A proposal that could save current NCAA model?

Has the time come to allow college athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness?

An issue that has been talked about off and on through the years, I view it as the only way the NCAA can save itself from oblivion.

Wednesday we saw USA Today cover a proposal to make this a reality that is worth a closer look.  

Former Ohio State president Brit Kirwan is among those who acknowledges the idea has some merit, but the money quote to me comes from long-time college basketball coach Lon Kruger.

“How do we help (elite athletes) recognize their value?” Kruger said. ‘We should do everything we can to let elite athletes be treated fairly … but not at the expense of the 98% (of athletes) who have a pretty good deal.”

While I think the NCAA largely gets a bad rap, the bad P.R. train has already achieved runaway status.

Not only is the organization an easy punching bag for pundits, it has and continues to face some legal challenges that it seems are going to be hard to win.

To be clear, I think in black and white, there are rules the NCAA maintains that probably aren’t fair.  In practice, though, the overall system is probably better for more people now than it would be if the whole thing were blown up and we had to start over.

As I have written before, I wouldn’t set up a system this way if I were starting from scratch, but it works a hell of a lot better than most of its critics will admit.

The vast majority of students get a great deal with a slew of guaranteed benefits that far outweigh what they individually bring to their programs.

A few probably aren’t paid in proportion to what they are worth, but many of those are still in position to cash in by the age of 22. For the elite college football players, that is earlier than pretty much all of their counterparts, even those who are able to go pro straight out of high school.

But, “It’s not that bad!” doesn’t mean it can’t be better, and there are certainly some players who slip through the cracks in some manner or another. Whether that is because they are bona fide potential pros who get hurt before they get through college or (more often) players who are big college stars who don’t quite fit in the pros, some aren’t able to cash in when the iron will be the hottest for them.

Allowing players to profit off their likeness while in college serves this specific group without taking anything away from their more anonymous teammates.

It also precludes creating a free market system that, while perhaps the most fair in a very general sense, runs the risk of alienating fans who at least in part are drawn to the difference between watching pros and “amateurs.”

Some scoff at this notion, but the fact is if college athletics loses a significant percentage of its fanbase because there is no longer a difference between college and the pros — even if just in perception — the money that gets argued over now will not be a problem because it won’t exist anymore.

Per USA Today, the proposal from Tulane law professor Gabe Feldman also contains “anti-circumvention rules designed to prevent sham deals that simply constitute pay for playing sports.”

How hard would those be to enforce? Who knows? I’m not that worried about it because if “sham” deals did exist, what would be the harm?

The first response to these types of proposals is always, “What will stop a booster at a school from paying a player a pseudo salary to endorse a product?” The answer is probably nothing because, well, pretty much all endorsements are more or less money for next to nothing anyway, especially if we’re talking about a company that already has any established presence.

Will the schools with the most active and richest boosters benefit more from this than others? No doubt about it. That’s exactly how things already are, so again this is not a really relevant concern. And even if it weren’t, doesn’t athlete welfare trump it anyway? I’d say yes. Especially when it seems like both from a PR and legal standpoint the NCAA model is already in quicksand.

No matter what one thinks of the status quo, it’s pretty clear it’s not going to last.

Maybe a complete redux is necessary, but I don’t think so.

This proposal could represent a great bridge to something better, a system that benefits those at the top more without taking away from the rest.

It’s a best of both worlds type of thing that we hear a lot about but rarely is this close to actually being achievable.

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