A well thought out retort DJ, but of course there is much I would like to respond to (this is long, but hopefully you and some others are enjoying the exchange):
This may take us down the field maybe a bit further then we wanted to go, but I think your understanding of what goes on in the research labs is misguided. Many of the experiments conducted in these labs subject to R&D grants are completely conducted by doctoral students, supervised by their professors (sounds a little to me like the players running the plays under the guidance of a coach). Here the Ph.d candidate is paid, the students get a capped scholarship, and the proceeds go back to the university, just like in the football operation (and note my info comes from multiple friends of mine who are doctoral students). I am not sure I see a major distinction there.
While it is true that people do not show up and watch these students (nor can they turn on the boob tube and see ‘em), that in and of itself really isn’t a meaningful distinction other than to say that their likeness is being used on television, the subject of part of our debate. But this happens all the time in other walks of life and we don’t bat an eyelash at it. As a for instance, I am a trial lawyer who occasionally handles high profile trials covered by networks such as TrueTv. I am paid my government salary (akin to the athlete’s scholarship), and my likeness is part of a broadcast for which the networks command millions of dollars in advertising revenue. Guess how much of that I see for the use of my image? That’s right, not one red nickel. And it’s not like this doesn’t happen for all types of employees who work in high profile positions like fire fighters, police officers, etc (in fact, there is a name for this intellectual property called the public use doctrine). Those employees are never compensated for the use of their image. And none of this speaks to the fact that players essentially sign waivers as part of their scholarship that allow the use of their images (we will see if that holds up in the O’Bannon trial—I know that courts don’t like them, but they do uphold non-compete clauses which limit an employee’s right to compete against their current employer in a specific market for a specified period of time).
The argument about paying the kids that never get drafted also misses the mark within the confines of the college model (and my argument that the purpose is to prepare you for a career). For those students in the R&D labs who get only an education, there is no guarantee that any of them will get a job once they graduate. Does this mean that the colleges should then pay them for their work in college in the event that they do not later get gainful employment in that field (and in this economy, there are many displaced workers in all different types of fields), possibly taking jobs in other fields that may not be sufficient to cover the cost of their student loans? I am sure there are dozens of these examples, if not more.
As far as “degrading their bodies for our entertainment,” no one forces these kids to play, it is their choice. Some do it for the love of the game, to represent their school, because they hope to develop their skills and turn pro, or believe it or not, for a college education without the burden of student debt (like those who volunteer for the military, a possibly more dangerous plan). Regardless, it is still their choice, and we let plenty of people in society engage in dangerous activities (e.g. boxing, coal miner, deep sea fisherman, working on oil rigs, etc). That legal doctrine is called assumption of the risk (what we are really arguing about is if a college scholarship is fair compensation, and that is going to be a matter of opinion).
I do agree with you that we are only now fully beginning to appreciate long term consequences of this violent sport. To that I say 1) (and maybe this is the lawyer in me) if it is proven that the schools knew about the risks and buried them, they are liable and will be found so in lawsuits, just like the tobacco companies; 2) I told you in my original post that I was in favor of setting up funds for health care for the long term care of players hurt playing college football, because I believe the revenue is there. I didn’t say this, but I also am in favor of paying the players a stipend to cover other costs because I think practice makes it difficult or impossible to have other employment while in school to cover those expenses).
Your NFL argument and free market arguments have no place here (like many, you are bothered by the windfall of money kept by the schools the NCAA, and the NFL, and I understand this). Kids do NOT have to go college after high school—they could play Canadian football, Arena league football, NFL Europe, or just sit out for three years and physically develop. The best players “invest” in themselves and increase their stock by developing their skills at the college level, taking advantage of a high profile system set up and paid for by the schools, to develop both their skills and brand and eventually earn seven figure salaries (thinking of it this way, televison actually enhances their value). This is just like many of us could forego college and try making a living off of our high school diploma—many go to college instead and delay earning income for four years because what they earn thereafter will be at a much higher rate.
Regardless, all of this misses the point—the NFL is a separate entity that has negotiated a collective bargaining agreement and agreed that players under the age of 21 are not eligible for employment in that profession. This is also why your free market argument fails (and I will spare you the “there is no such thing as a free market” as this is not a place for politics) and just say that all pro sports leagues are treated as special cases and given some form of an anti-trust exception which may be necessary in light of the fact that competition is their product. This is why you, me, and maybe 100 other investors can’t start up a football club in Los Angeles and demand to be placed on the NFL schedule. It bothers me too that NFL teams are getting a free minor league system, but it really doesn’t belong in this discussion.