Mr. CFB: It's crunch time. Players won't get paid, but they must be compensated

Ohio State AD Gene Smith, a co-chair of the NCAA committee, says: "This group's work will not result in paying students as employees."Joseph Maiorana/USA Today

An NCAA working group will determine if college athletes can get paid for the use of their names images, or likenesses

I’ve long believed that the best way to make sure no problem is ever solved, in sports or in government or in life, is to appoint a committee to study it. Because more often than not, when a problem gets talked to death, the participants ultimately decide: “You know this is really, really hard. I don’t think it can be done.”

This is my worst fear about the recently formed “working group” that will try to determine if the NCAA rules on amateurism have enough wiggle room to allow college athletes to be compensated for the commercial use of their “name, image, or likeness.”

So what are we talking about here?

Example: You’re a college athlete and a local car company asks you to spend two hours in the off-season signing autographs and taking photos with customers. They want to pay for your time and the use of your name and the photo they will use to promote the event. In short, they are using you to make money. They want to give you some of that money.

Shouldn’t you be able to do that? Who is hurt by that?

A music major from the same school who just got invited to play at Carnegie Hall would be free to take the same offer with no questions asked.

A chemistry major who invented a vaccine could sell it to a pharmaceutical company and give paid speeches on how it happened.

Let’s say someone is manufacturing and selling a Clemson football jersey No. 16 with the name “Lawrence” sewn on the back. Under standard licensing agreements, Clemson would receive compensation for the use of its school logo and colors. Shouldn’t Trevor Lawrence receive some compensation for the use of his name, which adds value to the jersey?

Yes. I hear you. There are a million different directions you could go with this and a million different ways that people could game system.

What if, for example, Nike owner and Oregon grad Phil Knight goes to football coach Mario Cristobal and says: “Identify your top 15 recruiting targets and I will offer each an endorsement deal of $250,000.

See what I mean?

Now the mere fact that after all of these years of hemming and hawing and basically hoping the issue would go away, the NCAA is actually going to TALK about it. That’s a big, big deal, according to our friend Andy Stapes of SI.com.

With head coaches now making $9 million a year, assistants over $2 million a year and then the unprecedented building of palatial facilities, the argument that the schools at the highest level do not have the money just doesn’t hold water. And there are two realities that the powers that be in college athletics have to face at this point in time:

1—Maintaining the status quo is no longer an option. We have reached a critical mass where something has to be done. If not, there are hundreds of lawyers who can’t wait to take on the system because they know they are going to win. And the NCAA member institutions know it too.

I’m not a lawyer but I raised one and I think a pretty strong case can be made that the current rules on this constitute a restraint of trade.

Oh by the way, Congress can’t wait to jump in on this one with both feet. Representative Mark Walker of North Carolina has introduced a bill that would strip the NCAA of its tax exempt status if it doesn’t allow the players to test the market place to see what their name, image, and likeness are worth.

2—You can’t just pay the players for services rendered. You can’t. As much as some players and some fans would like to just cut the guys a check and be done with this issue, there are clear reasons why that can’t happen.

Title IX says that if football and men’s basketball players get a check from the school, then the members of the volleyball team get the same check. It doesn’t matter that football and basketball generate billions and volleyball does not. College athletics is a multi-billion business but it operates under the umbrella of an educational institution.

If players are paid, then they become employees. If they become employees then they can unionize. If they unionize they can strike over compensation and benefits.

So here is where we are.

This working group, which includes Georgia president Jere Morehead and Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith, has find a way thread the needle to allow the players to be compensated for their value in the free marketplace but at the same time not be paid as employees of the university.

In fact, this working group is not going to even TALK about athletes becoming employees.

“The group’s work will not result in paying students as employees,” Smith said in the NCAA’s release. “That structure is contrary to the NCAA’s educational mission and will not be a part of this discussion.”

Here is what has to happen. This group, which is scheduled to file its report in October, has to come up with a small step to get the ball (pun intended) rolling. Maybe players could sign autographs and memorabilia for money just to prove that the world is not going to come to an end if the players get a few extra bucks in their pockets.

But they HAVE to do something. If this can gets kicked down the road again, it will get very, very ugly.

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