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Paying College Athletes: There Is No Perfect System!

Alvin Mack said it best. Who's Alvin Mack you ask? Of course you remember Alvin Mack from the college football classic movie "The Program." If you don't know him or the movie, than you are probably way too young to be reading this or you do not love football.

Regardless, Mack was a depiction of the star college football player destined for the NFL who had little to no interest in the academic portion of college and was only still there because he had to be. "They ought to be paying us anyway. The university gets three million dollars just for going to a bowl game," Mack famously says while pocketing money given to a teammate by a booster.

And that 1993 depiction of the inner workings of collegiate football was America's first look at how shady and profitable big time college football could be. Now every few years the debate springs up. Was Alvin Mack right? Should college athletes be paid?

The results of that debate directly affect prep athletes here in the Tampa Bay area. Many of them make their college decisions based on what program can get them to that "N.F.L. contract, period!" Many say that big time college sports are already professional sports and with the amount of money running through these programs, it's crazy that the players are not getting a piece of the profits gained off their hard work and sweat.

Let's look at both sides simplistically.

The players' argument is that with all the money being generated through ticket sales, television networks, and merchandising they could be compensated monetarily.

The NCAA's argument is that the players are already being compensated with a free education, room and board.

The problem with the NCAA's argument is that their structure refers to a time when the professional ranks were not the norm for student-athletes and the emphasis was still on student. Today student-athletes all agree that in many cases they are sport vocational at their university, investing full-time job-like hours with their team.

So what's the solution, what's a happy medium? We know that whatever is decided it will not be enough. At the end of the day, college is not professional. The focus should be on support in the student-athletes' post playing career.

Here's an idea. Keeping in mind that this is just the opinion of one journalist who can understand the argument on both sides but agrees that something needs to be adjusted.

First, colleges should offer the asset that doesn't cost them more money to provide to athletes, education. If you are awarded a scholarship and you complete one school year at that university, you should be allowed to finish your undergraduate degree free of charge, unless you transfer to play at another university. In addition, if an athlete completes his eligibility at a university they should be awarded the right to unlimited education. Give these student-athletes a chance to earn a master and doctoral degree. These are truly going to be the alumni that give back to the university forever. Why not make them feel as if they are forever welcome to educate themselves at the university they bled for.

Second, college athletes should be afforded basic health care for five years following graduation, ten years if they had an injury requiring surgery, and a lifetime if they suffer a life-altering injury. Universities should sacrifice for those who have sacrificed for your program. If they are truly a family, don't turn your back on them the moment they can no longer help you win games.

Third, any player who completes their eligibility will be awarded a "transition grant" which pays them an entry level salary for one year while they make the transition into the real world. It's an incentive for student-athletes to finish what they start without compromising their amateur status while playing for the university.

Finally, players should be allowed to earn money off of their likeness. Isn't that obvious?

Again I know that no solution is going to be perfect but a solution is needed before you see the NCAA crumble like the AAU did many years ago. Until then, players like Alvin Mack will still be prominent in college athletics and the word student-athlete will be more of a farce than a reality.