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Player valuation in college football

Cal running back Marshawn Lynch is surely the biggest reason the Golden Bears, and some others, think they can challenge Southern Cal for the Pac-10 title. He's ranked in the top ten on some Heisman lists and may be a star in the making. John Wilner in the San Jose Mercury News pegs his value to Cal at $800,000 for the year.

Wilner's piece is quite good, providing fairly thorough coverage to what is familiar territory to sports economists - the difference between the value of collegiate stars and their compensation. The debate over who captures the value produced by the Lynches and Vince Youngs, whether athletes should be given a "work-study stipend", and so on. One thing I found particularly refreshing was this statement by a Pac-10 official. Cal is scheduled to appear on television seven times this season, netting them an estimated $3.5 million to $4 million. To which Duane Lindberg, the Pacific-10 Conference assistant commissioner for communications, says: "A lot of (the TV schedule) is based on who the teams have coming back. That's more of an argument for Marshawn, when you have a running back like that." I'll say.

Wilner's valuation is too small, however. His method is clever, based on player salaries' share of NFL revenues, and the share of salaries accruing to top running backs. But Wilner marks down the share of income that would accrue to college athletes in a market system, on the grounds that college coaches get a much bigger share of revenue than their NFL counterparts. But a significant chunk of this difference stems directly from the inability to pay players, and the consequent increase in payments for what I've previously called "player proxies." As Roger Noll points out in the piece, coaches that are top recruiters collect the value of top athletes as a result. Take away the restriction and college coaching salaries would decline, boosting the percentage spent in the hypothesized competitive bidding for talent.

Regardless, Wilner's piece - on may levels - is a good one to share with students in Sports Econ classes this fall.