This is the second of a 2-part series on college football. For those of you who prefer my analysis of the NBA and want me to stay out of your sport, don’t worry! That happens next week. The reason I wanted to share my opinion on this topic is two-fold. First, I feel that this is a big issue that needs to be discussed. Going forward, this issue will impact the lives of not only college athletes, but also all of our children and the parents of college students. Second, as college alum myself from the not too distant past, I know the expenses associated with college. I was a college student with no scholarships at all. My college education cost me around $40,000 to $45,000. This is at Minnesota St. University, where I received in state tuition and the school is not known as being very pricey. The idea of getting a scholarship that would cover all of this would be a dream come true. But for college athletes, is that enough? A better question is “Should that be enough?”

First, let me provide you with some statistics from the Texas A&M Times; “Last season, research conducted by Joyce Julius and Associates, showed that by Johnny Manziel winning the Heisman Trophy, he ALONE generated 1.8 million media impressions, which translates in $37 million in media exposure for the university”. The article goes on to say; “the figures do not reflect increases from merchandise sales, ticket requests or donations to the school, all of which historically see dramatic increases that produce a Heisman winner”.

Let’s wrap our collective minds around this. Johnny Manziel, by winning the Heisman, produced the media exposure equivalent of $37 million in one season. What does that mean? That means that young football players in California, Florida, the Northeast and Northwest have now been exposed to Texas A&M. It means people will go online to buy Johnny Manziel jerseys, A&M memorabilia and he may be what causes out of state students to apply and come to A&M. Keep in mind; this number above does not include jersey sales, ticket sales or advertising revenue, which almost certainly increased as well.

As a business student and marketer by profession, I can tell you the cost of branding is expensive. It’s time consuming and in a market with lots of competition (like college football), it can be extremely difficult to build your brand. The fact that one man, through his play on the field, can do more for a brand than the school can do in years of advertising is invaluable. You can bet all over the country, you had people saying to their friends, neighbors or family “hey, have you seen that Johnny Manziel guy? He’s really good! They are playing on television next Saturday. Let’s get together and watch or you have to check it out!” As any marketer knows, word-of-mouth marketing is the best marketing. It’s free and has more buy-in than any other medium. Take a second and think about it. If you’re best friend, family member or significant other came to you and said check this out, 99% of the time, you’re going to do just that. Money cannot buy that but Johnny Manziel created that for A&M.

I could throw out statistic after statistic to prove that these schools make so much money
off college kids but most of you already know this to be true. Let’s take a quick look at what students already get on a football scholarship. These students get a “full ride scholarship”, which means tuition, books, housing, food, etc is all paid for. However, these athletes are NOT allowed to make money using their abilities outside of their scholarships. A friend of mine had a Division 2 scholarship to play football, which he stopped doing after one year.
The reason? They map out your entire day, eating, lifting, class, tutoring and practice. These athletes do not have enough time to have a job outside of athletics, especially during their season. Now, while most people don’t consider these athlete’s “disadvantaged”, there are many students who receive other types of scholarships (such as academic) who can work and extra money to support hobbies, etc. There are also many students who are blessed enough that their parents can afford to help pay for college and if these students work, they may have quite a bit more money than your typical college student.

Living in Austin, I have heard this talked into the ground among radio personalities and in personal conversations. Some people say that no, they shouldn’t get more because they are getting an education for free. Others say they should get paid a stipend every semester, like $2,000. However, does the middle reliever on the A&M baseball team make the same amount for the school as Manziel? Of course not! Should those students get paid the same? Also, here in America, we have Title IX to consider. For any Canadian or UK readers, if you were to look into any college that receives Title IX funding, you would notice that men’s and women’s sports are equal in numbers. It is a federal law that calls for equal opportunities in collegiate athletics. It’s a good thing to have in place but that makes the stipend argument more difficult because I am pretty sure you can’t just pay a football player and not a women’s volleyball player. Finally, I have heard “free-market” suggestions saying; let the player make what they are worth. If Manziel can make millions, then he should be allowed to do just that. If 3rd string lineman guy can’t, well, too bad for him. The fact is that nothing is going to dramatically change in college football unless schools feel it will impact their bottom line. I heard a crazy statistic once that football at many schools pays for the cost of ALL the other athletic programs combined. That is unbelievable.

My opinion on this subject is that I don’t think it’s possible to find something that is “fair”. Football players will always make more money than every other sport for the school, so market logic says they should get paid more. Title IX will not bend its rules for this though. If the school is going to give student athletes anything, it will have to give every student athlete the exact same thing. I do feel that students should be allowed to profit off things such as: jersey sales with their name/number, autographs being sold, t-shirts with their likeness etc. Any sort of memorabilia that is sold, the students should receive some sort of royalties. It is not fair that universities are making millions of dollars off individuals and yet don’t give them anything. I also think that students should receive some sort of stipend and it should be based on the revenue brought in by that sport. I believe all students should receive something and if a football player receives $10,000 while baseball receives $2,000, then fine.  How I feel you can offset this disparity is by allowing other athletes to compete in professional events without losing their eligibility. For example, Jordan Speith, a PGA golfer who won his first tournament this year, lost his eligibility after winning the national title as a freshman at UT, when he joined the PGA tour. Golf doesn’t generate money for the university but if Jordan plays golf but continues to qualify for his scholarship academically and keeps his university commitments, then why not? Should a student who is on a music scholarship be prohibited from singing in an opera in New York that would pay her? No! These people have scholarships because they are extraordinary at something and to say that for 4 years, you’re not allowed to make money off this talent isn’t fair.

Most of these people will never play professional sports and regardless if the player is Johnny Manziel or the third string lineman, they are still good enough to be on the team that is making the university millions upon millions of dollars. The lifespan of an athlete’s career is short and to say that they cannot use their abilities to make a career at 18 but can ruin their career at 18 is unfair and wrong. I think this will also help make college sports more competitive. Kids will come to college and may not want to leave so quickly to get to the NFL or NBA. I would argue that the most important fact being overlooked is most of these athletes NEED to finish their education. Many professional athletes, even ones who play for 15 years, still end up broke. They don’t know how to manage money or stay out of trouble. Having a college education to fall back on could save athletes from a devastating injury by giving them a backup career option or help them deal with life after their career. Many athletes are kids who come from bad areas who found sports as a way to escape their situation. How awesome would it be that they are the first in their family to graduate college and set that example for their kids going forward.

Thanks for reading. I loved writing this and I hope that some of you will comment, as I would love to hear your opinions. Feel free to hit me up on twitter at @weigel_a and I’ll always answer back.