside of sport, policymakers (including Governor Bevin!) have been encouraging youth from lower income environments and underachieving high schools to enroll in two-year vocational and technical colleges, where they can be empowered with the skills they need for the modern job market. That’s why it is incumbent on the NCAA and its member schools to direct athletes, when appropriate, to focus their academic attention on job skills and technical programs that interest them, prepare them for postgraduate life, and enable them to earn associates degrees at the university, or through an affiliated community college or vo-tech program. Accordingly, the NBA and its players’ union should effectuate a new “two and done” system, which will enable each player to earn sufficient credit to graduate with at least an associates’ degree.  And those that stay on past their two-year degrees can be enrolled in apprenticeship programs with local businesses, or compensated job training in the workplace.

Article written by Jonathan Miller

Jonathan Miller, The Recovering Politician (Twitter: @RecoveringPol), writes about the politics of sport and the sport of politics...and sometimes about bourbon. Jonathan has been elected twice as Kentucky's State Treasurer; practices as a crisis management attorney; authored three books on faith, public policy and crisis management; serves as a Contributor to The Daily Beast, played straight man on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart; reached the final table of the World Series of Poker; and with his summer camp sweetheart, raised two remarkable twenty-something daughters.

15 Comments for Bevin is Right: Pay the Players

  1. StuckinLville
    8:04 pm October 8, 2017 Permalink

    Disagree. No one paid me to go to school. Stipends and nothing else.

    • Mathlete
      10:00 pm October 8, 2017 Permalink

      Did you also contribute millions of dollars to the school’s coffers?

  2. Billy Mays Here
    8:19 pm October 8, 2017 Permalink

    I hope their pay will be considered tax-free income, otherwise you’ll have a bunch of kids with no ability to pay their taxes. But then, why is it fair they pay no taxes? Would walk-ons not get paid? Does an all-American get the same money as a four year practice squad player? No one is forcing them to play college sports. If it is unfair, they have the choice not to play. There are millions of college grads with massive debt that worked full-time during college who would love to have a debt-free degree. This idea that athletes should be paid is ludicrous. It is nothing more than virtue signaling by the obtuse looking for a cheap pop.

    • I disagree. Paying players is not without problems, and you raise some valid questions (as does #5 below). How about doing what Cal said and let them sell their autographs, etc? Like so many have said, schools make money selling guy’s jerseys. They should get part of that IMO.

  3. bharlan24
    8:20 pm October 8, 2017 Permalink

    Let high school players go straight to the NBA.

  4. KYcats11
    8:56 pm October 8, 2017 Permalink


  5. wesmorgan1
    9:20 pm October 8, 2017 Permalink

    “And it won’t break the bank of our higher education system.”

    Two points – the first across NCAA Division I, and the second across Kentucky’s D1 schools:

    1) In 2014-15, only 24 Division I programs reported positive net revenues. All of them were FBS schools, which means that even the other 105 “big-time football” schools lost money and had to be subsidized by their school, as did the other 218 Division I schools . No Division II or III schools have self-sufficient athletic programs. That’s after considering NCAA and conference distributions to member schools, too…

    (Source: NCAA – Google “ncaa division i revenue and expenses”…if I paste multiple links, my comment gets held “pending moderation”.)

    2) Last year, UK was the only state university whose athletic program “paid its own way.” The other six Division I Kentucky schools allocated a combined $70.8 MILLION from their general funds to their athletic departments, as follows:

    * UL $7.4 million
    * Murray St $11.2 million
    * Morehead St $11.4 million
    * NKU $11.6 million
    * EKU $12.8 million
    * WKU $16.4 million.

    (Source: USA TODAY – Google “ncaa finances”)

    Now you want to add some form of salary/stipend/payments, even as higher education budgets are being cut?

    I think we need to see a bit more than just an assertion that it won’t “break the bank.”

    • UKfanman01
      7:05 pm October 9, 2017 Permalink

      UofL was too busy getting shammed. That’s why they paid out. Juric and Pitino were swindling much more than that

  6. Hey, the comments are open! 🤣🤣🤣

    • Luether
      1:04 am October 10, 2017 Permalink

      Just more left wing victim nonsense…

  7. luke_emberton
    10:41 pm October 8, 2017 Permalink

    you idiots they do get paid they get a free education free tutoring and their meal plans are like 24k per year they get tons and tons of benefits that regular students don’t so don’t tell me “pay the players” when they already get tons of free incentives

  8. wesmorgan1
    11:32 pm October 8, 2017 Permalink

    “That’s why it is incumbent on the NCAA and its member schools to direct athletes, when appropriate, to focus their academic attention on job skills and technical programs that interest them, prepare them for postgraduate life, and enable them to earn associates degrees at the university, or through an affiliated community college or vo-tech program…”

    As far as I can see, UK offers no AA/AS/AAS degrees; those are only available at the various community colleges.

    So, the jersey says “University of Kentucky” but they’d actually attend BCTC?

    While we’re at it – are you going to change eligibility/admissions requirements? Right now, it looks like you can be admitted to BCTC with just a GED and a Wonderlic score.

    There’s too much potential for abuse in this idea.

    No thanks.

  9. Yev
    1:28 am October 9, 2017 Permalink

    This is a complicated topic, so lets start off the discussion with a few points.

    A common discussion point (and I agree with this) is that the players are already paid in the form of a scholarship, including all the other things that come along with this, lodging, food, etc.

    So lets restart this discussion by saying this. “College athletes are currently paid in the form of a scholarship, but do they deserve more. Deserve some amount of a wage so that when they are done with college, they leave with money in their bank account, similar to how schools and coaches make money off the players?

    To me, I say I dont think that it is possible to pay them. As wesmorgan1 already said, almost every school loses money already. So where does this money come from. Plus, take into account that not only is money tight for most athletic departments, but coaches salaries are rising, and football attendance (the huge money maker) as well as basketball attendance is on the decline. So not only are schools losing the ticket revenue, but they are also losing donations needed to get tickets, (like what UK gets from KFund Donations). Then take into account that via Title IX, money would need to go to womens sports as well, (which while being highly entertaining, are historically money losing sports as it stands now).

    Now the most obvious money would come from shoe companies (and this might bypass the Title IX concerns if you feel that is OK). But, this might come with negative consequences Lets just go with a hypothetical team to explain. Nike gives a team 10 million dollars per year right now. This team is an elite basketball school with tons of NBA potential. Lets say that Nike could give 5 players $50,000 each. The potential negative consequence is Nike may come back and say we arent going to give you the whole 10 million anymore. We will give you 9.75 million and the players 250,000. Sure you are still getting lots of money, but $250,000 is a huge amount of money in real world college sports. Where does that money get replaced from. Think of how many bus trips and hotel rooms are paid for by that $250,000.

    You should say athletes should be able ot make money from jersey sales with their names. OK, lets work through the math. Lets say that a fan now buys a jersey for $50. Lets say a college makes $30 in profit from that jersey. Now if you say that the college should get $25, and the athlete $5, great. But understand that you are creating a 16% reduction in profits for the school in jersey sales. How to you overcome that?

    Do we end up having to charge students more tuition or fees to pay for sports? That certainly doenst seem right.

    Do we end up charging high ticket prices? In a declining sales environment, this might not seem like an answer.

    Some have suggested the Steve Spurrier suggestion, that players on a team should get 10% of the coaches salary. In theory a great idea, but seems like this is just going to drive up the coaches salary by 10% with coaches demanding raises behind the scenes to make up for this lost salary and thus more expenses for a school.

    As this is already a long post, I will end with this. Sure athletes should be able to make money. But despite everyone saying that colleges are making billion off of athletes, athletic departments lose money already. So without an explanation of where the new money comes from, its just not the time to start paying players.

  10. kjd
    10:56 am October 9, 2017 Permalink

    Pay a living wage. OK. Star QB, RB and LB think they’re worth more. Along comes Mr. Cheat and the stars get their extra pay. Oops. There’s that cheating going on again. Problem is still there. Your pro-pay argument falls apart.
    Also, you state the players pay won’t break the bank. UofL has to kick in $7 million to balance the athletic budget. Looks like some universities will struggle to come up with players pay. Well what do you know, when there’s a need, Mr. Cheat comes a knocking.

  11. UKfanman01
    7:06 pm October 9, 2017 Permalink

    I can’t believe the extreme left of KSR agreed with a Conservative