Stanford administrators have estimated that only 400 of the 3,500 high school prospects who sign letters of intent each year meet their admissions standards. A year into the job, [coach Jim] Harbaugh doubted that number.
“We’re probably looking at a pool of 100 to 150 scholar-athletes,” he said at the time. “It’s a small pool. Smaller than anybody else has.”
It’s probably too late to switch football over to baseball’s minor-league model; the teams that feed into the NFL will always be tied to colleges. But why not divorce the academic side of colleges from the football side — just flat-out drop the requirement that football players have to be enrolled in their schools, and while we’re at it, pay football players for the value they bring to the schools? Those who could get accepted on merit could go ahead and be true student-athletes, others could attend less demanding colleges nearby, and still others could just play ball and make money for doing so.
I’m not seeing a downside — schools wouldn’t have to debase themselves by admitting obviously unqualified “student-athletes,” athletes could be paid the market rate for the services they’re providing, and admissions slots would open up to qualified students.