Finally Allowing Athletes to Make a Buck — and the Unintended Consequences

by | Oct 31, 2019 | Uncategorized | 1 comment

This fall California Governor Gavin Newsome signed a law that will allow college athletes to sell their names, images, and likenesses to anyone who wants to buy them. 

True, it’s just California, where only four Power-Five schools play. The law won’t take effect until 2023(), and the measure addresses just one aspect of the complicated relationship between college athletes and their schools. 

But you wouldn’t know that by the reactions. Advocates for the athletes are declaring victory, convinced freedom is finally within reach, while the NCAA is warning that the apocalypse will soon be upon us. 

Both are wrong, but neither side has thought this all the way through. 

It’s impossible to support the farce that the NCAA is foisting upon us. Coaches often get millions in buy-outs after they fail,while athletes aren’t allowed to make a dime off their names after they succeed. 

But this law won’t deliver everything its advocates want, while introducing a few things most don’t. The law’s backers often sound like eager Brits pushing for Brexit, with little notion of how the law would actually work, and what the unintended side effects might be.

It’s hard to argue against athletes being allowed to profit, especially when so many teams are already paying them under the table. But when Ford or McDonald’s sign Olympic athletes to sell their products, they actually expect them to sell their products. Most college athletes, on the other hand, will probably be paid by local boosters, who won’t care if the athletes sell a single car, so long as they play for their school. 

Why would this matter? I’ve taught at three major universities, and flunked two starting football players, with no pushback whatsoever from anyone. Will a local car dealer who’s shelled out a half-million dollars to get the star quarterback be so restrained? And if his player isn’t starting, will the coaches hear about it? 

The law’s advocates are convinced that it won’t affect the appeal of college sports, either, but I’m not as confident. You can debate whether fans should feel romantic about college football players, who seem to pick their schools based on fit, not finances — but there is little doubt that many fans do. 

They have already reached their limit with the greed that rules college sports. Despite quadrupling the number of bowl games, creating league championship games, and setting up a bona fide playoff system, attendance has been going steadily downhill for years(). If the bottom can fall out of once robust sports like boxing and horseracing, it can happen to college football, too. 

But the main reason I don’t believe this law will be a tonic for all that ills college football is not that it goes too far, but that it doesn’t go nearly far enough. Karl Marx, the ultimate champion of the working man, knew that whoever controls the means of production has the power. Even if the NCAA allows players to get paid by boosters, there will still be only one path to the NBA or the NFL, and that’s through the NCAA. You can’t call that freedom. 

Despite the many good reasons to let boosters pay the players, I think there’s a better way to fix college sports. What football and basketball players need is what baseball and hockey players have enjoyed for almost a century: a viable minor league, so players who don’t want to be college students, and prefer to be paid in cash instead of scholarships, can do just that.  

We don’t have to wonder if this will work. We already know: Just check out college hockey. The players who would rather get a paycheck than a scholarship can jump straight to the minor leagues – and they do. College hockey is a choice, not a mandate, so those who choose it have higher graduation rates, and fewer scandals. 

Given the many benefits college athletes receive – which can add up to $800,000, almost half of that from tuition — most academically-minded players would continue to pass up the minor leagues to attend schools like Michigan.

The others could take the money and run— legally, this time.

* * * *

OVERTIME: Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines at the Crossroads of College Football debuted at #13 on the Publisher’s Weekly list of national bestsellers. That makes seven national bestsellers in a row, for which I can thank YOU!

Next week I’ll be in Philadelphia on Wednesday, DC on Thursday, and Williamsburg, VA, on Saturday. For more information on those events and many others ahead, check out

I’m also in ESPN’s celebration of 150 years of college football, The American Game, 11 one-hour episodes running on Tuesday nights, and The Greatest (mascots, innovations, etc.), which runs 30-minutes on Thursday nights.


THE DOS EQUIS COLLEGE FOOTBALL FOOTBALL COLLEGE, on which I play the “professor” teaching ten classes on the sport. And yes, there IS a final exam! 12 questions to test your knowledge — and if you get a bunch right, they send you a certificate! Enjoy — and good luck!

We have plenty of excerpts, stories, and reviews out there, too, some listed below. Two more come out this week in The Wolverine print copy and the Ann Arbor Observer.

Let’s start with the EXCERPTS:

The first excerpt, “Hard to Beat the Cheaters,” on Michigan’s approach to recruiting, appeared in, Yahoo sport’s longform section.

The second, on the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry (derived from two chapters titled “Bad Blood” and “Cavalry’s Coming”), ran in the famed

The most recent excerpt, on the roller coaster recruiting process of five-star defensive back Daxton Hill, appeared in Sam Webb’s excellent Michigan Insider Thursday night.


On the Big Ten Network with anchor Dave Revsine

In the Sporting News, with Bill Bender

With Jeff Arnold of


From Greg Dooley’s “Punching Back.”

And even Ohio State’s top football website, Eleven Warriors:

I’ve read everything John U. Bacon has ever written and I’ve never been bored or disappointed.

Sprinkling character profiles into the storyline of Wolverines’ 2018 campaign produces a quick and captivating read – even if your position in Michigan’s football orbit is as an Ohio State fan. 

Hope to see you down the road on the book tour!

Again, thanks for your support!


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1 Comment

  1. john w minton, jr


    As always a voice of reason and responsibility. When all of the one and out or three and out came up, I said that the only answer was the one you proposed in your blog. The educators will love the idea of more artificial demand for teachers while current staffing will remain the same. There will be plenty of foolish money to start a farm team and additional employment for watchdogs and regulators. The tax free education will continue for those that can hack it academically. Those folks paying for image use can deduct it as a business expense,and the athletes will start paying taxes on the image income. The IRS and the taX experts will glory in added employment and the legislators will have more nonessential work to do. Caveat emptor to all and to all a good night.

    Please continue your advocacy for reasonable and sensible solutions to this athletic dilemma that will only become worse in the hands of the progressives.



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