First, a little background is probably necessary. The business of NCAA athletics is often as interesting to me as the events themselves. And lately, with sports news focusing on cheating, alleged cheating, and rule-bending, it has again been highlighted that the separation between the sport on the field and the sometimes seedy business off the field is merely a semantic one.
In some corners it has been suggested that paying players is both the solution to these compliance problems and the right thing to do. (1). Apparently some players and their representatives are being paid in violation of the rules, and the future of college sports could hinge on what, if anything will been done about these violations. To make matters more entertaining, the stories of runners and street agents are only the latest course added to our buffet of "Death to the BCS" chants, debates over the merits of a playoff, dreams of exclusive television networks, and fevered nightmares about a reignited realignment debate.
Since indulging in absurdly hypothetical metaphysics is hobby of mine, I began to wonder how fans would change if the whole thing blew up. That's how you get this question of the day.
Imagine for a moment that, strapped for cash and seeing the NCAA and the BCS as untenable roadblocks to their future profits margins, the 28 most profitable football teams across the country throw off the shackles of amateurism, spin off their football programs in stand alone companies and start paying players above the table. (2) Texas, of course, is at the forefront of the change. The NFL, seeing a chance to lock up a non-competitive developmental league that has largely aggregated the top young talent, agrees to play the role of arbiter and enforcer for this fledgling assemblage. We'll call it the National College Football League.
Parity is ensured through a tiered per-player salary cap, seedy behind the scenes runners disappear in favor of slightly less seedy approved agents. Stock in the various programs is sold at outrageous prices to alumni, who are given limited voting rights and tangible power instead of influence. Cheating, and the allegations thereof, starts to disappear in a maze of contractual obligations and tort settlements. From a compliance standpoint, the game of big name college football becomes as clean as it has ever been.
Television profits become larger, as the numerous teams networks are unwilling to pay top dollar for are left in the cold. Conference rivalries are partially preserved, if the rival makes the cut, the BCS is history and a playoff becomes a reality.
As for the players, in order to maintain their ties to their respective Universities and legions of alumni and fans, all players are required to attend at least 6 hours a semester. Eligibility is still 5 years to appease the NFL ties, and graduation rates greatly suffer. The unstated rationale for the reduced requirements is that colleges are in the football business now, and class is a burden on some of the nation's finest young athletes.
Players are payed at tiered rates, hypothetically speaking of
10 players- capped at 100k per season above tuition, room and board
30 players- capped at 60k per season above tuition, room and board
30 players- capped at 40k per season above tuition, room and board
30 players- capped at room and board, tuition and a 1k a month stipend
Hold outs are all but guaranteed, given the nature of a salary cap and unexpected player development mixed with canny agents. Lockouts and strikes are presumed to be unlikely given the difficulty of unionizing a revolving door of 18-23 year olds.
Profits don't meet the lofty claims made by the involved university presidents, but financially all involved parties are better off than they were before. The same cannot be said for those left behind. A few abandon the sport entirely, while others continue with the knowledge that they have essentially been foreclosed from the top talent, regardless of state ties. The remaining FBS players have an experience comparable to their FCS counterparts (i.e. without bowls, with reduced NFL prospects and with a playoff).
The dream scenario? A nightmare dystopia? BONizens, how much professionalization are you willing to tolerate from a college sport, and at what point, if ever, will professionalization make you stop following the Burnt Orange and White?
(1) For two interesting takes on the subject, I suggest Donald Yee's Washington Post editorial and John Infante's musings about what such a thing could look like. Yee is an NFL agent and practitioner of enlightened self interest, and Infante is a Loyola Marymount NCAA compliance director.
(2) Feel free to modify the hypo to a more or less utopian/dystopian setting as you see fit. The essence is the question of whether you would be a fan if the players were paid and had a drastically reduced connection to the university. But they still wear Burnt Orange.