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.

Be the Best, Wherever You Are At


In response to How We Play Football in North Dakota by Carson Wentz in the players tribune, I wanted to write a few words about how the culture Carson describes and how it has stuck with me in the business world:Be the best, wherever you are at.

1. Be the best, wherever you are at.

“Football is football, no matter if it’s played in the Rose Bowl or on a dusty field in Bismarck. Those warm southern states may produce the most NFL talent, but there’s a special brand of football going on up north.”

No matter where you work or what you do, the opportunity exists to do what you do better than anyone in the world. One of the best things I ever did as a longsnapper was go to a national camp to train for a long weekend with the best of the best. It set the expectations for myself at a whole new level and because of that I had a clear goal of where I needed to get to.

2. Carson describes the vision for the offense in great detail with great passion.

“Our offense might have reminded you a bit of Alabama or Stanford. We were going to start out running the ball, and then we were going to run it again, and then when you think we couldn’t possibly do it again, we were going to run some more. And when you’re sick of getting dirty with us, we’ll get heavy personnel and run with power and move you guys. We love to bring the boom. By the time we ran play-action and went over the top for a touchdown, your defense was just relieved they didn’t have to swap paint with us for one more play. Then, the next time we got the ball, we would show you completely different sets. We’d start slinging it around like Baylor.”

With that, this illustrates the expectation that players have to understand the vision and buy in. You could ask any of the 100+ other players on the team to describe the offense and I bet they would have written something very similar.



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