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Lowell Cohn: Top-tier college football, basketball programs should pay athletes

  • The NCAA couldn't prove that Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel accepted improper pay for signing autographs. (ROGELIO V. SOLIS / Associated Press)

College football and basketball players should get paid.

I'm talking about the top-tier schools, the schools that appear on television all the time, the schools that earn millions from the labor of their so-called student-athletes, the schools that pay their coaches big salaries — sometimes in the millions — the schools that preach the virtue of amateurism so they can take all the cash for themselves while they buy off the players with full scholarships and sometimes partial scholarships.

I'm talking about schools where, mostly, scholar-athletes couldn't care less about the scholar part and go to school only because it's the minor-league for the pro sports they really want to play. I'm saying the amateur model we currently embrace is a joke and a lie. I'm saying boxing is more honest than college football and basketball. Boxing is honest about its dishonesty. College football and basketball want to con you, make you think they are morally upstanding. Give me a break.

A labor attorney named Jeff Kessler just filed an antitrust lawsuit in New Jersey claiming compensation for players should not be limited to the price of a scholarship. The suit claims players should be fairly compensated for their contribution to the big business of college sports. The suit also claims NCAA schools are a cartel illegally limiting compensation for college football and basketball players.

To which I say, right on, Jeff Kessler.

Let's bring this down to the human scale. Let's use everyday language. The colleges and the NCAA make all the money from football and basketball and throw a few crumbs to the players. This seems appropriate to us because it's the way it's been done. That doesn't mean it's right.

Here are two small examples. I'm talking about Johnny Manziel and Terrelle Pryor. Both got in trouble in college because they allegedly signed autographs for money.

Stop the world. They got money for their signatures. Next they'll be robbing banks.

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