College football has fat money.
Defensive Coordinator salaries are breaking into the million-dollar club quicker than their players can steal crab legs or upload YouTube videos.
FSU just signed Harlon Barnett as their new DC for about $1m a year, while Oregon’s DC Jim Leavitt is making around $1.7m on the clock. Since that number-barrier has been broken, the number of assistant coaches grabbing a stack will grow season by season. The payout for everyone involved with college football is skyrocketing, and the coveted million-dollar club isn’t reserved for head coaches anymore – so, where do the players fit in?
Well, the only way I can make sense of my argument is with a little story.
Two students are offered scholarships for various reasons. Kid A may be exceptional at math and solving for X, while Kid B may be exceptional at reading blocking schemes and ripping a QB’s head off. Let’s say they both get a full ride, just for the sake of it. There are holes, but hear me out:
Kid A can be a TA for class, an intern at a company in his/her field, or even work part-time at a company in his/her field while on scholarship. That’s Kid A being allowed to take advantage of what he/she is good at. Kid A is being paid while on scholarship by taking advantage of what they’re on scholarship for.
Kid B might be renowned around campus for said head-rippings (I’ll stick to male pronouns strictly for the football reference, don’t kill me). Kid B might be offered to take pictures for a local apparel store and have his face in a window holding a football. Nope. Kid B can’t be paid for his popularity and association with savagery. Which, remember, is what his scholarship is for. Kid B doesn’t own his likeness. Kid B has a full-time job but no money to go with it. Kid B is not being paid while on scholarship and is not allowed to take advantage of what he’s on scholarship for.
The National Championship was just played on ESPN, where 30-second ad spots reportedly went for $1.2m. They had Kung-Fu Kenny out there at halftime, and the average ticket was somewhere in the $3,000 range. Even President Trump skipped a round of golf to be in attendance.
These days, everything tied to the organization has dollar signs attached to it. Today’s world is hyper-connected, and more eyes mean more money. Players today transcend the field. They aren’t only known for their Saturday performances anymore. Their personality (or brand) reaches far from the 20-yard line. The increased commercialism, the consumer needs to be “closer than ever”, and the explosion of social media has blurred the lines of control the NCAA once had, forever. The player can’t capitalize and get paid to be in a music video with Migos. The player can’t get free burgers if he lets the local shop use his face with a sign “National Champions eat here”.
The point is: college athletes should – at the very least – be able to take advantage of their platform. They should be able to use their accolades, achievements, and interests to be partnered with, be sponsored by, or build their brand with companies that they seek out. The school can even set up a system to vet these partnerships to maintain positive representation. Just don’t handcuff the kids.
If levels of college coaches are making millions for what they’re good at (and even if they’re just average), the players should be able to problem-solve and try their hand at branding themselves. Make room and pull up a chair to the grown-up table.