A common sense plan to pay athletes? Good luck with that

by | CBSSports.com Columnist
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Attention John Infante: The business of college athletics wants to see you, and bring your playbook.

Infante, the assistant director of compliance at Loyola Marymount University, devised a concept for paying college football players which would essentially involve major college football (we presume he means the 120 FCS schools, although he may be thinking more narrowly) breaking away from the NCAA to form their own league.

Paying players? How much was Cam Newton worth? (AP)  
Paying players? How much was Cam Newton worth? (AP)  
And therein blowing up the plan before it gets off the ground, essentially, but we'll get to that in a minute.

Infante, who is not advocating such a plan but postulating for the purposes of creating learned debate, then breaks down the possible components of such a plan. From the text:

  A base salary that covers basic room and board expenses. Let's use $1,250 per month, which works out to a nice round $15,000 per year and represents a little above the highest room and board allowances.

  Payment of all tuition, fees, and book costs associated with attending the university during the athlete's collegiate career, since these would still be student-athletes. Call it an average of $20,000 per year. This money would be guaranteed upon the signing of the contract though at least six years.

  A signing bonus up to $100,000, or $25,000 annually, for a four-year career.

This is a reasonable proposal worth debating fully, with the one notable problem being this: College football rather likes the indentured servant model it already has, and it has been shown in study after that not paying people for services rendered is a better business model than paying them. It's not a better social model, but when you've already gamed the system to your benefit in so many other ways, why exactly would you want to give in here?

With all due respect to Infante and his considerable work on the subject, his instinct for trying to find a reasonable starting point of discussion misses the essential point, which is this: The people who run college athletics have already created a system that works great for them, and see no reason to introduce things like fairness and decency into the equation.

They don't want to standardize anything. The Wild West approach works great for them, and anything that allows Middle Tennessee to compete with Tennessee (just to choose two schools at random) for a player isn't going to please Tennessee that much.

The schools that want to pay for play will pay for play because they have already built an infrastructure based on that proposition. It keeps the riffraff away from recruiting battles, it narrows the field of competitors, and it stratifies the system so that there are a few mega-haves, a fair amount of haves, and a lot of have-nots whose principal function is the scheduling on non-conference games for record padding.

The ones who don't pay, or can't pay, have their own system, and while it occasionally allows for an intruder to rise into the land of the giants, it largely keeps the caste system intact so that Conference USA doesn't get any ideas about trying to run with the SEC.

And there is no area of endeavor quite as devoted to the status quo as college athletics. Sure, schools change conferences, coaches change schools, and turmoil seems to reign especially when the compliance revenuers come around.

But those are just solar flares. For the most part, the system runs to its own benefit, which is good for administrators, great for coaches and crummy in general for athletes, who can't even transfer without being punished.

And that's the part of the debate that kills the debate: The boys like things just the way they are, and ain't nobody gonna tell them different:

"Mr. Infante, come in. I understand you have a proposal for paying players that you think is worthy of discussion."

"Well, yes I do, and thank you for your time."

"And thank you for yours. We certainly appreciate you coming in, and be sure to let us know the next time you're in town. And be sure to see Sharon at the desk to get your parking validated. Thanks for coming."

And that's that. The system is interested in anything that makes more money, not anything that makes less. Infante's idea seems on its face to cut into profit margins for those schools who have profits, and for those who don't. .. well, you know.

Besides, the big schools have Darwinism on their side. When they reach the point where breaking away works best for them, they'll do it, and they won't pay anybody except the under-table requirements that have always existed. After all, part of the fun of college sports is accusing the guy who just whipped your behind of cheating.

Infante has done good work here, and we encourage you to read and consider it fully.

Just know it seems eminently thought-provoking, and as such stands no chance at all. And God bless America, and pass the printouts from rivals.com.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.com

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