'Deferred compensation:' Harbaugh explores option to pay college athletes


Paying college athletes is against NCAA rules, as it would impact the amateur status of student-athletes.

But is there anything wrong with paying college athletes once they are no longer in college? That’s the question coach Jim Harbaugh is posing as he explores the idea of deferred compensation for the players on his Michigan Wolverines football team.

It all started after Amazon filmed an all-access look at the team last season. The producers paid Michigan more than $2 million to be able to film “All or Nothing: The Michigan Wolverines.”

Of course, the current players can’t receive any of that money, but it made Harbaugh wonder if they could get a cut somewhere down the line.

“We’re exploring that right now. Can we get $1,000 of stock in Amazon possibly for deferred compensation?” he asked while speaking at a fundraiser in Toledo on Thursday. “We’re just kind of wondering if it’s possible. We don’t know if it is yet. We’re just asking the question.”

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Harbaugh said he isn’t in favor of paying current student-athletes due to the tax implications. Scholarships would then become taxable benefits and the coach wants to steer clear of players being forced to pay more in taxes than what they actually make, ESPN reported.

“I think that 1 percent (of high school football players) that is able to play college football to get their education and get their degree is what’s best for them,” he said. “That’s a lot and it should be valued as such. I worry about making them employees for the biggest reason, I believe, is because of that ability to be taxed.”

Harbaugh’s comments come in the midst of a debate over whether student-athletes should be able to receive compensation while still maintaining their amateur status.

In March, NCAA President Mark Emmert suggested something similar to the Olympic model that would allow student-athletes to accept endorsement deals while still being considered amateurs.

Do you think college athletes should be allowed to get paid?

And last month, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the current NCAA rules “incomprehensible, which means it probably isn’t right.”

She suggested that student-athletes should be able to benefit from their name, image and likeness but that a legal framework would have to be developed first.

Harbaugh doesn’t have the answers on how to properly compensate college athletes, but he is keeping the discussion alive.

While he enjoyed filming with Amazon, the school itself is the only one profiting from the show, not the players, and he wants that to change.

“If we do another series … I want to see if there’s something that can be there for (the players),” he said Thursday, according to The Detroit News.

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Amazon personnel recently accompanied Michigan players on a spring trip to Paris, but Harbaugh is undecided on if there will be a season two of “All or Nothing.”

“The feedback’s all been good,” Harbaugh said when asked how likely it is that there will indeed be a second season of the show. “Possible. Just talking to people asking what they think.”

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Ross Kelly has been a sportswriter since 2009.
Ross Kelly has been a sportswriter since 2009 and previously worked for ESPN, CBS and STATS Inc. A native of Louisiana, Ross now resides in Houston.
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