NCAA slam, college athletes be careful what you wish for

It’s been nearly 20 years since I wrote my University of Minnesota Masters of Sports Management dissertation which was titled “Why College Athletes Should Be Paid”.  Today, the debate has taken a historic turn following the state of California passing a bill to allow players to get paid from their own likeness...Amen.

College sports and access to major universities offer student-athletes from lower economic backgrounds the chance to experience a different world. Many are able to break the cycle of poverty and others are able to build or expand their family's legacy.

Athletes are able to broaden their horizons by being a part of a diverse student body, which offers real-world experiences and cultural understandings. College also forces young student-athletes to find and embrace independence. But the real question is, how much money can an athlete make?

As a Freshman two-sport athlete in college, I had my first child and found myself in the position of a student, an athlete and a father. It was a tough reality to face at such a young age, and the NCAA did nothing but make it an uphill battle for me and my family. I had to quickly try to figure out how to navigate the abrasive NCAA rules in order to make a little cash

At this time NCAA athletes were only allowed to earn $2,500 per year off the field, which obviously made it difficult to take care of two young children while focusing on academics and playing major college football and track. So I found myself working late nights at bars for cash, and I started hosting my own events, which clearly violated NCAA rules. Student-athletes who are caught violating the income policies can be stripped of their scholarships or even thrown off their team.

20 years ago, college athletes received their scholarships, 3 meals, your dorm and a $1,900 Pell grant if you qualified financially. This certainly wasn’t enough to take care of a family, but oh how things have changed.

The Good

After speaking with current college student-athletes, I must say I was pleasantly surprised to learn about their well-deserved pay increases. For example, at two prominent Division 1 Football Programs, the athletes receive the following:

  • $1250 cash per semester 
  • Luxury Dorm Housing 
  • Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
  • $650 Additional Grocery/Snack Voucher per semester
  • $7,000 annually from student aid package
  • Up to $6,195 annually from Pell Grant for Eligible Athletes
  • Up to $4,000 annually for Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant for Eligible Athletes 
  • Some Athletes can apply for additional Academic and other scholarships
  • Students Athletes attend all the events at our arena free

At many college powerhouses, up to 50 percent of college football players qualify for Pell Grants and other aid. So if I was playing college football today, I would receive nearly $20,000 per year in addition to a full-ride scholarship, full room, and board. My kids would have definitely been a little easier to feed. And to think, this is all without working a summer job.

Now the legislative fight is focused on allowing college athletes to be paid for their likeness. I remember playing for the University of Minnesota where our arch-rival was Wisconsin who at the time was lead by NCAA All-Time Rusher and Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne. That season it was estimated that the University sold over $11 million dollars from his Jersey and merchandise. After college, I had the chance to play with Ron as a member of the New York Giants, when I learned that Ron had received $0 from his name and likeness during his historic run.  Well, that’s just Un-American.

1999: Running back Ron Dayne #33 of Wisconsin in action during the 1999 college football season. Photo by Icon SMI (Photo by John Biever/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Hopefully, more states will join California in order to defeat the NCAA in allowing college athletes to control their own likeness. I can only imagine the spur of entrepreneurship that will spread across college campuses with athletes selling merchandise, starting businesses, hosting sports camps and getting paid for speaking engagements and appearances.

Finally, college athletes may be getting closer to enjoying the fruits of American capitalism.

The Bad

In capitalism, there are two sides to every trade. And unlike many things in modern American society, everyone isn’t a winner in capitalism. As we all know, once you are considered an employee, you can be fired. This is where the push for paying college athletes can become a slippery slope.

Will wealthy powerhouse schools like Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Notre Dame or Texas be obligated to keep athletes on scholarship when they don’t perform up to expectations? Well, there’s a strong argument that supports cutting players if they are considered employees. This is certain to be catastrophic for so many college athletes who have traditionally been able to get quality degrees despite having lackluster college sports careers.  I can remember numerous athletes who would fit into the category of “not living up to their scholarship”.

What about the small schools? Most college sports fans love watching the underdog during March Madness, or the small conference school upsetting the powerhouse to throw off the BCS rankings. If the new NCAA policies are not written correctly, this could completely destroy the fabric of college sports. If you’re a young superstar player at a small school, would you pass up the opportunity to transfer to a powerhouse like Michigan where you can earn much more endorsement money? If not properly governed, this new California Legislation could mean permanent destruction of parity in college basketball and other sports where smaller colleges and Universities currently have a shot at upsetting the powerhouses.


As I continue to support the opportunity for college athletes to participate in American capitalism, I warn all involved to approach with caution. This will take some very careful and insightful planning. Hats off to California for paving the way for bringing equal economic opportunity to one of America’s largest forgotten demographics.


This is finally a California legislation that President Trump could get behind and help implement it federally. They could definitely use the President's tough negotiating skills with the NCAA and it would likely be right in time for the BCS championship.

Jack Brewer possesses a unique combination of expertise in the fields of global economic development, sports and finance through his roles as a successful entrepreneur, executive producer, news contributor and humanitarian. Currently, Jack serves as the CEO and Portfolio Manager of The Brewer Group, Inc. as well as the Founder and Executive Director of The Jack Brewer Foundation (JBF Worldwide), active Shriner and Ambassador and National Spokesperson for the National Association of Police Athletic/Activities Leagues, Inc.

Other key roles include regular contributor to CNBC, Fox Business and The American City Business Journals, Ambassador for Peace and Sport for the International Federation for Peace and Sustainable Development at the United Nations, Senior Advisor to former H.E. President Joyce Banda of the Republic of Malawi and three-time National Football League (NFL) Team Captain for the Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants.