Tua Tagovailoa’s injury latest example why NCAA needs to pay college athletes

Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama Crimson Tide. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama Crimson Tide. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) /

If college athletes were paid like the pros, Tagovailoa would have made $1,666,473. With his season-ending injury, his future earning value is in jeopardy.

Alabama standout quarterback Tua Tagovailoa suffered a season-ending injury last Saturday that likely ended his collegiate playing career. Tagovailoa, in his junior season, suffered a dislocated hip in a lopsided victory over Mississippi State and underwent successful surgery on Monday in Houston according to ESPN. Tagovailoa’s devastating injury is just another check mark to add to the list of reasons why college athletes should be compensated.

Although doctors anticipate a full recovery, Tagovailoa’s college season is over and his NFL stock value is considerably lower. Once a definitive top draft pick, Tagovailoa’s value is dependent on his anticipated recovery, not to mention getting back into football shape.

Let’s start with the circumstances surrounding Saturday’s injury. Tagovailoa went down in the final minutes of the first half, I repeat, the first half, against Mississippi State. A game that Alabama was winning 35-7 at the time. Alabama head coach Nick Saban, who signed an eight-year, $74 million deal in 2018, made the decision to keep Tagovailoa in the game with a more than comfortable lead.

Saban, an employee of Alabama with a multi-million dollar salary with benefits, kept a young man with incredible future earning potential in a game his team was winning by four touchdowns. Saban, with access to the same facilities as the players, the same access to team flights, and the same access to team hotels, will continue in his storied career. Tagovailoa, however, will continue to spend his time recovering and hoping that he is not left with ramifications from his injury that could leave him unable to play football.

Last year’s number one overall pick in the NFL draft, Kyler Murray, signed a fully guaranteed $35,158,645 million contract over four years, with a signing bonus of over $23 million. Tagovailoa’s injury is likely to take him out of his high draft position in the event that he fully recovers.

Now imagine if Tagovailoa could have been compensated during his time at Alabama. After all, the Alabama football program boasted a revenue of $111.1 million for the 2018 fiscal year. What would Tagovailoa have been paid if the NCAA rules didn’t restrict his compensation to the cost of attending school?

The major North American men sports leagues tend to shell out about 50% of its revenue to its players. David Berri, sports economist and professor of economics at Southern Utah University, estimated that if Alabama followed this practice, the school would be giving about $55.55 million to its players. With 127 players on the roster, the average player on the Crimson Tide would be paid $437,410.

Of course, the starting quarterback is not an average player. In the NFL, the average starting quarterback is paid 3.81 times more than an average player. Berri calculated that this would mean that Tagovailoa should have been paid $1,666,473 at Alabama.

When you consider that Tagovailoa one of the very best college quarterbacks, his estimated value goes up even higher. The five highest-paid NFL quarterbacks are paid 10.18 times more than an average quarterback. Berri comments that this means that Tagovailoa could arguably have been worth $4,455,591 prior to his injury. While it may be unrealistic to assume that Tagovailoa would be a top-five quarterback in the NFL, it is not unrealistic to realize that his potential earning capacity has been substantially lowered due to his injury playing college football where he was not able to earn any money at all.

Tagovailoa’s injury means his payday from the NFL is likely to be substantially less. Meanwhile, Saban’s pay will not be impacted at all. His millions will continue to roll in while Tagovailoa is left with rehab and a nice seat on the sidelines for the remainder of the season. Talk about adding insult to an absolutely devastating injury.

It was also reported by Darren Rovell of The Action Network that Tagovailoa did not have a loss-of-value insurance policy that many high-profile elite NFL prospects get, meaning that Tagovailoa cannot recoup potential losses when he likely falls in draft position from the number 1 overall pick.

College athletes risk serious injury, some with lifelong complications, to play a sport while the university and coaches make millions. Tagovailoa’s earning potential has severely plummeted while Saban and Alabama continue to make millions. The potential for career-ending injury alone is enough of a reason to allow college athletes to receive compensation and Tagovailoa’s case is the perfect example.

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