College football players deserve pay for play

College football is a multimillion-dollar business. It's time to stop treating the players like cheap labor, writes Rod Gilmore.

Updated: January 17, 2007, 2:59 PM ET
By Rod Gilmore | Special to ESPN.com

Editor's note: ESPN.com asked five of its analysts to discuss one change they would like to see in college football. Here is the third installment of the five-part series.

#10 Vince Young
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireVince Young led Texas to a national championship -- and one of the biggest profits in college football.
It's time to end the charade of amateurism in college football and let the athletes share in the spoils of this multibillion-dollar entertainment industry. Sure, at one time college football was consistent with the mission of a university to educate and provide for the well-being of its student body. However, college football is no longer very different from the NFL. It's part of the entertainment industry. Yet one big difference between the two remains: College players don't get paid. It's time to change this.

Recent events clearly make it a farce for the NCAA officials to hide behind the shield of amateurism. Just consider the massive amount of money colleges are raking in and spending these days. While Vince Young led the Longhorns to a national championship,Texas earned a reported $42 million profit from football during the '05-'06 fiscal year. Michigan earned approximately $37 million, while Florida earned $32 million during that same period. Where does all the money come from? You already know. Just like in the NFL, it comes from television, marketing and media rights, tickets and luxury box/suite income. Further proof of the entertainment might of college football is the fact that we saw the BCS games spread out over a full week, which included four games shown in prime time, including three on non-holiday weekdays.

Is it any wonder that the college presidents voted in favor of adding a 12th game last season? That 12th game helped add to the bottom line. Now, some of the colleges are playing almost as many games as the NFL teams. Twelve schools played 14 games! You might expect that of Florida and Arkansas, but Ohio? Central Michigan? Southern Miss? C'mon.

Since the NCAA won't let schools pay players, a huge amount of this money goes to coaches and facilities. NFL teams have elaborate stadiums with skyboxes and expensive training facilities. Well, so do the colleges. They've jumped into the arms race by dropping big cash on these facilities. For example, Oklahoma State is receiving $165 million from business tycoon T. Boone Pickens to upgrade its facilities. Michigan spent a reported $226 million upgrading its stadium and adding suites and luxury boxes. Texas dropped $150 million on its digs. Those are just a few examples.

A Change Of Plans
The 2006 season is in the books. It was a nearly flawless ending for national champ Florida. Boise State can celebrate a perfect season. But not everything in college football is ideal. What could use a change? Here's what five ESPN.com writers and/or analysts would like to see changed in the game:

Monday
Jim Donnan - Clock rules
Tuesday
Mark Schlabach - Conference titles
Wednesday
Rod Gilmore - Amateur status
Thursday
Ivan Maisel - Inconvenient truth
Friday
Bill Curry - Recruiting
The coaches are getting more than their fair share, too. According to published reports, at least 42 of the 119 coaches in Division I-A earn more than $1 million per year. At least nine receive more than $2 million annually. (Not all schools are required to disclose this salary information.) In the BCS conferences (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC), the average coaching salary is $1.4 million. Oh, but that's just for starters. Recently, the University of Alabama bestowed a lavish, reportedly eight-year, $32 million guaranteed contract on coach Nick Saban to lure him from the NFL's Miami Dolphins. But let's not single out Bama. Iowa's Kirk Ferentz reportedly will earn more than $4.6 million in a 13-month period ending in June. Oklahoma's Bob Stoops reportedly receives a guaranteed minimum of $3 million annually.

Juxtapose Saban's $4 million annual salary with the approximate $15,000 annual full-ride football scholarship a native Alabama player receives at the University of Alabama (only guaranteed for a single year). The national average for the cost of tuition, room and board at a public university is approximately $13,000 and approximately $30,000 at a private university, according to the USA Today.

It's time to let the players have a piece of the pie. You can't possibly convince me that Charlie Weis is worth more to Notre Dame than Brady Quinn. Kids aren't buying Weis jerseys. They're buying Quinn jerseys. Indeed, a few Florida and Ohio State players complained before the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game that they were being exploited -- and they are. I was pretty happy to receive my bowl watch and adidas warm-ups back in the day when my team went to a bowl, but the head coach wasn't cashing in million-dollar checks back in the '80s.

Players have an absolute right to be envious and feel exploited. The age-old rationale that the student-athlete's "free education" is equivalent in value to his athletic labor doesn't wash anymore. It's not equivalent. The national average graduation rate is 55 percent for Division I-A football players, according to the federal government's calculation. However, many of the biggest programs struggle to meet the average. Here are a few examples: Texas, 29 percent; LSU, 37 percent; Florida, 42 percent; Alabama, 47 percent; Ohio State, 49 percent; and USC, 52 percent. Clearly, a significant number of football players aren't receiving the benefit of the bargain of this "free education." The mandatory and "voluntary" workouts are often at odds with obtaining that "free education."

There have been previous calls to pay players, but they have been resisted by NCAA administrators and many coaches. Here's an alternative: Put some of those millions generated by this business into a trust to be used by players after their collegiate careers are completed. The funds could be used by players for a variety of purposes, such as completing a graduate degree, starting a business, making a down payment on a house, etc. I'd make the players who have an NFL career and earn over a certain threshold amount ineligible (based on the reasoning that the school has assisted them in cashing in on a career). But those guys are the exception, not the rule. The guy who will never cash in on the NFL career deserves to be compensated as much as any coach or administrator. Would it be so awful if Alabama paid Saban $3 million a year instead of $4 million and the difference went into a fund for Bama players?

It's time to change this antiquated system. It's time to stop using players as cheap labor. It's time to do right by the players.

Rod Gilmore is an ESPN college football analyst and a regular contributor to Insider.

Rod Gilmore

College Football analyst
Rod Gilmore serves as an ESPN studio analyst on SportsCenter and College Football Live, and provides commentary on ESPN's Friday night game telecasts. He writes regularly for ESPN Insider.