With the debate over the NCAA amateurism rules as hot as ever, I think a few things are being overlooked. There are quite a few folks upset that student athletes (those in football at least) aren't getting a slice of the vast pile of revenue they generate. It is often noted in reply that a free education is a great deal for the vast majority of athletes who will not turn pro (or who may make it to the big leagues, but won't make enough money to retire on). The counter is that this isn't a reason to keep them from getting what else they can, especially for the stars whose image is worth tens of thousands, or even millions. However, I think this leaves out a few important considerations.
What is the value of the coaching that enables high school stars to become NFL ready? This coaching is provided to the players for free, along with weight-training, nutritional guidance, and (hopefully) discipline and character formation. Facilities are often top-notch, far better than what would be found in a comparable minor-league system.
Such a minor-league system is the alternative to the collegiate approach, but while such systems do compensate the players, they usually are not very remunerative, nor do their players make much from autographs or endorsements. It seems that the reason why college football is so popular and profitable is because it is not simply another minor league system, which raises the question: would making college football more like an NFL minor league eventually kill off its money-making potential? Could college players be paid and allowed to market themselves while maintaining the distinctions from the professional game that make college football so beloved? I, at least, am skeptical, and if that skepticism is warranted, then we have to compare collegiate amateurism not to the its current revenue stream but to player compensation in other minor league and developmental systems.
Perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps college football will retain its draw while players get paid, sign endorsement deals, and hold $20 a pop autograph sessions at the campus bookstore. But I think it will lose a lot of its charm, and from the academic side it will be even more corrupted (not that many folks care about that). I think turning college football players into professionals will eventually kill the golden goose.