Why NCAA Football Players Continue to Play for Free


I played football at North Dakota State University. In Robert Cialdini’s book on Influence, it was interesting to me the stories of ritualistic hazing because certainly there was a little bit for freshmen joining the team (nothing serious, just some extra running after practice), but moreover it occurred the me that each football season is essentially a sanctioned ritualistic preseason ramp-up of initiation on to the team, which many players and coaches refer to as hell week. It’s more like three weeks long, but it consisted of eating, sleeping and playing football.

Every single day it was hard to get out of bed from the blows your body took the day before, but for some reason everyone gets out of bed and does it again. Certainly there is some social psychology and principles at play here. The strongest I think it of consistency, which is the act of standing by a commitment made previously.

That’s not to say that there are a fair share guys who quit, but the majority do not. One way they keep guys from quitting is reminding them of why they wanted to be there. That they signed the letter of intent. This is a privilege. That if they want the glory and the pride of saying they played ball, they have to put in the hard work so the team can win on the field.

The beautiful part of it is through, that when the three weeks are done, you have really formed a team by sharing the common experience of having gone through something very painful. I don’t know a single player who doesn’t appreciate the bonds built. It stays with you forever, but that’s not the point of this post.

One of the biggest driving forces that I think keeps guys committed through the most difficult times is the intra-personal pressure. They might think, “I am not the kind of guy that quits. If I quit, I am not the football player, I tell everyone I am.” And literally that is how you have football players, who as they say, “will run through a brick wall” for the coach or for the program.

If you tie this back to the main consistency amplifiers (having an active commitment and stating it publicly), it is really hard to quit because there is an active commitment made by players publicly when the NCAA has this day called national singing day, in which the 18 or 17-year-old kid signs a letter of intent in front of his family, his school, sometimes the local media and it says, “So and So has committed to play football at the University of Minnesota.”

Now you think this guy is going to quit after all of that? That would an embarrassment and a huge disappointment.

It is really an interesting use of manipulation when I start to think about whether or not NCAA football players should be paid. In my opinion, they should. If a coach can make $7 million dollars a year coaching the team. Why can’t a player ask for some requisite compensation as well?

The main argument is always that, “these guys want to play. It is who they are. They want to be there.” And to a certain degree that is true, but how much is that is a manipulation of the situation of young high school athletes not realizing they could be asking for money. They have no idea how much money comes through the Big Ten Network or media networks of that nature.

Rather they are enticed by smaller things that are free like free cleats, sweatshirts and jackets with their name on it. These types of gifts are what Ciadini would refer to as reciprocity, which is also a factor here as well.

So to close, I wouldn’t expect NCAA players to get paid anytime soon. Players are too young and naive to see past the factors of influence being pulled over their head.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *