Tuesday, August 20, 2013

pay for performance

You may have heard about Dan Wetzel's column this week proposing to pay players in the Little League World Series. One can only assume this is a tongue-in-cheek pushback against those who are clamouring for college football players to get their share of the billions of dollars being profited from their labor. Wetzel though does his part to style the column as an actual argument deadpanning every line he writes.

The term "pay the Little Leaguers" tends to send those incapable of seeing nuances into intense anger. Take a deep breath. This isn't about paying every kid who's playing ball in your neighborhood, just the ones who reach the big stage and are put on television. This isn't going to cause the formation of a union with an inevitable strike or contract holdout.  

And no one is really getting "paid." Call it "prize money" or a "scholarship" or something if it makes you feel better.  

The players deserve something from this booming, expansive event, even if it is just a few grand that go directly into a college scholarship fund or some kind of trust (if they don't go to college) that can't be accessed until age 18 or 21. A similar system could be worked out for international players based on their own cultural norms.

He goes on to cite how Little League Baseball, Inc. turned a profit of $2.8 million last year and ESPN has signed on for a $4 million cost to put these games on television.

I hardly want to give this unserious argument more credit than it deserves but as a little league coach myself I feel the need to respond to Wetzel's hyperbole.

As a coach, I'm a volunteer. I don't get paid or negotiate a contract. Not hoping that exposure here will get me to the next level in my profession. There's no shoe contract or endorsement deals to chase. There's just the thankless job of herding a dozen 12 year old boys and their parents through a season of ups and downs in the summer.

And I love it.

The kids love it, too. And, who knows, maybe some of them one day go on to play baseball professionally at some level. However, unlike college football players nothing is keeping them from doing it now. If the New York Yankees want to sign a 12 year old kid, why not? There is no age limit to participate in Major League Baseball. These kids at the LLWS aren't held back because of an arbitrary number on their birth certificate (for some more arbitrary than others, Danny Almonte) but they are held back by their skill level. The MLB is a meritocracy (at least when it's not corrupted by PEDs) and these kids are fun to watch but not ready for the big leagues by any stretch.

College football players face the opposite problem. Is there any doubt JaDaveon Clowney is ready to be lining up against his peers on Sundays? But the reason he can't be paid to excel at his sport is because of an arbitrary age limit imposed by the NFL and in which college football is a co-conspirator. After all, who is going to protect their product if the best players in the game can leave?

While $2.8 million is a nice sum for a company like Little League Baseball, Inc. and certainly helped by the lucrative ESPN deal, it's not even scratching the surface of college football money.

In college football, just the 15 richest programs are bringing in more than $1 billion in revenue. And there are about 100 more schools to account for in Division 1. When the NCAA recently decided to go to a playoff system for major college football, ESPN paid $5.6 billion for the rights to televise the games.

So while it might be a fun or cute thought exercise for Dan Wetzel to talk about paying Little League players, let's not confuse it with the actual injustice going on in college football. That's the nuance we should spend more time exploring.

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