I think it's a fair trade—a college education in return for playing football.
Unfortunately, it's not that simple. There's more to college football these days.
Bill Battle invented a new revenue stream for universities when he set up licensing for jerseys and other memorabilia with team logos and giving the universities a cut of the money. How many Crimson Tide jerseys or Big Orange Power T's have been sold? (In Alabama, babies are issued Crimson Tide bibs and "onesies" until they are old enough to wear a T-shirt or jersey.)
So if you are a star football player like Johnny Manziel, who has the nickname Johnny Football, Texas A&M gets a nice chunk of change for selling a jersey with your number on it. Does Johnny Football get a cut of the revenue? If he does he is declared ineligible. He almost got kicked out of the game after it was revealed he signed over 4,000 items for autograph collectors, though no one could prove he took any money.
Then there are the video games in which you can clothe your avatars in jerseys with your favorite player's number and you can have the Big Orange beating the Crimson Tide. If the quarterback on the video game has the number and a remarkable resemblance to A.J. McCarron, does McCarron get any royalties from the video game company?
Not if he wants to play college football.
The Southeastern Conference has signed television deals for an obscene amount of money. Can you argue that the outstanding football players at conference schools do not contribute anything of value to the deal? Universities have turned football into a lucrative business. Can you then expect that they don't have to compensate the "employees" generating the profits?
The demands of practice time, tutoring time, and classwork pretty well prevent football players from earning much money during college. Never mind if you are from a poor family. And your family is across the country and can't afford a plane ticket to watch you play. Or that you can't afford a car to drive home for holidays.
I understand that we can't have players hawking jerseys or selling autographs. Or taking ghost jobs from rich boosters. It is also ridiculous that the NLRB ruled last week that football players at Northwestern can form a union. That can of worms doesn't need to be opened.
That's why the university presidents and the NCAA need to be proactive. They should sit down and work out a system in which some of the money generated by the players should go into a fund and the money should be used to make life better for poor students. A small stipend—walking around money if you will—is only fair given the exploitation of the players image in videos, games, and sports memorabilia. Perhaps plane tickets could be issued to the parents of players so they can attend games.
No, Johnny Football shouldn't make a lot of money and his offensive line make none. He wouldn't be Johnny Football without his team helping make him a star. So sales of his jersey should go into a pot and be apportioned fairly.
No, coaches and athletic departments cannot turn discipline and control of the team over to a union steward. But they, and the fans, need to understand that the players deserve some royalties for the use of their image, their persona, and, in some cases, their name.
A college athletic department has been called the last plantation. This, I suppose, is an apt description and it is made worse by the fact that most players are black and university administrations are predominately white.
For every Peyton Manning or Johnny Football, there are hundreds of college football players who never make it to the NFL. They risk injury and put in a lot of hard work in exchange for their college degree. But if universities are making money on the face, the image, and the uniforms made famous by the athletes' skill and effort, is it too much to ask that the athletes share the wealth?