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TIME features Johnny Manziel on cover, says it's time to start paying college players

Well, welcome to the party. TIME put Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel on this week's cover with a headline that reads: "It's Time To Pay College Athletes." Manziel beat out stories on Syria and Russian president Vladimir Putin for the spot, so it seems safe to say that college football matters to some people.

In the article, Sean Gregory cites a study that says each of the Aggies' players would get $225,000 a year if the NCAA operated under the NFL's revenue-sharing model, and he suggests a compromise to get the ball rolling. Gregory writes:

Here’s how things might work. All athletes would be eligible for payments in addition to any scholarship. But most schools would pay only football and men’s basketball players, since those sports produce the bulk of the revenues. A Southeastern Conference (SEC) school like Alabama could pay 50 of its players up to a limit of $30,000 a year. The best players would get near the maximum while others would get less; it would be up to each school to distribute the funds as needed. And schools could pay athletes in other sports, of course. A star baseball player, or a women’s basketball player at a powerhouse like Connecticut, could also get a paycheck. But the total amount any school could pay out would be capped at $1.5 million. Experts think this is a conservative number given the millions in revenue that sports and TV deals provide. Any cap won’t placate the free-market supporters; $30,000 per year, however, is a huge improvement over nothing.

Plus, athletes can make money in other ways. Universities should also give athletes at least the right to secure sponsorships, star in a commercial or, yes, offer their signatures for money.

Still, there are barriers which make things more complicated. If this solution were implemented, the already widening gap between power-conference schools and mid-majors -- who won't have enough money to pay elite recruits -- would get larger. The issue of Title IX also comes into play, as does the fact many athletic departments already operate at a loss. Many schools would have to cut some sports entirely, but the hope would be that athletic departments would adapt and evolve as they always have with the changing times. Just because something doesn't work right now isn't a reason to dismiss it entirely. Progressive ideas, made with insight and forethought, tend to be more logically sound than snap judgements.

The good news is that the pay-for-play conversation is moving forward. A general-interest news magazine like TIME jumping into the discussion means that compensation for college athletes isn't just a side issue of the sports world. Reform is coming; it's just a matter of when and how.
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