Let's start at $10,000 per year.
We'll start there because the University of Texas has told us to. 600 Longhorn student athletes are set to receive an approximate $10k in addition to their free education for representing Texas on the athletic field. The sum of $10,000 was reached by accounting for two factors. One, the required $5,000 to be paid to athletes for the use of "athletes' likeness" in accordance with the Ed O'Bannon case. And two, a boost to the stipend aimed at covering the cost of college...things that your typical athletic scholarship leaves out, like going home to see Mom and eating after 6 PM on Sunday.
The first domino has fallen and it won't be long before nearly every school is offering a similar compensation plan to its athletes. UT says it should cost the program approximately $6 Million per year to cover the expenses, which is nothing more than a drop in the bucket for schools like Texas, Alabama, Ohio State - really any predominant Power Five school.
However, the $6 Million may seem rather daunting to schools on the other end of the financial spectrum - those without Power 5 conference ties or household football or basketball programs that can be relied on to bring in revenue. G5 programs will ultimately be given two options - either come up with the cash required to continue to recruit top athletes or forgo using athlete likeness, skimp on the stipend, and watch target recruits head to a more flush conference rival.
I'm sure we will see varying degrees of strategy and creativity in the G5 in the coming years. However, the question every small time AD will be aiming to answer is whether or not it is financially wise to pay all athletes more for the sake of attracting big(ger) name recruits?
In order to answer this question, we attempt to figure out what players like Shane Carden, Rakeem Cato, and Devon Johnson are actually worth. Now, their on-field value is obvious. Neither Marshall nor East Carolina are nationally relevant without top level play from their star athletes. Putting a price tag on these guys is something entirely different.
Market valuation of an athlete in professional sports is often times objective- players market value, what they are "worth," is precisely what teams are willing to pay them. At the NCAA level, there's nothing "free market" about it. Because all athletes will receive the approximate $10,000 regardless of on field output, pay stubs are not a reliable source of valuation.
To do much of the heavy lifting here, I defer to those at FiveThirtyEight.com who put some math and science behind valuation of NCAA quarterbacks. I suggest reading the article in full if you want the reasoning behind their valuation, but to summarize, they find that ESPN's Total QBR can be a decent determinate of wins added by a quarterback when accounting for other variables such as strength of schedule and quality of teammates.
Once it's determined how many wins a QB accounted for himself, the authors put a dollar value to each win - reaching a dollar value for the individual. Seth Gitter and Peter Hunsberger present financial valuation of top 2013 quarterbacks below:
FiveThirtyEight spent their time working with Power 5 conference quarterbacks, so there is no data in their study addressing Group of 5 schools on the whole. However, Bridgewater's 2013 season took place in Louisville's only year in the AAC and gives a pretty decent indication of what a top line quarterback can mean financially to a G5 program.
The Cardinals went 12-1 and played in the Russel Athletic Bowl. Without Bridgewater, they are theoretically looking at 8-4. 8-4 in the AAC is not a terrible season, but it sure isn't going to put Louisville on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Because of Bridgewater's production, the school made nearly $3M that they would not have otherwise.
What is even more interesting is the "what if?" scenario of Louisville's 2013 season. What if the Cardinals had beaten UCF and gone on to an undefeated season, won the AAC, and played in the Fiesta Bowl? Bridgewater's value may have spiked ahead of even Jameis Winston's Heisman Trophy and National Championship winning 2013.
Even in a season in which the AAC runner-up played in the Russel Athletic Bowl, the program experienced a significant jump in revenue.
Marshall and ECU have aspirations for New Year's Day bowl games and even have an outside shot at the CFB playoff. If the season plays out as they hope it will, the athletic departments will see a significant financial bump from the success. Using FiveThirtyEight's model and the individual players' output to this point, we can kinda-estimate that if Marshall should go undefeated, QB Rakeem Cato and RB Devon Johnson are each worth about $1.5 Million to the program this season. Which, of course, is significantly more than the $10k they would each receive. However, their value does not make up for the $4 Million - $6 Million Marshall would be paying in sum to the entirety of its athletic department.
The above scenario is the best-case playing out for Marshall, ECU, or any other G5 program. There are dozens and dozens of G5 teams that won't be playing on New Year's Day. For those schools, paying lump sums to athletes without any promise of financial or on-field reward becomes a far less attractive option.
To the swarm of Marshall Thundering Herd fans, counting on players like Cato and Johnson may be worth a bump in prices at the ticket office, hot dog stand, or team store. To programs like Georgia State, increase in pricing alongside a promise of future success may be enough to permanently alienate an already barren fan base.
I expect to see the G5 separated into two groups as this plays out in the next few years. You will have those who are willing to pay for the promise of success and those who are not. With only one potential seat at the New Year's Day table each year, it will be very interesting to see what programs double down on their own fortunes.