Tommy Hanson's outstanding performance against the Marlins last night drove home a point for me: the Braves' salaries are inversely related to their performance. Jair Jurrjens sports a league-leading 1.75 ERA and is being paid $3.25M.* Tommy Hanson's 2.59 ERA gets him $456,500. Conversely, Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe are being paid $9M and $15M and they both have ERAs a tick over four. If baseball players were paid in a truly free market, then Jurrjens and Hanson would be significantly more valuable than Hudson and Lowe, especially in light of the fact that they are younger. This would have been true even before the season (moreso for Hanson than for Jurrjens, as Jair had an injury-riddled 2010).
* - Jurrjens' ERA is unsustainable at its current microscopic level, but he is doing such a good job of preventing homers and refraining from walks that it's reasonable to think that he'll keep pitching at a high level for the Braves this year, even with a pedestrian 5.5 K/9 ratio.
A true free market does not exist because of the collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the players' union, which forces players to play for six years before they achieve free agency and three years before they are even arbitration eligible. This system makes sense in that it encourages teams to invest in their farm systems, knowing that the players they produce will be captive assets for more than a half a decade, but we shouldn't kid ourselves that baseball players are paid their true worth on an open market.
I bring up the imbalance between pay and performance because it's relevant in the discussion about paying college football players. The argument against the current system (and I have made this argument) is that players generate trmendous revenue for their schools, but they are not rewarded with a cut of the revenue, except in scrip from the company store. A free education may be valuable to some players, but for others, life in a lecture hall is just not their highest and best use. However, college sports are not unique in that they have rules preventing players from capturing the value that they create. American pro sports have similar rules, although there is a difference in scale. It's one thing to be paid six- or seven-figure salaries when you deserve eight; it's another to be paid in a barter system when you deserve thousands or millions of dollars.
There is an additional analogy to be made between college and pro sports compenation: both rely on a deferred compensation element. In baseball, young players perform for lower salaries, knowing that good performances will lead to a payday down the road. Tommy Hanson knows that he's playing for a relative pittance now, but he is positioning himself for a massive deal in 2-3 years, a deal that will be especially big because he won't have to compete against pitchers who come after him because those guys will be restricted from entering the market in the same way that Hanson is now. Likewise, college football players play for classes and room & board in the hopes that their performances will lead to NFL riches. The college system seems less equitable because Ohio State and Alabama don't end up having to pay out the deferred compensation, whereas the Braves will have to do so for Hanson and Jurrjens (or their replacements if Jair and/or Tommy leave). That said, the point remains that the NCAA's amateurism rules seem antiquated, but they are not without parallels in American pro sports. This is not a situation like English footie in days of yore when clubs could not pay their players and the players had no expectation of ever cashing in. The payout may be delayed, but it's not denied.