Videos by OutKick
By Mike McCall
Perhaps the saddest part of college sports — beyond the athletes being trapped in serfdom, the cheapening of higher education and the hypocrisy of the NCAA — is that the people most upset by the system, the players and fans, have the power to change it and won’t.
By this point, most agree that it’s wildly unfair that student-athletes do the work while everyone else gets the money. We see through the alleged value of those sociology and criminal justice degrees, and we’re outraged at facts like these: Texas football players are worth $513,922 but have scholarships that don’t even cover expenses, Florida’s football and basketball programs are the nation’s richest but their players live $2,250 below the federal poverty line, and Duke basketball players are valued at more than $1 million but unpaid. (Well, we aren’t crying for Duke, but still.)
But if the student-athletes and their fans wanted to spark a change, they could.
A strike, especially at an event like Monday’s national championship hoops game, would cripple the NCAA, but no player is going to stand on the cusp of glory and NBA money, then back down out of protest. By the time athletes reach the stage where they can really make an impact, there’s too much cash, fame and female accompaniment at stake to walk away. Likewise, if fans stopped watching and buying tickets and supporting their favorite teams, college football and basketball would become, well, college soccer. But that won’t happen either, because we can’t resist.
We hold the cards but refuse to play them, and the cycle seems destined to continue.
Well, it’s time for a different game.
There’s a simple way to turn this system on its head — an idea just crazy enough to work: Start paying the players ourselves.
For now, let’s call it Fanarchy Day, the trillion dollar coin for college sports.
On Fanarchy Day, fans of every school in this great land need only find a student-athlete from their team and hand them cold, hard cash. It can be $1, $5, $20 or $1,000. Hell, it can even be a gift card to Chili’s (possible sponsorship opportunity there).
All you have to do is give it to the athlete and film the exchange on your phone. To be safe, identify the player and narrate the action, something along the lines of, “Hi, you’re Texas A&M quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. Based solely on your skill as a football player, I am presenting you with a cash award of $10.”
The final step is turning yourself in. Perhaps by Tweeting the video to @NCAA. Such an act would violate the NCAA’s rule against impermissible cash awards given “in recognition of athletics participation or performance.” A flood of violations would ensue, one so massive that, if all fans chipped in and players agreed to go along with it, would ensnare every major program in the country.
The NCAA’s investigative arm is reactionary — dependent on tips and whistle-blowers — and this would be too much to ignore. It would also be too much to enforce. Beyond the incredible demand it would place on a small staff, handing out punishments for all of this would crush college athletics.
They’d be faced with a choice. Upholding the rule of NCAA law would bring big-money sports like football and men’s basketball to a halt. No players, no game. No game, no money from TV broadcasts or licensing.
From there, the most sensible option would be to let it slide, thus invalidating the NCAA’s ridiculous rules on impermissible benefits. Then, fans, boosters and whomever else would be free to pay players as they see fit.
That’s the best-case scenario in the pay-for-play debate, because there’s no fair way for schools to compensate student-athletes.
Some make lots of money off athletics, and many more don’t, meaning that the difference in pay between programs like Texas and my beloved East Carolina would be massive. They couldn’t pay players the same amount, because what one deserves and can afford is too much for others. The debate would rage on from sport to sport, not to mention the enormous gender-equality issues that would come courtesy of Title IX.
But the NCAA could let everyone else pay them. The recruiting process should be regulated, but once a player is on campus, if a fan or a bar owner wants to hook him up, how is that the NCAA’s business? When I was in college, if a booster loved a story I wrote and wanted to give me five grand and free rein on his yacht, that would be roundly regarded as awesome, if perhaps a tad creepy. But if that happens to an athlete, it’s cheating?
Clearly not. If people want to give their hard-earned money to student-athletes to help ease the burden their scholarships don’t meet (and more), the NCAA should have no part in it. It’s the closest thing we have to getting these players their fair market value, and it really could work.
There’d be some imbalance as always, but while my Pirates can’t pay their players what Texas could, there are enough football-loving doctors and lawyers in every town to keep their favorite athletes stocked with Beats by Dre and some fresh outfits.
The biggest gray areas in Fanarchy Day are, first, getting the players to accept the money while knowing it could make them ineligible, but I’d like to think we can get on the same page here. Next, there’s the matter of whether these contributions from fans violate NCAA rules since they aren’t officially affiliated with the university or athletic department (though season-ticket holders and students might fit the bill). Boosters would need to pitch in. More than they already are. And on camera.
Lastly, we can’t have any holdouts. No punks skipping out so that their school is the last one eligible and can claim a title by default. (Looking at you, Notre Dame.)
Everyone wins in this farcical figurative middle-finger to the NCAA: players get money, fans get to meet and quite literally support their team, and we all give the NCAA a major headache.
Deep down, I think we all know the status quo won’t last forever. It just can’t. Like the ceaseless clamoring for a college football playoff before it, the NCAA Reform Movement will eventually lead to change. The questions are how long this poor, dead horse will have to be flogged, and how much the athletes will receive compared to what they deserve.
This is a chance for us to answer those: Now, and however much people want to pay them.
So let’s pay them ourselves. Stop buying those officially licensed shirts, video games and jerseys, and slip that cash to a player instead.
The only thing left to pick is the date. The anniversary of SMU’s death penalty (Feb. 25) is too far away, as is NCAA President Mark Emmert’s birthday (Dec. 16). But maybe Aug. 16, the date the now-legendary tale of Miami booster Nevin Shapiro broke, which comes just two weeks before the start of football season.
So save up, pick your targets and practice your lines. It’s time for Fanarchy.