The NCAA Needs to Pay College Athletes, and Here’s How (To The Point)

In the debut edition of “To The Point,” I’m looking at a topic or issue and providing my thoughts and a breakdown of a solution that I think works best. This week, it’s paying college athletes. College football and college basketball combine to generate billions of dollars of revenue every year, and yet the athletes themselves aren’t compensated beyond the scholarships that their 1960s counterparts received for playing in a time before the Super Bowl and massive TV contracts existed.

Figuring out how to pay college athletes has always been a tricky subject. How can you maintain the integrity of the sports if Alabama can dig deeper into its pockets to pay a recruit than a school like Boise State possibly could? What about sports that don’t generate tons of revenue, like lacrosse and soccer? It’s a complicated subject, but I think I have the answer.

My solution is to have only three sports turn professional: football, men’s basketball, and women’s basketball. On top of that, not every school would become professional. Much like how the Football Bowl Subdivision and Football Championship Subdivision both exist as levels of Division I college football, so too would a Football Professional Subdivision (or Basketball Professional Subdivision). Schools from the Power Five are already playing on a different level than the vast majority of their other FBS counterparts, so this helps actually solidify that divide.

Schools would have the option to go pro or remain as amateur-level programs. Any school that goes pro in football must also do so in both men’s and women’s basketball, and any school looking to turn pro in men’s or women’s basketball must go pro in the other. It’s safe to figure that most Power Five programs would end up going pro in all three sports, while plenty of non-Power Five schools (ex. Marquette, UConn, Villanova, Xavier) would opt to go pro in basketball and keep their amateur status for football.

Division I FPS teams would each have 70 players, while Division I BPS teams would each have 15 players (both men’s and women’s). Football teams would have a total player salary of $10,000,000 per year, while each basketball team would have a total player salary of $3,000,000 per year. All players’ individual salaries would be tiered, with each team capped at a specific number of players at each salary level.

For football, each team would break down like this:

  • $275,000 (5 players)
  • $225,000 (5 players)
  • $175,000 (20 players)
  • $125,000 (20 players)
  • $100,000 (10 players)
  • $50,000 (10 players)

For basketball, teams would look like this:

  • $275,000 (4 players)
  • $225,000 (4 players)
  • $175,000 (4 players)
  • $100,000 (3 players)

All player contracts would be locked-in and guaranteed for two years (a player’s freshman and sophomore seasons). After the player’s sophomore year, there is a mutual option for the player’s junior year. This means that both the player and the team would have to agree to bring the player back or else the player would be released to free agency (more on that in a moment). After a player’s junior year, there would be a player option for the senior season. This means that it is entirely up to the player whether or not to return to the team for their final year.

Players who leave after their sophomore or junior seasons would become free agents. These players are free to leave for a traditional pro league or to sign with any other FPS/BPS team. These free agents would be joined by any amateur athletes who decided to join college’s pro ranks after their sophomore or junior seasons. Any player signing a contract in this way, be they a FPS/BPS Free Agent or an amateur turning pro, would be locked into a two-year deal (if they are rising juniors) or a one-year deal (if they are rising seniors). Neither the player nor the team would be permitted to opt-out early from a free agent contract.

For even more on this concept, check out the video at the top of this page. There, I also break down exactly why it’s so important that college athletes start earning financial compensation for the work that they do for their schools.

Drew Goldfarb: @DrewGoldfarbDrew has been covering sports professionally since 2007, covering sports of all kinds in the ACC, SEC, Big 12 and Conference USA. In addition to covering college sports, he also spent two seasons working with the NHL's Florida Panthers as part of their TV broadcast team, as well as reporting and anchoring for AT&T SportsNet and FOX Sports affiliates, CBS Sports Network and ESPNU. Drew has also been active in Fantasy Sports since 2002.