Fixing College Football’s Exploitation

I’m sure by now most of you have seen the video of Marcus Lattimore’s gruesome knee injury in this week’s South Carolina game. Even in suffering the injury that may end his career and a chance to earn millions of dollars, he is providing a ghoulish series of content for TV, the internet and sports related shows across various platforms, yet Lattimore himself sees nothing from it.

The endless debate continues to surround college football between people who say the players get nothing out of it and those that point to the scholarship itself as a very valuable entity worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I can see both sides, but I think there are a couple of areas that the NCAA should address in the interest of fairness, equity, and simply not exploiting young men who end up with nothing despite giving their bodies to a game and making a lot of money for their institutions.

I don’t agree with those that dismiss the scholarship entirely.  It is not an insignificant thing to get for free as part of the bargain. A scholarship is valuable, and it is an expensive opportunity to be taken advantage of, but it doesn’t make up for the loss of potential millions in earnings in the case of a career-ending injury before a guy makes the NFL.  Nor in many cases does it match the money generated by the player for the university by his play on the field. It has been estimated that the average fair market value of football players to their institutions is over $120,000 a year, on average. Some values are far far higher, leaving the cost of a scholarship paling into insignificance by comparison.  Bowl games can be worth millions to the institution, and though the university scholarship would cost the player a lot, it’s not costing the college that.

Here are the two ways I would fix the current system of exploitation:

Colleges Pay for Catastrophic Injury Insurance

The NCAA is never going to sanction paying ‘amateur’ athletes for their services, and however much you disagree with that, I can see their viewpoint on the situation, but players are getting screwed by the current system.  Guys like Lattimore may end up never making it to the NFL, and however much the draft remains a crapshoot, that is a significant portion of guaranteed cash he misses out on because the college game took the opportunity from him while he gave everything he had to it.

So if colleges won’t pay players a salary, they should be forced to insure prospects against catastrophic injuries.  Those policies exist now, and top prospects often avail of them if a player returns to college for his final season rather than declaring for the draft.  They’re not cheap, but they’re currently very rare.  If the NCAA or conferences combined to deal directly with insurance companies to cover players on a far greater scale, the cost would be lessened, and insurance companies would only be paying out for the rare times players  are dealt something as severe as Lattimore’s injury.

The bottom line is that no player should be on the cusp of millions from the NFL only to have one hit leave him with nothing when the college he was playing for was riding him to massive turnovers year on year.

Merchandising Sales Held in Trust

The other area I think some players get screwed is in the case of the great college players that just aren’t NFL talents for whatever reason.

There are players that set school records, dominate at the collegiate level but just don’t translate to the NFL and within a year or two are out selling insurance having been making hundreds of thousands of dollars for their college and the NCAA over their college careers.  Those guys get nothing but their degree, which as we’ve shown before, falls well short of forming an equal bargain for these guys. Just because you didn’t have NFL caliber talent doesn’t mean you should be left with nothing if you were a great college player.

At the moment only the college and the NCAA is allowed to profit from the likeness of a player.  College players can’t charge for autographs, and as guys like A.J. Green found out, they can’t even profit by selling their own gear. Why not?

Players are directly generating a fortune in merchandising income which the NCAA or college controls and reaps the benefits of. They could expand this merchandise marketing, generate more income from these players, and then they should devote a portion of the income generated by a player’s likeness/name/success etc to a trust fund for that player. If he earns a certain amount in guaranteed NFL contracts that money goes to the usual sources, the college and NCAA, but if that player craps out of the big-leagues he gets a pay out from the fund he created from his excellence on the field at the college level.

Think of a guy like Mike Hass, former Oregon St. WR.  Over three seasons of play for the Beavers, Hass notched just under 4,000 receiving yards, topping a thousand in each of his seasons. He scored 20 touchdowns and caught 220 passes. Hass was huge for that team in his career and was one of the best receivers in the nation, but he just wasn’t NFL quality.  After bouncing around a few teams failing to catch on, and then playing in the UFL, he realized pro ball was just a dream, and he now works for Nike designing equipment.  Mike Hass got nothing except the chance to audition for NFL teams from his college career despite generating a fortune for his college program.

Sure he gets to go into the real world with a degree and a few connections, but what about a piece of the financial pie he spent three seasons sweetening with his blood, sweat and tears?

I think Hass should be entitled to at least a cut of the merchandise he pushed by his play. Some guys can use their college career as a springboard to millions in the NFL, and those guys don’t need a helping hand from the colleges that helped get them there. Some guys can’t, and the college game should be prepared to give back to the guys that currently give so much to get so little in return.


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