The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

June 6, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: Can you weigh a college athlete’s worth in money?

MORGANTOWN — A few weeks back, former West Virginia University quarterback Pat White set a buzz through college football circles when he claimed he had been offered a Corvette – presumably a red one – by Alabama while being recruited.

While this claim died a quick and harmless death in the media, the coaching staff in Alabama long since gone and White’s collegiate career having been played out without any evidence of any wrongdoing on anyone’s part, it did lead to the hottest topic in college athletics today.

Should college athletes be paid?

And, if so, how much? What is their value, a Corvette or a Kia? A hundred thousand dollars or a million dollars?

What if I told you that Pat White’s monetary value to WVU in the 2006 season was $3,112,507?

Would you call me crazy?

Well, better you should call Seth Gitter and Peter Hunsberger crazy, for in this day and age of advanced metrics in athletics, they devised a method to put a monetary value on college quarterbacks over the past decade.

I will not bore you with the details (you can read about that at Fivethirtyeight.com), which are complicated and far beyond the mathematical skills possessed by a sports writer baffled by figuring out baseball earned run averages.

But that they arrived at the figures they did is what’s interesting, for White stood just fourth in value to their schools among the top 10 quarterbacks during the study period, directly ahead of last year’s Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston of Florida State and the previous year’s Heisman winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M.

Tops on the list?

Former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, whose value in 2011 was put at $3,469,860. Luck also ranked 10th in 2011 with a value of $2,658,080.

This brought the issue of paying players even closer to home, for not only is Pat White a one-time WVU star, but Andrew Luck is the son of Oliver Luck, who doubles professionally as WVU’s athletic director, putting him in the rather uncomfortable situation of not only having to raise a quarterback son but even to judge his value.

What does Luck think of the formula created to evaluate a quarterback’s worth and, as an athletic director, does he believe it could practically work … maybe even to the point of helping fund the family through the college years.

The article had been sent to Luck when he was reached at his office and he had “glanced at it,” so he did have some familiarity with the subject.

“As an athletic director, certainly Stanford had some success when Andrew was there,

but certainly it’s a lot more than one guy,” said Luck. “Try to parse how important the starting right guard David DeCastro, who was the Steelers’ first pick the year Andrew was drafted. How important was DeCastro to that revival? It takes a group of 85 – at least 55 or 60 kids who are playing — to turn a program around.

“I think it was a pretty superficial calculation, if you will. You just can’t take one player and pay tribute. To say he was responsible for three wins one year, four or five wins another, I just don’t know if you can do that without considering the contribution of a whole lot of other people.”

Indeed, while it all may have started at WVU with Pat White, where was he without Steve Slaton or Owen Schmitt or Darius Reynaud or Dan Mozes?

True, the metrics exist to create a formula which will give you a value, but while such a formula works well in major league baseball, it faces major problems in college football.

“I can see that for baseball, because it is a game where there is more statistics,” Luck said. “A second baseman in major leagues is not going to make but one error or so in a season, and his on-base percentage, slugging percentage, RBIs are readily available.

“In college football, everyone comes in with a blank slate. Some guys pan out; some don’t. Some guys pan out much better than you expect; some guys don’t pan out as well as you expect,” Luck continued. “I don’t know if it’s a useful exercise at the end of the day.

“I don’t know if you can draw much out of it. Was Andrew Luck worth $3 or $4 million a year to Stanford? Nobody would have provided him with those kind of funds when he was coming out being recruited.”

And that is how an athletic director has to look at it. But what of a father?

“As a father I would say he went to college and played football. There was no expectation that there’s anything else beyond that. That’s exactly what he did. He came out of there with an education and a degree and chance to play professional football. I couldn’t ask for anything more than that,” Luck said. “It’s an interesting exercise, post facto, but when you go into this, the kid may turn out to be a player and may not. There’s plenty of guys who didn’t make any contribution.”

But once a college player finds success and is heading toward an NFL career, a value often is placed on him. Luck even did so with his son in the terms of purchasing an insurance policy in case of a disabling injury in his final season.

“He could have come out when Cam Newton came out (and was the NFL’s No. 1 draft pick). Some people thought he may have been No. 1 ahead of Cam,” Luck said.

Andrew decided to play his senior season at Stanford.

“When he went back, we did take out a $5 million policy,” Luck said.

They purchased it through a program that is approved by the NCAA and is available to the parents of any athlete in a sport with a professional future, including women’s basketball.

“I think Geno (Smith) took out a policy. The max is $5 million. It’s the classic total disability policy that only pays out if you suffer a total disability injury,” Luck noted.

That, of course, can change from year to year.

“Thirty years ago a knee was a total disability injury. Now you get it fixed,” Luck said. “What it does is let you sleep at night. It costs money. Nothing is free. I think the premium may have been $35,000. But if you have the resources, it’s worth it.”

Rest assured the insurance companies know the worth of a college quarterback.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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