With the way the sports world is today, nothing slips through the cracks. There are simply too many blogs, too many radio hosts, too many Around the Horn panelists and too many know it all’s at the barber shop to ever let that happen.
Only, something happened on Monday afternoon, that for once, I feel like not nearly enough people are talking about it. That’s when according to a report by CNBC’s Darren Rovell, former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton signed the largest shoe contract for an incoming rookie in NFL history. While official terms weren’t disclosed, sources told Rovell that the deal was for over a million dollars a year.
No big deal, right? Who cares, right?
Well, I care.
You see, I spend the better part of the fall, every fall, defending the NCAA. Well, not “defending” them per se, since defending the NCAA would be nearly as bad as defending Bernie Madoff, Charlie Sheen, or anyone who enjoys the show The Big Bang Theory. Still, I do defend the NCAA in one regard: Their refusal to pay student-athletes.
Maybe I’m alone on this (and increasingly, I think I am), but I just don’t think college athletes should be paid. Not in football, not in basketball, not in golf or swimming. For 99 percent of athletes on college campuses, the value of their scholarship is worth more than any revenue they’ll ever produce for their school. For every Cam Newton there are 500 guys who never see the field, play for a program that’s losing money, or play a sport that nobody pays to watch.
Taking it a step further, just looking at Newton’s National Championship team at Auburn, how many of his teammates will end up in the NFL besides him? Eight? Nine? Of those eight or nine, who besides Newton is going to make enough from their NFL careers to live the rest of their lives comfortably? Being gracious, there’s Newton, Nick Fairley, and what, maybe one or two others? Meanwhile the other 80+ guys on that Auburn team are going to need the free education provided to them to survive the rest of their lives. There are a million others around the country just like them.
Of course, the one thing holding up my argument about paying players is guys like Newton himself. Not to mention Tim Tebow, Reggie Bush, Vince Young, Tyler Hansbrough and a handful of others, who produce way more money for their schools than the value of their scholarships will ever be worth. Those select few may be a small minority, but a minority none the less. Should they be paid?
My answer is still no. Which is where Newton’s flashy new sneaker deal comes into the argument.
In regards to paying players, the point I’ve always contended is that yes, there are a very small percentage of guys who do more for their school than their school does for them. Many people (including a lot who I respect) think those guys should be paid, with the argument being, “Between ticket sales, jersey sales, TV contracts and everything else, look at how much straight cash these guys make for their school.” Good point. Sort of.
While that argument is nice, from my vantage point, it’s a bit narrow. Yes, those guys make a ton of money for their respective school, but what I never hear anyone saying is, “Look at how much money their school ends up making for them.” Cam Newton just signed the richest shoe contract of any rookie in NFL history. Would that have happened without the platform Auburn, the SEC and television provided him? My guess is probably not.
Obviously, a lot of people will fight back with the argument that Newton is a transcendent talent and a once in a generation player, someone who would’ve gotten that shoe deal wherever he ended up playing college football. To which I respond, umm, really?
Remember, even though Newton is a superstar now, he was a no-name to most college football fans as recently as nine months ago. Even if he had stayed at Florida or enrolled at Mississippi State, there was no guarantee of success or winning (especially if Steve Addazio was calling his plays), at least not at the level that Auburn did this year. Cam Newton didn’t win Auburn’s National Championship alone.
So while it seems likely Newton would’ve signed a shoe contract with someone, regardless of where he finished his college career, I find it hard to believe he would’ve gotten the same dollars and cents if he hadn’t played on an undefeated, SEC and National Champion. And I haven't even mentioned that Auburn had a pre-existing apparel deal with Under Armour before Newton got there. Think that helped along his negotiations?
And ultimately, you know what the concept of paying athletes reminds me of? The choices that young people make every day as they get ready for college. Why does a high school senior choose to spend $50,000 a year to go to Harvard, instead of $500 a year to go to the community college down the street? Isn’t it because, while you might be paying out your teeth on the front end, you’ll get rewarded on the back end? Doesn’t a Harvard education provide better networking opportunities, a larger alumni base and better job prospects than that community college? How is being a college athlete that much different? Aren’t you sacrificing money up front to be rewarded in the end? That’s certainly how things seem to have played out for Newton this week.
Again, I’m really not sure why this story didn’t get more pub than it did. Maybe I’m the only one who cares. Maybe we’re all just a little “Cam Newton-ed out,” by now. Or maybe, we all got sidetracked by Valentines Day. I don’t know.
Just do me a favor: The first time you see Newton’s pearly white smile on an Under Armour ad next spring, remember that as much as his inherent skill landed him on your TV, Auburn played a role too.
Honestly, they did a lot more than you might think.
Also for his continued take on all things sports, and updates on his articles, podcasts and giveaways, be sure to follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres, Facebook.com/AaronTorresSports or by downloading the Aaron Torres Sports App for FREE for your iPhone or Android Phones)