The popular proposals to spin off college football as a quasi minor league might help clean up the sport. But they can't make an end run around Title IX
It's a pay-for-play proposal that's gaining traction: Let universities spin off their football programs to create a quasi minor league (call it Football Inc.) in which the players, who wouldn't have to be full-time students, would receive salaries. Football Inc. teams would still represent their old fan bases and play in their old stadiums, but players could be compensated while schools could distance themselves from the greed, scandal and academic fraud that threaten the sport.
Last year Don Yee, the NFL agent for Tom Brady and others, presented his version of this plan in a Washington Post op-ed column, 21 years after SI writer Rick Telander introduced a similar idea in his book The Hundred Yard Lie. It is one of the more dramatic reimaginings of college sports. It would also be difficult—if not impossible—to execute.
The biggest hurdle is Title IX. One of the presumed fiscal benefits of the plan would be that universities, by excising the scholarships and expenses attached to football, would be able to make deep cuts in women's teams, thereby reducing overhead in their athletic departments. But even the slightest link between Football Inc. and its host schools would likely mean that the participation numbers and the benefits (such as salaries) associated with the football team would still have to be matched on the women's side.
Under the plan as envisioned by Yee, "The university and the company would share net profits from all revenue streams at a negotiated level." This is smart business; schools should not cut ties with their biggest source of revenue without assurance that they would continue to collect some of the bounty. But the price for maintaining these ties is steep. "If there is any financial agreement it would be difficult for a school to argue that [Football Inc.] is truly a separate entity and not just some attempt to circumvent Title IX," says Donna Lopiano, former CEO of the Women's Sports Foundation and a Title IX expert.
Not to mention that the sport's profitability would be diminished by a wide range of new expenses for Football Inc. First, there are the players' salaries, which could be in the five figures and add millions in costs. Football Inc. would also have to pay the school for the use of the stadium, practice facilities, office space and other amenities that are now provided free. Then there's marketing, insurance and other costs associated with running a business.
"Schools are struggling to finance their core mission—education," Yee says, "and this is the only model that allows college football to survive without contaminating that core mission, either financially or philosophically." That may be true, but it's still difficult to imagine a world in which players make hefty salaries representing schools they don't attend.