Paying College Football Players: A System That Works

The Rose Bowl continues to be the granddaddy of all pains in the butt to college football. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The Rose Bowl continues to be the granddaddy of all pains in the butt to college football. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /
The Million Dollar Alabama Marching Band. Kelly Lambert-US PRESSWIRE
The Million Dollar Alabama Marching Band. Kelly Lambert-US PRESSWIRE /

One of the biggest debates that is will forever surround collegiate athletics is the compensation of the student-athletes who put all the hard work and dedication into making an athletics program successful.

Such a debate is centrally focused on college football, the cash cow for damn near every revenue-earning athletics program in the nation.

As you know, no college athlete — let alone college football player — is to earn a dime, save for scholarships meant to pay for college tuition.

But if players were to get paid? If we were to compensate the athletes that bust their asses to entertain us and provide us with something outside of academics to hang our hats on, as alums of colleges with athletics programs?

Then the system would have to take into account all affected parties. Let’s go through this system for college football, step by step.

The Schools: Avoid Letting The Rich Get Richer

The problem with just letting schools pay whatever the hell they want to whomever the hell they want would certainly allow prominent college football programs that receive massive revenue — such as Division I-leading Texas, which received a massive $150 million in revenue in 2011 — to totally impose their will by throwing around money as if it were water.

To avoid this, each school would be allowed to spend a maximum of $40,000 per regular season game, distributed to as many players as the athletics program chooses (with limits, to be discussed later).

That number didn’t come out of nowhere. It seems fair to only pay starters on a college football team. As a result, I factored in 24 starters per team (11 on offense, 11 on defense and two on special teams, presumably the kicker and punter). Given that tuition, room and board, and text fees are included, a $20,000 stipend per year per player seems incredibly fair, covering the cost of transportation, clothing, entertainment and other luxuries that an athletic scholarship can’t offer. If 24 players receive $20,000 per year, then that would amount to $480,000 in stipends given to college football players per year, a number that many — if not most — programs wouldn’t mind swallowing (no school according to this list suffers a deficit of more than $2 million a year), especially if providing such stipends could give them an edge in recruiting (since schools with less starters established could offer the possibility of immediate competition to incumbent players at that position and, thus, an immediate payday). These funds would be paid from the pool of money the athletics department uses for expenses.

But why are universities required to allocate this money on a maximum amount of $40,000 per week?

To avoid complacency and poor work ethic that could result, of course. If a starter is given a yearly salary, what’s to say that the spirit of college football won’t die as a result of paid players letting off the gas pedal, knowing they’ve already been paid?

Meaning each player will have to fight for a “paid position” as a starter, week in and week out. Paid players for the week would have to be reported to the NCAA to make sure nothing shady is going on (although we’re sure schools will try).

The Players: All for one and one for all

So what if a school decided to pay one player $40,000 a game, or all $480,000 per year to a stud quarterback with Heisman aspirations?

That shouldn’t happen. And by it “shouldn’t happen” I mean it most definitely will not.

Because there should be a restriction: No player would be allowed to make more than ten percent of the $40,000 a game, or $4,000. $48,000 is still a good chunk of change, but it also allows at least ten players the opportunity to get paid as opposed to a large sum of money being paid to each player.

This provides for further competition, since players won’t just resign to the fact that they’ll never get paid.

The Coaches: Even more leverage

Pulling stipends, but not benching the paid player, could also be another way for a coach to instill discipline in a player with a problem attitude. While such a talented but problematic personality might still contribute to the team, knowing that they had a stipend but lost it with their attitude provides a sticks-and-carrots approach and a compromise for coaches struggling with the idea of benching a player.

It also gives them the ability to retain players better. Because a player cannot step foot on the field for a year after transferring, then they are guaranteed to not earn money from stipends as a result since the stipend would only be available to starters.

The NCAA: More tools to punish

The NCAA has a hard time sanctioning colleges as it is — they seem to go all out or not out at all — and having the ability to take away a school’s ability to offer stipends, while the NCAA imposes no other sanctions, would greatly harm their ability to recruit talent, since every other school would be able to offer players money in the future. This would also make the decision for players to transfer much easier, a goal that is meant to be accomplished with NCAA sanctions at most times.

What policies need to accompany this system, or any system of paying players?

For any university wishing to disperse stipends to its college football players, they must require that their athletes attend, and pass, a financial planning course specifically tailored to athletes that could receive $4,000 a week.

Additionally, schools need to immediately strip stipends from players found to be using illegal substances for the remainder of their career at the university, as well as allowing previous substance abuse restrictions to take precedence.


Overall, such a system allows players to receive just compensation for their performance, as determined by their coaches, while giving coaches more leverage over problem players, all while the NCAA has more firepower to deter dirty recruiting or conduct.

And all for $480,000, a number that may seem like a good chunk of change for Mississippi Valley State, but not one that is entirely impossible for such a school with little athletics revenue. (And, mind you, no Division I school is required to use all $480,000 or, hell, any of it.)

It’s just enough to keep everyone happy.