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Blogging about college football by an Oklahoma Sooners fan.

An Intriguing Pay-for-Play Proposal

John Infante, assistant director of compliance at Loyola Marymount University and author of the Bylaw Blog, has a compelling proposal posted on his site today regarding paying college football players.

(By the way, kudos to the NCAA for convincing Infante to continue his blog after his cover was blown last year.)

I recommend you read the specifics of Infante's plan, which intends to be more of a working draft or starting point for discussion than concrete recommendation. In a nutshell, Infante posits a scenario in which major schools have essentially spun off their football programs into a new league outside the NCAA, but retained most of the NCAA rules regarding booster payments, practice limits and the like.

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Players would receive annual compensation consisting of:

  • a standard base salary (e.g. $1,250 per month);
  • payment of school tuition and fees; and
  • capped signing bonuses (e.g., a maximum of $100,000 or $25,000 per season).

Credit Infante with devising a creative solution to such a nebulous problem. A couple thoughts:

*Infante's proposal meets the baseline requirements that people seem to want retained from the current system.

The rules of the road under which schools compete for recruits would for all intents and purposes remain the same. Also, athletes would still have the educational opportunities currently available to them.

*The signing bonus idea could cause problems.

Will schools operate under the equivalent of a standardized salary cap? Will they have a salary floor that they have to meet? Will they have a certain number of salary slots to fill? Alternatively, will all players receive the same signing bonus?

*The new salary structure would mean an increase in expenses for athletic departments.

Let's say Infante's pay-for-play scheme meant spending went up $20,000 per player for each school. Multiply that by 85 scholarship players, and we're talking about an additional $1.7 million per year.

That's actually a relatively manageable figure in the greater scheme of things. Schools could tap a number of revenue sources to offset those, such as negotiating for more lucrative television contracts, raising ticket prices and implementing a postseason playoff.

One area that I imagine would be off-limits: salaries of coaches and school administrators. Just how these things go.

*Title IX.

I honestly have no idea how Title IX would affect this kind of system. However, in my experience, it almost always comes into play in high school and college athletics.

*Infate acknowledges this won't stop cheating.

At least when it comes to elite players, economists refer to this kind of arrangement as a price ceiling. In this type of situation, an artificial price is set for a good or service below what the market would bear based on demand. Consequently, it creates a black market for the product.

Even with the compensation package Infante outlines, boosters and agents would still be willing to offer additional money and gifts hoping to secure the commitments of star prospects. Players obviously have little incentive to turn down what amounts to free money.

(I still think you have to figure out a way to responsibly "decriminalize" agent arrangements. That's a discussion for another time.)

Clearly, there are plenty of devilish details here that would have to be ironed out. However, Infante's proposal at least provides a constructive starting point for a meaningful discussion of potential alternatives to the confusing and unrealistic rules of amateurism that now guide major college football.