The fair market value for Ohio State defensive end Chase Young’s services is likely upwards of $20 million a year: Young is so talented that if he could walk into the NFL today as a free agent, some team would probably offer him a contract rivaling that of the league’s highest-paid defensive end, DeMarcus Lawrence, who signed a five-year, $105 million deal this year.
Unfortunately for Young, when your chosen career is football, you don’t get to shop your services on the free market. First you have to go through a three-year NCAA apprenticeship, and if you take a penny from any outside source, you’re in trouble.
That’s what Young says happened, and why he’s sidelined for tomorrow’s game against Maryland.
“Unfortunately, I won’t be playing this week because of an NCAA eligibility issue,” Young said in a statement. “I made a mistake last year by accepting a loan from a family friend I’ve known since the summer before my freshman year at OSU. I repaid it in full last summer and I’m working with the University and the NCAA to get back on the field as soon as possible.”
If Young’s account is accurate, he’s the latest in a long line of athletes who have discovered that the benefits of capitalism don’t apply to those who play college sports. Sure, Young is the best player in the Big Ten this year, and the Big Ten has a six-year, $2.64 billion deal to show its games on FOX and ESPN. And sure, Young is expected to lead Ohio State to the College Football Playoff, and ESPN is paying $7.3 billion over 12 years to show the College Football Playoff. But why should Young see any of that money?
And, of course, the NCAA’s actions go far beyond just preventing Young from seeing any of that money. No one is alleging that Ohio State spent some of its share of that TV revenue on paying Young directly. All Young is accused of doing is accepting a loan from a family friend, a loan he paid back. But the NCAA doesn’t even allow athletes to take out any loans that any other student doesn’t get. Not only does Young not see any of that $10 billion from the Big Ten TV deal and the College Football Playoff TV deal, he’s not even allowed to get a loan that someone outside the NCAA is happy to give him, knowing that his future NFL earnings make him a safe bet to pay it back.
When Young enters the NFL draft next year, his earnings will again be constrained because he has to take the contract that corresponds with his draft slot, rather than shop his services to the highest bidder among all 32 NFL teams. But next year, at least, he’ll be making real money: If he’s a Top 5 pick, as expected, he’ll be guaranteed more than $30 million over his first four years.
In the NCAA, he gets only the value of his Ohio State scholarship, and he gets to have the NCAA scrutinize his private life for any sign that he might have made any money anywhere else.