The Indianapolis Star‘s Bob Kravitz has a great idea: the NCAA should allow college athletes to be paid. In Friday’s paper, Kravitz called on the NCAA to “end the charade and pay players.”

He’s right. Student-athletes, as the NCAA insists on calling them, are nothing but indentured servants. Colleges athletics generate billions in revenue every year–all of it on the backs of unpaid players. It’s completely unfair, and it should end.

Kravitz was right about a lot of other things, too. We’re never going to get rid of corruption in college sports, and paying players isn’t going to make matters any worse. And he’s right that all colleges shouldn’t be pay all athletes: at most schools, for example, cross country is not a revenue producing sport, so runners shouldn’t expect to be paid.

But Kravitz’s idea starts going off the rails when he contends that, for most athletes, scholarships are enough. “As someone who pays tuition every semester, and has another one headed to college in a year and change, I know it’s fair compensation for the vast majority of athletes.” But who’s being compensated here? Not the athlete, but the athlete’s parent. Unless you’re responsible for paying for one hundred percent of college, your scholarship doesn’t do much but relieve your parents’ burden.

Next, Kravitz suggests that you shouldn’t pay all players in revenue-producing sports–just the ones who are using college athletics as the minor-league system it’s become. Unfortunately, these aren’t the players who are getting screwed the worst by the universities. “Do you pay Cam Newton the same as the third-string punter?” Kravitz asks, the implication being that this would be grossly inequitable.

But I say, yes: pay them the same. Cam Newton is going to be just fine, thank you. He’s headed for the pros, where he’ll make more money than any sane person can spend in a lifetime. But that third-string punter–or, more realistically, that first-string guard or linebacker or safety who’s never going pro–is just a cog in the machine. He’s not going anywhere; yet, the team needs him and gives him a scholarship, even though he’s no more interested in pursuing his education than Newton. He’s the kid who’s being used and discarded by the college farm system–and there are thousands of these kids leaving college every year. In other words, all those schools whose players aren’t graduating don’t lose all of them to the NBA: a lot of them wind up working at the gas station.

The numbers don’t lie: about 9,000 students play college football, and 215 become NFL players. That’s less than three percent. But only about 50 percent of college football players graduate–and that percentage is lower for African-American athletes. And remember, these graduation rates have lots of built-in padding: most big-time college football players don’t graduate with degrees in physics or economics.

“If they don’t use their scholarship to get a great education, that’s their problem” is a common rejoinder. But these kids aren’t there for an education. They’re at college to play football or basketball because their schools can’t field teams without them. It’s the support players, not the stars, who get screwed.

Should colleges pay all athletes? Lacrosse players and women’s basketball players? How about this: if you are a player in a revenue-producing sport, you get paid. The pay can be based on the revenue your sport produces.¬†Lacrosse makes money at Syracuse? Pay ’em.¬†Women’s basketball makes money at Connecticut? Pay ’em. Kravitz asks, “Do you pay Maya Moore and not a player with the IU program?” Umm…yes. Does that give UConn an unfair recruiting advantage? Of course–but they have one, anyway. Maybe it would give IU incentive to get serious about women’s basketball.

And–how about this?–the longer you stay in school, the more you get paid. Seniors get a higher salary than freshmen. Perhaps this would encourage kids to stay in school longer.

What about merchandise sales and endorsement deals for college athletes? Is it okay for Shelvin Mack to appear in TV spots for a local car dealer? Is it fair for Matt Howard to make money from sales of Butler jerseys bearing his name and number 54?

How is it not fair? This is America, where sixteen-year-old singers become mega-millionaires. Why shouldn’t Matt Howard be able to take advantage of his position? Why is it somehow tawdry or shameful for a student-athlete to make money for him- or herself–but okay for any other person in America to do the same? Especially when there’s so much money on the table that’s all being scooped up by the NCAA?

It’s telling that public sentiment seems to be solidly with the NCAA on this one: in the Star‘s poll on the topic, 70% of respondents said student-athletes should not be paid, and Kravitz was ripped in most of the comments on his column.

But it’s ridiculous. Scholarships are great for kids who want an education. But lots of kids are being used by the system that’s making coaches and their colleges rich. That’s just plain wrong.

Oh–and “go Bulldogs.”