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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Editor's Note: This is the first of a four-part alligatorSports series in which we examine whether college athletes deserve to be paid for their athletic efforts.

When Tim Tebow left Ponte Vedra Nease High School for the University of Florida, his coach kept his helmet.

Craig Howard didn't want it as a memento to remind him of the quarterback he helped mold into an eventual Heisman Trophy winner, and he wasn't looking to make a quick buck by selling it.

Howard stowed it away at Nease for the opposite reason: to keep someone else from selling it.

That's also why Howard - who now coaches at Lake City Columbia High - didn't sell jerseys bearing Tebow's No. 5, a venture that surely would have raised lots of money for the Panthers' program.

"I thought about it, but I thought it would be too much commercialism," Howard said. "We could have made money off of it, but guys like that come along only a few times.

"I was always very protective of Timmy's stuff."

Though Howard has certainly gained from coaching Tebow - he won a state title and coached a game televised on ESPN - he is one of the few people who hasn't taken advantage of a chance to make money off him.

Sometime between an athlete's final prep contest and his arrival on a college campus, that line is broken. From one amateur, student-athlete-driven sports association to another, it becomes commonplace for people to make large profits off of players.

And since arriving in Gainesville, Tebow has become a cash cow.

The UF Bookstore, located on campus, sold around 2,000 of Tebow's No. 15 jerseys last year. That's a rate of 166 per month, ranging in price from $75 to $150.

A search on for "Tim Tebow" nets 393 results, ranging from 99-cent football cards to an autographed jersey up for $515.15.

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At The Perfect Gift, a shop located in Haile Village, a painting titled "Lord of The Swamp" that featured Tebow running through the Oklahoma defense with Bible verses placed all over him was on the market for $6,500. At the Haile Village Art Fair outside the store last spring, more paintings, sketches and even jewelry bearing Tebow's likeness or jersey number were for sale.

His image has sold magazines, newspapers, highlight videos and T-shirts. His play on the field has sold tickets and earned UF millions for playing in high-profile bowl games.

And as Howard points out, a 10-year-old Tebow family Christmas card went for $50 online last fall.

"It's almost disgusting," Howard said. "So many people make money off of athletes and off of sports, and a lot of times the athletes don't get any financial reward from it."

Due to NCAA rules, Tebow is prevented from benefiting financially as a result of his status as an athlete. He even has to jump through hoops just to do charity work.

In the week leading up to UF's spring football game, Tebow participated in charity events that raised around $300,000 for the children's hospital at Shands at UF and an orphanage in the Philippines.

Tebow was only allowed to help after months of dialogue with the NCAA to ensure that Tebow, his family and his father's ministry, the Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association, would not benefit.

"I don't really care about getting paid, but sometimes I do wish I could do more charity work and help out with stuff like that," Tebow said.

It seems everyone is making money off Tim Tebow except for Tim Tebow, but some believe he has the ability to change the college system.

After the 2007 Heisman Trophy presentation, professor Rick Karcher, who heads the Center for Law and Sports at the Florida Coastal School of Law, sent Tebow a letter congratulating him on the win.

The letter also urged Tebow to sue the commercial entities profiting from his identity, which would not cause a loss of eligibility. If Tebow were to be awarded damages, Karcher wrote, it would be too late for the NCAA to punish him.

"But by the time you receive that judgment, you will have already exhausted your eligibility," Karcher wrote in the letter, which he later published on the Internet. "Your lawsuit could be the impetus for the NCAA to begin negotiating with its licensees for an annual royalty to be held in trust for the benefit of collegiate athletes in the future, without destroying their eligibility."

Karcher's idea was that Tebow could do for college sports what Curt Flood did for free agency in baseball. But the debate about paying student-athletes is long and twisted, with legal issues, gender equality, economics and the spirit of amateurism all playing a role.

The Football Machine

Because there is no fair system to pay college athletes, and doing so under current rules would remove their eligibility, Tebow and his teammates are not able to cash in on their work.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the UF football program generated more than $66 million in 2007-08, while the men's basketball program brought in $9.9 million. After expenses, those teams made $47.2 million and $2.1 million, respectively, while all other UF sports recorded a net loss of $13.5 million.

It's clear that the gridiron Gators are the framework holding the athletics program together.

"The ability of our football program to generate significant dollars is the key component to our financial stability," the UAA stated in its 2008-2009 budget summary.

The numbers will be much larger for the 2008 season.

The UAA projected to make $8.6 million in Southeastern Conference revenue from bowl games, television contracts and championships, $2.1 million from advertising and $29.9 million in donations from boosters.

Also, since Tebow's jersey hit the shelves, licensing revenues have almost doubled to a projected $4 million, a number that will likely be surpassed in the wake of the Gators' recent national title.

Those numbers, especially from the football team, have convinced many that the athletes doing the work on the field deserve a cut.

"Honestly, I think we should get a little something," cornerback Joe Haden said. "When you look at all the money coming in for the games and everything, [the university gets] all the money. It wouldn't hurt for us to just get a little something."

Of the Gators' 122 players, 85 are on athletic scholarships, ranging in value from $12,300 for in-state students to $29,150 for non-Floridians. The scholarships cover tuition, housing, a meal plan and books, and there are other benefits that come with being a student-athlete, such as trainers, tutors and special advisers to help with scheduling.

"There's a lot of other things they do for us," wide receiver David Nelson said. "If there's an emergency and we have to go home, they'll pay for our flight. They do a great job of taking care of us, and they provide us with meal plans and housing, so there really isn't that much else that we need."

The bases are covered, Haden said, but in the shadow of coach Urban Meyer's $4 million-per-year contract and the program's sky-high revenues and success, the players should get a little more.

"We have a meal plan at the dining hall, and not to be talking down about it, but it's the same food all the time, and sometimes you don't want to go there," Haden said. "You might want to take your girl out to eat or something."

Big-time players are sure to cash in on their careers eventually. Tebow will likely have endorsements and a pro contract waiting for him this spring, and he took out an insurance policy to guard against an injury derailing his plans.

But for those without a future in athletics, earning a degree is everything.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, adults with a college degree earn four times more than those with less than a high school diploma. A high school dropout, on average, earned about $20,873 in 2006 while a person with an advanced college degree earned about $82,320.

Those benefits aren't lost on safety Major Wright, who plans to use his communications degree to pursue a broadcasting career after football. But he still believes he should be compensated with a stipend.

"The majority of our time as a student-athlete is either studying or on the field," Wright said. "I feel like we should be paid because we're here 24/7. We're here during the breaks when other people go home, and even though our team is like a family, we can't get to be with our immediate family much. Taking that away can push some people down sometimes."

Melissa Rodgers contributed to this report.

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