Paying the college football stars?

Millions of us have watched our alma maters or favorite schools win or lose at college football, with pride and bragging rights rising and falling with results.

No matter the outcome, there was a common sound blessing the institutions participating in major college football — cha ching.

That is the sound of dollars — millions of them — coming into universities that play major college football, courtesy of the student-athletes who performed.

There is money spent for tickets. Cha ching. There is money paid to booster organizations for the right to buy those tickets and get a priority tailgate spot outside the stadium. Cha ching. There is money spent to wear the jersey of favorite players. Cha ching. There is money paid by television networks that determine the starting times of most games to fit programming schedules. Cha ching.

At Penn State and Notre Dame and several dozen other schools, the revenue from football and basketball pays the costs of 25 to 30 other sports, everything from women’s field hockey to fencing.

They are students. They are athletes. And they are cash cows.

So every year about the time the leaves fall, there is a push for money to rain down on the student-athletes that make autumn Saturdays special.

At first glance, it makes sense. They are bringing millions of dollars into universities. Why should they not get a few pennies?

Not so fast.

If football and basketball players are going to be paid, what about the women’s lacrosse players? Before you point out 100 people show up for their game and 100,000 people show up for the Penn State-Ohio State football game, remember the law does not care about attendance numbers and relative fan interest.

Separating men’s college football and basketball from all the other sports for the purpose of paying student-athletes is a lawsuit waiting to happen. And it’s a lawsuit that would succeed.

How much are we going to pay the student-athletes? Can all the schools afford that? We can’t have the pay vary depending on whether the athlete attends Michigan or Western Michigan. And what about smaller colleges? If we are paying the Alabama quarterback, what about Lycoming’s kicker?

And just how is this going to be monitored? Bigtime college athletics is fraught with corruption. It’s easy to imagine Joe Bigtime Booster making sure Johnny Quarterback gets extra for playing at Dear Old State.

But the biggest argument against paying quarterbacks and point guards is a simple one.

They already are getting paid.

They are getting a full scholarship because they are athletes.

If you think that’s an outdated concept, you may not be aware of the cost of a college education. Most students — many with minds every bit as exceptional as the legs of your friendly neighborhood running back — graduate from college with a loan of somewhere between $20,000 and $200,000.

That’s a payback that can take decades. That’s a payoff that determines what type of job they need rather than what type of job they may want. That’s a payoff that is life-altering.

Granted, the size of that loan is determined by a choice that a family and student make.

But that’s no different than the choice to play football, with all its physical risks.

The difference is a top-five student academically is less likely to get a full scholarship at Penn State than an athlete. There just aren’t as many academic full rides available, which is understandable given that there aren’t millions of people tuning in to watch the chem lab in action.

Anybody sneering at the notion that an athletic scholarship is payment enough is either unaware of its worth or disrespectful of what families going through financially to put kids through college.

We don’t need to pay the linebacker you watched recover that fumble yesterday. And, by the way, we don’t need to pay off the loan for your neighbor’s genius biology major. They both made choices in return for an opportunity.

What we need to make sure of is that the concept of the student-athlete is preserved. A lot of the athletes you watched yesterday are the first ones in their families to get the opportunity at a college education, thanks to the full scholarship their athleticism earned them.

Their odds at getting paid to play professionally are steep. They need to make sure they are holding universities to the academic part of the student-athlete bargain. The suspicion here is that too many are opting for the schools’ attempts to shepherd them through a diluted version of a college education rather than insisting on the real thing.

A real education for quarterbacks and chemistry standouts alike that results in real world opportunities — that concept deserves a universal booster club.

David F. Troisi is the retired editor of the Sun-Gazette.


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