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Jim Harbaugh continues to lead player-revenue conversation while other coaches are silent

Harbaugh will be on the right side of history.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

At National Championship media day Michigan head Jim Harbaugh was asked about a topic he’s passionate about — player revenue.

Harbaugh made the point that the players are who people come to see — not him, not the coaches, not administrators — yet the players don’t receive a share of the revenue and don’t have a voice on the subject. It’s clear Harbaugh’s trying to be that voice.

“The one I can’t figure out is why the players aren’t sharing in the revenue, why that change hasn’t occurred.

People come to watch the players. They really don’t come to watch the coaches. They don’t come watch the administrators. They come to watch the players. And in a world where the revenue is ever growing, the student-athletes being able to participate in that ever-growing revenue, who could argue against them? And when is that going to change? When is everybody going to start using their voice to say, hey, this is wrong; this isn’t right?

There’s guys out here not even getting paid minimum wage. And I’m not talking about just football players. I’m talking about all student-athletes that need to participate. The talent needs to participate in the ever-growing share of the revenue. I’d like to see that change.

We’ve seen a whole conference go into a portal. If that those kind of things can happen overnight, things we saw this year, they just happen, then — I don’t know how the sausage gets made completely, but there’s a lot of smart people that do, that know a lot about revenue sharing, know a lot about how those algorithms and economics work. And the real issue is there’s no voice for the players.

And the organizations, conferences, universities, NCAA, they’re well-represented. They have legal firepower at every angle. And the student-athletes, they don’t have a voice; they’re not represented in any way, and that needs to change, too.

But like I said, if stuff can happen this quick, like we’ve seen this year, then I’m hopeful that there’s a wrong that could be righted quickly as well.”

When will other coaches take Harbaugh’s lead? At Rose Bowl media day, I asked Alabama head coach Nick Saban if players should receive some television revenue. Saban called it a complex issue but it wasn’t the time and place to have the conversation. Well, it was the time and place to have the conversation — 27.2 million people ended up watching the Rose Bowl, making it the most-watched college football playoff semifinal since 2014 and the most-watched non-NFL sporting event since 2018. The SEC has a $3 billion television contract with ESPN, and the Big Ten has a seven-year, $7 billion deal with Fox, CBS, and NBC. Yet players don’t even receive a single cent from those contracts while putting their health on the line? It doesn’t make sense. The fact that it’s only Harbaugh willing to engage in-depth on this topic is a sad state of where things currently stand in college football. Harbaugh’s comments should be the norm, not the outlier.

Harbaugh went on to say that players making a profit from NIL isn’t enough, he even had percentages in mind that would lessen the salaries for coaches and administrators as well as the profits from conferences and television networks — all the money would be put in a pot that would go to players.

“They say, well, NIL and that’s cool, but guys are working for that. They’re working for that. In a lot of ways you have to be a pitch man. You’ve got to go do something. They really are earning it with what they’re doing on the field.

There used to be a saying: Old coaches — my dad’s used it, my brother’s used it — like, hey, we’re all robbing the same train here. Like coaches, administrators, media, television stations, conferences, NCAA. And the ones that are really robbing the train, the ones that could really get hurt are getting a very small piece.

So that needs to change, too. That needs to change. And it’s one thing for somebody to say, well, they’re getting NIL, but, heh, the billions that are being generated they’re getting, they’re not getting much of, very small percentage.

They’re getting the same amount as I got in the ‘80s. You’re getting a scholarship, room, board, books and tuition. So it’s like, come on, man, let’s do the right thing here.

And who is that voice? I don’t know that, who is the voice for the student-athletes. But got the organizations that are really fighting for their share and their piece, and it’s time to share.

I would say this, anyone who is profiting from the student-athletes right now, myself included, coaches, somewhere between 5 and 10 percent, take 5 to 10 percent less — that would go for any administrator, any coach, any conference, any university, NCAA — 5 to 10 percent less and maybe a 10 percent tax from the television station more, into /one pot for the student-athletes. Maybe that’s a start, a way.

But some conversations here on how to get it done, because I don’t know if people know this, but I’ve been told maybe 17 percent is going up, the TV contracts are going up another 17 percent next year.

Ever-growing. Ever-increasing revenue that it be right for the student-athletes, not just football, all student-athletes, to share in.”

Harbaugh has said in the past that he’d gladly take less money if it means the players receive their share of revenue, and in November he said that some coaches have attempted to dissuade him from bringing this topic up.

“I’ve had people tell me, ‘Don’t say anything about that, that’ll take away money for the coaches. I would take less money for the players to have a share,” Harbaugh said in November. “I hope other coaches would use their voice to express the same thing.”

On the grandest of stages, Harbaugh decided to go all-in and be on the right side of history on a matter where the writing is on the wall. Collegiate athletics are evolving, and it’s only a matter of time before players receive revenue in ways they never have before. Harbaugh turned 60 years old last month, but when it comes to innovation he remains a trailblazer. It’s time for other coaches to get on board with Harbaugh’s rationale or they’ll be on the wrong side of history — it’s that cut and dry.