• A federal court ruling and a bill in Congress both could set up players to earn more—but could either move help resurrect NCAA Football? Plus, the best sport to sneak your kid onto the roster in at a prestigious college, and the rest of this week's mailbag.
By Andy Staples
March 13, 2019

The NCAA's model is under attack from all sides, so naturally you’re thinking about video games...

From Jake: Do you ever see another college football video game coming out? How much are NFL players paid to be in Madden?

This is probably the most common question I get every time I write about challenges to the NCAA’s rules regarding payment of players. And this is a particularly juicy week to answer it considering the schools and the NCAA just took an L (that should kind of feel like a W) in federal court (pending appeal) and a congressman from North Carolina is planning to introduce a bill that, if passed, would force the NCAA to lift its ban on players profiting off their name, image and likeness rights.

So do any of these recent developments mean you’ll be able to take Utah State to the national title in Dynasty Mode—using Oklahoma’s playbook, of course—anytime soon?

The ruling by federal judge Claudia Wilken did go against the NCAA, but the upshot of it if it’s upheld on appeal wouldn’t offer an avenue that would bring a return of the game. The ruling would make it illegal for the schools to pass any NCAA rule that caps the value of an athletic scholarship with regard to “educational expenses,” but it still would allow the rules that keep the athletes from taking outside money because they’re athletes. You can bet that Power 5 athletes are going to have the sweetest new iPads because their schools will be able to pass them off as educational expenses, but that arrangement wouldn’t make it any easier to make the video game. Because EA Sports had to pay out millions to athletes whose images and likenesses it used for years without permission, it isn’t going to attempt a game unless it is allowed to compensate the players in some form or fashion.

The other development is different, though. If U.S. Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) does indeed introduce the bill he has drafted and it passes—and there is no guarantee that it would—it would pave the way for a new game. That bill would allow outside entities to pay athletes because of their reputations as athletes, so it would give EA Sports a way to compensate those athletes.

Jake asked how much NFL players get for appearing in Madden. The exact number isn’t public, but it is the largest contribution to a payout of about $17,000 a year that goes to members of the NFL Players Association. Money also comes from companies such as sports card maker Panini, but the bulk comes from EA Sports. In late January, NFLPA executive committee president Eric Winston said the union may stockpile this year’s money as a rainy day fund in case of a lockout in 2021 when the NFL and NFLPA hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement. 

How much would EA Sports need to pay college players? It might not necessarily be a set amount because college athletes don’t have a union. But it wouldn’t have to be anywhere near what NFL players get. In fact, most college players probably would be happy with a free copy of the game as compensation.

From Jon: In what sport would a kid who has only maybe barely played it before have the best shot at actually being non-garbage? I'm saying shot put.

Jon asked this question in response to Operation Varsity Blues, the FBI sting that ensnared a group of wealthy parents—including Aunt Becky from Full House and Lynette from Desperate Housewives—who had paid bribes to a California-based fixer to get their children admitted to prestigious universities.

In several of the cases, the fixer or the parents bribed coaches or athletic administrators at the schools to have a program pretend to be recruiting the student so that the student’s application would be fast-tracked for acceptance. Lori Loughlin, the aforementioned Aunt Becky, sent a photo of her daughter Olivia on a rowing machine that was then doctored up to make it seem like Olivia was a crew coxswain. Loughlin and her husband, clothing designer Mossimo Giannulli, are accused of paying USC associate athletic director Donna Heinel $50,000 to get Olivia admitted as a crew recruit.

The alleged fixer, Rick Singer, must have had a deep understanding of the way the recruiting process in college sports works. He exploited a loophole that probably would have kept working if his service hadn’t also included fixing SAT and ACT scores for students*. Because of the deadlines in the admissions process, coaches can’t always wait until their full recruiting class is signed before those recruits begin sending in applications. So coaches forward the names of all the players they’re currently recruiting to admissions. As you’ve seen in several high-profile football cases, the athletes don’t always get into school. But they have a much better shot of gaining admission than someone just applying through normal channels. How it’s supposed to work is a player admitted because they’re a recruit either comes to the school and plays the sport or doesn’t take up a seat in the freshman class because they chose another school that was recruiting them for that sport. In this case, the rich kid would simply take the seat in the class and either not play the sport or quit the sport almost immediately.

*This part of the case could have far-reaching repercussions in college sports. Mark Riddell, one of the cooperating witnesses in the case, was IMG Academy’s director of college entrance exam preparation. According to the FBI, he was Singer’s test ringer—either taking or proctoring standardized tests so the students whose parents paid would get acceptable scores. IMG Academy is a Bradenton, Fla., school that has hundreds of graduates playing college sports. We always write about the football players, but there are also plenty of athletes in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and tennis playing in college now whose standardized test scores may be called into question.

So what Jon wants to know is which sport would be best to hide one of these students. I don’t think his suggestion of shot put would work because to be a passable college shot-putter, a person with little technique training would have to be able to generate an incredible amount of power and explosiveness. For the men, the amount of power and explosiveness required to pass without advanced technique probably would get the athlete actually recruited to play offensive or defensive line at some level of college football.

Pole vault is another terrible idea. At least most people have casually attempted to play football, basketball, golf, tennis and bowling. And we’ve all run, whether we wanted to do it as a sport or not. But no one pole vaults except actual pole vaulters.

Water polo seems dangerous because one of these spoiled brats might drown if they actually attempted a practice. Football and basketball wouldn’t work because those coaches guard their admissions chips carefully. They need every one to ensure they sign the class they want, and the scrutiny on recruiting in those sports would make it easier to spot a fake.

Aunt Becky, who always seemed full of good advice on Full House, may have hit upon the best scam with crew. Every gym has an ergometer, so the rich kid could at least fake the technique of a rower. They’d get exposed the first time on the water, but it isn’t like there is a voracious media contingent covering college crew that would notice if one signee happened to drop from the roster after one practice.

So there you have it. Once the heat from this FBI investigation dies down, use crew to scam your kid into the school of his/her choice.

From Shutdown Fullcast: The funniest college sports team to buy your kid a spot on would be?

This one is easy. It’s the defending national champion Oklahoma State meat judging team. This would never happen, though. Cowboys coach Gretchen Mafi, the Nick Saban of collegiate meat judging, has far too much integrity. Also, Oklahoma State’s department of food and animal sciences has so many qualified students that Mafi turns over the roster of her team every year and still wins championships.

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