The Logistics of Paying College Athletes

May 15, 2008

The firestorm surrounding O.J. Mayo allegedly taking benefits for the last four years was quickly followed by the same litany of questions surrounding NCAA athletics that have lingered for years. The issue I am focusing on here is the question of paying players.

It’s a very emotional argument for many people. Some think it’s nothing short of a crime that players of revenue sports don’t receive a salary. Others prefer to keep college athletics strictly an enterprise for amateur athletes, and not paying players is about the last thing they have left for arguing that college football and basketball players are still amateurs.

There are some very complex logistics to go over for setting up a player payment system, some of which I’ll detail below. Just remember: for the NCAA, image is everything. Whatever system is set up will have to have the image of being equal to both large and small schools, even if it breaks down in the details. That’s why the Patriot League still gets auto-bids to the NCAA tournament.

Issue 1: Scholarships

Scholarships, and their accompanying benefits like housing and meal plans, are the compensation that college athletes currently receive. They have real value, and the money to pay for them comes from somewhere. Just because athletes can’t convert their meal plan allowance into cash to buy a TV doesn’t mean scholarships don’t count as compensation for playing.

Will they count as a part of the salaried athlete’s total compensation package? After all, a scholarship to FIU and a scholarship to Stanford are drastically different in value. If so, then expensive schools will have a disadvantage because they won’t be able to pay as high a salary. If not, then expensive schools have an edge since they will be offering a more valuable total package than less expensive schools.

For simplicity’s sake, I’ll assume that scholarships won’t count towards the payment. Athletes don’t pick schools by trying to get the greatest amount of free tuition, and the NCAA doesn’t seem to mind that scholarships have unequal value. I still would expect the issue to come up in any serious internal NCAA debate.

Issue 2: How much?

This issue is the most critical. The professional leagues set salary caps based on total league revenue, but college athletics are a lot less centralized. Plus, the professional clubs have only one team and sport to worry about.

TV contracts in college are done with conferences, not the NCAA, so each conference starts off with a different amount of TV revenue. Add to that the differing sizes of fan bases and drastically different sizes of stadiums and arenas, and you have a huge financial puzzle to try to solve.

The NCAA won’t let some conferences pay more than others, because that would not be an equal system. It won’t go with a salary cap and floor, because some schools will have no choice but to pay the minimum while others take advantage by paying the maximum. With that in mind, how do you set the pay rate?

If you base it on the conference with the least ability to pay, then you get a large gap between revenues and player compensation at the big money makers and little has changed. If you base it on the conference with the greatest ability to pay, then you price out the little guys even more than what we have today.

Once you’re done figuring that out, how do you determine where to set the pay rate for each different sport? And how do you know which sport generated a hat or shirt purchase if it just has the school logo and nothing else on it?

Issue 3: Revenue Sharing

Revenue sharing does exist on some level in college football, since smaller conferences get a cut of the BCS money whether they had a team in the BCS or not. It will probably have to exist in a much bigger way if player salaries get approved.

The revenue sports provide the money that allows all other sports to exist. Even with football and basketball being generally profitable ventures, some schools’ athletic departments struggle just to break even. Others don’t even come close. If the NCAA is going to force teams to pay players on top of everything else, some sort of revenue sharing will have to occur.

The money disparity within even major conferences can be pretty large. The amount of money that Florida, Georgia, and Alabama can spend is significantly greater than what Ole Miss and Mississippi State can spend. Beyond that, I have a hard time seeing Jim Delaney wanting to allow any profits generated by his baby, the Big Ten Network, paying for player salaries at Bowling Green or Akron.

When a pro team doesn’t spend a lot of money, a new owner can purchase the team and spend more on players. You can’t tell a small university to suddenly expand its student base to bring in more athletic fees, graduate more future boosters, and better pull its weight in generating money. Let’s also not forget that colleges have to build and maintain all their own facilities; pro teams get city, county, and sometimes state taxpayers to pay for theirs.

Then you get the issue of donations. The big money schools make a lot of money off of donations. There’s no way whatsoever that the NCAA can take donation money away from one school and give it to another. How heavily do those gifts factor in the revenue sharing equation when divvying up TV money?

Issue 4: The Star Treatment

I don’t know if it would ever come up in real NCAA discussions, but I know a lot of fans have expressed an interest in having star players get more money than others. If the NCAA did talk about uneven play scales for players, it would probably get dismissed pretty quickly because that’s not equal for everyone.

I can’t imagine the schools supporting it either. Inevitably, someone will promise a pile of money for a high profile recruit. That will cause everyone to have to do the same to have a chance of landing the kid. Then, someone like Tim Floyd or Billy Gillespie will start promising money to ever younger athletes as they already have done with scholarships. I doubt many coaches will want to get into bidding wars over middle schoolers.

If you try to make pay adjustable based on performance, you would open a Pandora’s Box of lawsuits. If Jimmy Benchwarmer is upset that he doesn’t get to play, he might suspect his lack of playing time is because the coach has secret deals ensuring levels of payment to other players. There have been many coaches in college football’s history that would do that very thing, and it would get very ugly if Jimmy’s dad is John Benchwarmer, Esq.

Issue 5: Pay All the Divisions’ Athletes?

How many divisions are going to have to pay players? Will I-AA football teams have to pay players too? What about the bottom of Division I basketball? Will Binghamton of the America East Conference have to pay as much as Wichita State of the MVC will? And will WSU have to pay as much as Duke will?

If the NCAA tries to make some sort of rule saying a program has to make a certain amount of money in order to pay players, there could be some interesting cooking of the books to avoid that threshold for schools that don’t want to pay players. Or, aspiring schools might fudge some numbers to appear above that threshold to get the recruiting benefits that come with paying players.

The NCAA already doesn’t spend enough on rule enforcement. I can’t imagine it wanting to spend a fortune on auditors too.

Issue 6: How Many Sports?

How many sports will the payments extend to? Football and men’s basketball are the obvious targets, but other sports could be revenue generators at other schools.

Until Bruce Pearl showed up, I’d bet that Tennessee made more money off of women’s basketball than men’s basketball. UConn probably makes a nice amount off of that sport too. However, most schools don’t make money off of women’s basketball.

Will only some schools have to pay their women’s basketball players but not other ones? If that happens, all of the best players will all sign exclusively with the schools that pay players. The barrier to putting together a successful women’s basketball program will have been significantly raised.

What about the non-revenue generating sports? It’s not the swimmers’ faults that thousands of people don’t flock to meets. Universities are non-profit organizations, so the usual rules of capitalism don’t strictly apply to them. And what if a school voluntarily wants to pay athletes in non-revenue sports? Will that be allowed?

Issue 7: Title IX

Title IX is the biggest issue, primarily because federal law is now in play. The law states:

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

That’s right; violate Title IX and you can lose federal funding. No university wants to play with that fire. A school can prove it is in compliance by passing any one of the “prongs” of the “three-prong test”:

  1. Prong one – Providing athletic opportunities that are substantially proportionate to the student enrollment, OR
  2. Prong two – Demonstrate a continual expansion of athletic opportunities for the underrepresented sex, OR
  3. Prong three – Full and effective accommodation of the interest and ability of underrepresented sex.

The sudden new spending on player salaries in revenue sports – generally football and men’s basketball – would require a proportional increase of spending on women’s athletics to stay in compliance with Title IX. The alternative would be continuing to eliminate other men’s sports to help bring back balance.

Neither of those alternatives is appealing to universities. Even the most cutthroat football factories still do care about fielding teams in as many different sports as they can afford, but they are not going to want to have to pour huge sums of money into sports that don’t provide financial returns. Until and unless Title IX is amended to exempt football, paying players a salary is very unlikely to happen.

* * *

If anything, I hope I have showed that the issue of paying players is a lot more complex than just increasing stipends for football and basketball players. Plus, one of the reasons the BCS plus-one system was rejected was that it would make college football too much like a professional league. There’s plenty wrong with that statement, but “preserving amateurism” is a big deal for the NCAA and the conferences.

It certainly seems unfair that athletes in revenue sports bring in a disproportionate amount of money compared to the value of their scholarships. However, I honestly think we’ll see a college football playoff before we see college athletes get salaries. In other words, don’t hold your breath.


Scoring Drive Percentage

May 14, 2008

Yesterday I took a look at some punting stats from last year, and that was nice but I couldn’t compare them relatively because I didn’t have information on how many drives each team had.

Well, I did my best to approximate how many drives everyone had by adding up punts, lost fumbles, interceptions thrown, field goal attempts, failed fourth down conversions, and offensive touchdowns. That leaves out drives ended by halves, but there are only two of those per game and they often are just teams kneeling to run out the clock anyway. It also leaves out safeties, but I can’t find any stats on those and they’re pretty rare anyway.

All stats came from the NCAA, except field goals which curiously aren’t kept in a nice list. Those I got from ESPN.

Out of that, I calculated the percentage of drives a team scored on. The top ten are as follows:

  1. Florida – 57.43%
  2. Navy – 56.94%
  3. Kansas – 52.63
  4. Texas Tech – 52.20%
  5. Missouri – 52.00%
  6. Boise State – 51.76%
  7. Oklahoma – 51.67%
  8. LSU – 51.40%
  9. Hawaii – 50.57%
  10. West Virginia – 48.80%

The bottom ten are as follows:

  1. FIU – 17.54%
  2. Army – 20.37%
  3. Notre Dame – 20.65%
  4. Duke – 20.78%
  5. Baylor – 20.96%
  6. Syracuse – 22.82%
  7. Temple – 23.53%
  8. Iowa – 23.97%
  9. Iowa State – 24.83%
  10. Louisiana Tech – 25.44%

I don’t think the occupants of either list are that shocking other than Iowa. What happened to the Hawkeye offense? It used to be pretty good not that long ago.

This just goes to (further) show that great offense alone won’t get you contending for the title. Florida, Navy, and Texas Tech were 1, 2, and 4 on the list, with all scoring on over half of their drives. They finished 46, 108, and 50 in the scoring defense rankings though, which is why none of them won more than 9 games.

Also, at 6-6 Iowa serves as the answer to the question of which was the lowest bowl-eligible team (112th). The lowest bowl participant? None other than Sylvester Croom’s Mississippi State Bulldogs, 102nd with a 27.71% scoring rate. How a team won 8 games while scoring on just a shade over a quarter of its drives is a mystery, though timely turnovers and defensive scoring are part of it.

UCLA, our punting champs from yesterday, finished 99th, having scored on just 28.87% of its drives.

The two lowest ranked 10+ win teams were Boston College (#66, 34.97%) and Virginia Tech (T-54, 36.90%). That says a lot about the ACC, since those two teams met in the conference’s championship game. I also find it funny how the Hokies were #3 in scoring defense and went 11-3 while Georgia Tech was tied with VT in this list, but was 21st in scoring defense and finished 7-6. Furthermore, congratulations to the Atlanta Falcons who just drafted a quarterback who scored on just 35% of his drives last season.

Other notables:

  • #14 Georgia (45.22%) – Sugar Bowl champs
  • #16 UCF (44.81%) – Conference USA champion
  • #18 Ohio State (44.52%) – Big Ten champion
  • #23 Kansas State (43.71%) – Highest team with a losing record
  • #36 USC (41.42%) – Pac 10 champs; not a vintage year for the Trojans’ offense
  • #43 Central Michigan (39.68%) – MAC champions
  • #49 Troy (38.86%) – Sun Belt champions
  • #51 BYU (38.75%) – MWC champions; third-lowest 10+ win team
  • #77 Florida State (34.10%) – So much for Jimbo Fisher turning things around immediately
  • #105 Miami (26.53%) – Where have you gone, Ken Dorsey?

Punting in 2007

May 13, 2008

It’s safe to say that no one really enjoys punting. Punter is the only position without a representative in the NFL Hall of Fame (though Ray Guy should have been in long ago). Punting is an important part of the field position battle, but honestly, no one enjoys doing it. We’d rather see our teams score.

It is with that in mind I present you with the most and least prolific punting teams in college football a year ago. Keep in mind that avoiding punting is not necessarily an indication of an elite offense – turnovers end drives too, and often in more damaging ways.

The most prolific punting team was UCLA, with an astonishing 93 punts on the season for a robust 3899 yards. That’s right; the Bruins had more punting yards than 14 teams gained on offense. For comparison, UCLA punted for 992 more yards than Notre Dame gained with its offense. Karl Dorrell, this is your legacy.

The Ray Guy of coaches. Or something.

Other frequent punters included Virginia Tech (89), Iowa (87), FIU (83), Oregon State (83), East Carolina (82), Virginia (81), Syracuse (80), Duke (80), and Mississippi State (80). There’s a mix of good, bad, and mediocre in there, showing that punting a lot doesn’t necessarily mean your team will lose. It is telling though that a fourth of the ACC is in the list of the ten most frequent punters.

On the other end of the spectrum, Navy had the fewest punts with just 24 on the season for 895 yards. I’ll be interested to see if Paul Johnson’s Georgia Tech offense can keep the punting down anywhere close to that much in the punt-happy ACC. Georgia Tech punted 67 times last season, 3.1 more than the average team.

The remaining nine of the top ten least frequent punters are Texas Tech (30), Hawaii (35), Florida (37), Air Force (47), Louisville (48), Boise State (48), West Virginia (49), Southern Miss (49), and Arkansas State (50). This list is a bit better than the ten most frequent punters, with Arkansas State’s 5-7 record being the worst of them.

Granted, I don’t have a list of the number of drives for every team so I don’t know how these compare on a relative basis. Still, it’s interesting to see how justified UCLA fans were in their frustrations with Dorrell and to see how efficient the Gator offense really was last year.

Only 37 punts? Magnificent. If only we forced more than 10 the whole year…

Please Support the Charity Bowl

May 12, 2008

From Kevin at

Like you, I’ve been touched by the devastating cyclone in Myanmar, the tornadoes in Oklahoma, Missouri and the Midwest, storms in the Southeast, wildfires in California & Florida, and earthquakes in China, not to mention the everyday needs in our own communities.

Orson from EDSBS and I are asking you to show your school spirit and help those in need today by making a donation to the American Red Cross, CARE, or the International Rescue Committee.

In turn, we’ll rank the total donation by school and display it this week at Fanblogs and Every Day Should Be Saturday. The winning school will have its colors displayed at EDSBS and logo/mascot shown on every page at Fanblogs.
The particulars:

  1. Make a donation online to the American Red Cross, CARE, or the International Rescue Committee.
  2. Email the donation confirmation to and state your team affiliation by 8pm EDT on Wednesday, May 14th.
  3. Results will be displayed at Every Day Should Be Saturday and Fanblogs throughout the week, with the final results shown by Thursday, May 15th.
  4. The winning school will have its colors displayed at EDSBS and logo/mascot shown on every page at Fanblogs.

Thank you in advance for your generosity. (Now… go make a donation and don’t make your school look cheap!)

I’m in already. Let’s do this, Gators.

USC Has a Serious Agent Problem

May 12, 2008

ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” program has reported that former USC basketball player OJ Mayo received around $30,000 worth of benefits from Rodney Guillory, a “runner” for sports agency Bill Duffy Associates. This is not just a passing accusation either; OTL has a mountain of evidence detailing the story. It stretches back to when Mayo was in high school in Huntington, West Virginia.

I was going to draw some detailed parallels between Mayo’s case and the Reggie Bush case, but Pat Forde already beat me to it. He goes a bit over the top, I think, but it’s a nice summary of the allegations.

The troubling aspect is how cavalier USC appears to have acted towards agents and their influence. Yahoo! Sports’s investigation into the football program showed that agents and their representatives were allowed to be in the locker room and on the sidelines at practices and games. Now we find out that the school did nothing about the fact that Mayo was known to be associated with Guillory, despite the fact that former USC guard Jeff Trepagnier and a former Frenso State basketball player were suspended for accepting benefits from him.

USC Compliance Officer Schultz was unavailable for comment.

Every major program has trouble with agents. UF suffered its own scandal with the Tank Black episode back in the mid-1990s. If anything, that fact should make schools more vigilant about keeping agents and their runners away from their players. USC especially needed to be on that beat, considering the Reggie Bush fiasco and the fact – and this was news to me – it’s against California state law for agents to give gifts to amateur athletes.

Really, Mayo was a ticking time bomb for NCAA compliance. He has been in the spotlight since he was in middle school. His family was very poor, yet he had nice clothes, nice shoes, and a 42″ TV in his dorm. USC head coach Tim Floyd apparently had contacts with Guillory during the recruiting process, despite Guillory’s past history with the school. All the signs were there.

Mayo’s case also ties in with a lot of other issues in college sports – the role of media and now colleges in middle school athletics, the NBA’s age limit, and the NCAA’s historically laughable record of enforcing its own rules. Combined with the Bush case, it shines a light squarely on the issue of whether USC can police itself.

Where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire. We have not just one, but two major sports media outlets that have done far more investigation into Trojan players than USC itself has. We also have reports from both the Bush and Mayo investigations that agents and their influence seem to be an accepted part of the culture in USC football and men’s basketball between agents being allowed at football practice and Guillory not being blackballed from the men’s basketball program.

How about it USC? When are you going to regain institutional control?

I’m on FoxSports!

May 11, 2008

Thanks to syndicating this blog over at Bleacher Report, my piece on coaches following legends was picked up by FoxSports! It’s basically the same as what I posted here last week, except with a puzzling edit done in the section on Auburn that doesn’t make sense.

That was an awful nice surprise to find late last night.

Hornsby is a Slug, Has Been Kicked Off Team

May 9, 2008

If I’m going to go over FSU’s troubles earlier this week, it is only fair that I cover Florida’s as well.

Safety Jamar Hornsby has been kicked off the team. He was using the gas credit card of Ashley Slonina, who unfortunately passed away in the same motorcycle crash that took the life of former walk on Michael Guilford.

He apparently took the card while helping clear Slonina’s apartment of her personal effects. She was the girlfriend of Hornsby’s fellow defensive back Joe Haden, which is how he could have been in that situation.

I shouldn’t have to mention how reprehensible it is for someone to steal the credit card of the deceased girlfriend of a teammate and then use it for 6 months. I know he’s innocent until proven guilty, but the likelihood he didn’t do this is pretty low. Financial fraud, especially when done by an amateur, leaves a huge trail of evidence.

This is not Hornsby’s first brush with the law, so he already lost the benefit of the doubt. This is not an isolated incident; it happened for 6 months and there’s no way to confuse it for something like self defense in a fight or ignorance of the law. This sort of action doesn’t just run counter to what a university stands for, but counter to any sort of human decency.

It comes less than a week after it was announced that reserve LB Jerimy Finch will be transferring. He was having issues back in his home state of Indiana where he has two children, and there were doubts that he would be academically eligible this fall.

When you combine all of that with FSU’s problems and a UCF player being injured in a shooting in Louisiana,  it was not a good week for college football in the state of Florida.