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Miller: McCaffrey is being shut out of economic potential

Though he didn’t turn in the barn-burning performance we’ve become accustomed to Saturday night on the Palouse, Christian McCaffrey remains one of the hottest names in college football. Easily the most recognizable athlete on Stanford’s campus, McCaffrey is still a legitimate contender for the Heisman Trophy and is inching closer and closer to a trip to New York City with every yard — rushing, receiving and returning — he accumulates.

At his current clip (he’s on pace for 1,590 rushing, 465 receiving and 876 return yards in 12 regular season games), the speedy son of former Cardinal and Denver Broncos receiver Ed McCaffrey will come close to breaking the NCAA’s single-season all-purpose yardage record set by Barry Sanders in 1988 (3,250). Eclipsing that mark should get McCaffrey at least a Heisman bid, provided Stanford keeps up its winning ways.

But I don’t want to focus on whether McCaffrey will get the Heisman or not; I want to talk about what he won’t get whether he wins the award or not. Regardless of whether McCaffrey hoists John Heisman’s bust or not, he won’t reap any direct, immediate economic benefit from his already prolific season. No sponsorship deals, no endorsements contracts, no paid autograph signings — all of which are prohibited by the NCAA’s amateurism rules. In fact, the primary (sole?) beneficiary of McCaffrey’s Heisman run will be Stanford University, and its Department of Athletics in particular.

That hardly seems fair when McCaffrey is the one busting his tail in practice everyday, spending hours in the weight and training rooms and sacrificing his body on Saturdays (and sometimes Thursdays — school nights!).

Shouldn’t McCaffrey get a cut of the economic windfall Stanford would receive should he win the Heisman?

Recent evidence tells us that a player’s Heisman win can generate hundreds of millions of dollars for his institution — little to none of which filters back to him. Take Baylor, for instance, following Robert Griffin III’s Heisman in 2011. The simple use of Griffin’s name in the media generated roughly $14 million in free exposure for Baylor, and the University’s quarter-billion dollar stadium renovation proposal was formally announced shortly after the December ceremony. Donations to the school’s booster club rose, as did the royalties Baylor collected.

Coincidence? Hardly. And yet not a drop of that river of money ever directly flowed back to the young man who actually performed the athletic services that opened the floodgates. If you think that’s right, well, I suspect you’d also be fine with your boss paying himself for the work you do.

Better yet, shouldn’t McCaffrey be able to strike out on his own and privately profit off his athletic skill (like any other college student is able to do with his particular skill)?

His marketability is at an all-time high, and the line of companies wanting a successful player with the classic all-American look to endorse their product or service would stretch for miles.

The possibilities are nearly endless: car dealerships in his hometown Colorado paying him for an appearance, sports nutrition companies touting him as a user of their product, his image plastered on a Nike billboard. He could organize offseason or summertime autograph sessions, schedule speaking arrangements and generally monetize his athletic success in whatever way he could/wanted.

The answer to both questions is, yes, he should, but barring a truly apocalyptic event in the next few months, the NCAA is highly unlikely to completely abandon its long-held principles regarding athlete compensation.

If McCaffrey were to accept pay for signing autographs (like Johnny Manziel and Todd Gurley allegedly did), he’d be ruled ineligible; if he touted a product (as Ohio State player Braxton Miller did) on Instagram or Twitter, he’d jeopardize his status as an “amateur” and even hiring an agent or financial advisor to help him sift through and assess his options in the marketplace (to allow him to focus on his academic and athletic responsibilities) would incur the wrath of the NCAA.

So, yeah, Christian McCaffrey is in the Heisman conversation and, heck, he might even win. There’s no doubt it would be a life-changing moment for the Stanford sophomore — but he’ll have to wait until declaring for the NFL Draft or exhausting his collegiate eligibility to cash in on the economic opportunity winning the award provides.

Until then, Stanford will capture the extra donations, media exposure and other benefits while McCaffrey sits on the sidelines (figuratively), watching some of the best earning periods in his life rush past him.

 

If you had any thoughts about donating to Stanford’s booster club as a result of Christian McCaffrey’s Heisman campaign, Cameron Miller invites you to save your money and instead write McCaffrey a nice piece of (compensation-free) fan mail. In fact, send it to Cameron at cmiller6 ‘at’ stanford.edu and he’ll forward the message.

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