Heading to the NFL, Michigan's Jake Butt says college players should be paid

Jake Butt: Pay for play discussions need to happen (2:03)

Former Michigan tight end Jake Butt shares his stance on why college athletes should be able to profit off their likeness. (2:03)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Jake Butt has heard the lament since tearing his right ACL in December's Orange Bowl, that he should have sat out the game as a potential first-round pick, asrunning backs Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette did with Stanford and LSU.

Butt views it differently. He knows his injury likely cost him a spot in the first round of April's NFL draft. He knows he might not be ready for the start of training camp for whatever team drafts him. But he sees his injury not as a cry for players to sit out -- but for college players to be compensated for what they do on the field.

"I should be the example of why college athletes should be getting paid in college or why I can't use my name to benefit off my likeness in college," Butt said after Michigan's Pro Day on Friday.

"Why can I see 'I Like Jake Butt and I Cannot Lie,' I see those shirts and I'm living paycheck-to-paycheck in college. Who knows? Heaven forbid something happens in the NFL, can I really benefit off of it when it was at the most? No, I can't."

Butt did not work out for teams at pro day. He said he is hoping to start running in the next two weeks on his knee after having surgery on Jan. 10. He said he could be cleared as early as July 10 -- but that's an ideal date if everything goes well. That would make him available for the start of training camp.

Butt said every team has asked about his knee and that he'll be back in Indianapolis for the medical recheck in April before the draft. He knows the injury will hamper his draft prospects, but he isn't concerned about it long term. He met with the Raiders, Titans, Saints and Steelers just before Friday's pro day and has no visits set up other than the local prospects pro day with the Lions in April.

"It'll hurt a little bit," Butt said. "But I just want to play football."

As he leaves the NCAA, where he was considered an amateur unable to get paid, for the NFL's paid ranks, he's sure of one thing about playing college football for free.

"Something needs to change," Butt said. "I don't want a check from the NCAA. I don't know if that's something that's likely. But the big thing is they say you can't use your name to benefit. I can't go into my favorite breakfast spot, Benny's, I can't go in there and get a free breakfast because I'm only getting that because of my name.

"That's not to say I can't make friends with the owner because of the person I am. I'm a good guy, a really good guy -- sociable guy, made a lot of friends. I can't accept anything free for that. They said I can't go down the street, the example one of them gave us is you can't go to [get] tires and negotiate your price from $600 to $500 because that's only because of your name. But Joe Schmo can go down the street and he can negotiate his price. It's kind of ridiculous to me."

Butt said he first started recognizing this during his sophomore year at Michigan, when he moved into an apartment and received $900 a month to pay for housing and other incidentals, including bills, food and gas. Problem was, rent was $700 and that meant he had $200 to pay for the rest of his bills. He called his father, Rob, and asked for money. Rob asked about the scholarship. Butt explained the situation, which affects many college athletes who don't have time for a part-time job on top of classes and their sport.

Butt said he's thankful for the education he got at Michigan and the connections he made. But he sees salaries of others who work in NCAA sports and what the NCAA men's basketball tournament brings in and it makes him wonder.

"I'm looking at what this March Madness is bringing in," Butt said. "How much money do they bring in? Oh, but the basketball players are getting an education. How are they getting an education when they are missing the whole entire month of March?"

Butt is the latest college athlete to voice that players should be paid or allowed to make money off endorsements while they are in college. Ex-Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter tried to unionize at Northwestern -- a movement that failed but one Butt said he would support. Wisconsin basketball player Nigel Hayes questions why college athletes aren't being paid. Butt said Friday he would welcome a conversation with Hayes, who he played AAU basketball against in high school, and would help Hayes out if he wanted.

Butt reiterated multiple times he doesn't have a solution yet, but he said more conversations about college athletes, endorsements and being paid should continue to happen.

"Everybody has different opinions," Butt said. "I think the NCAA does a good job; you don't let people unionize. You don't let people truly have a voice to make a change and then they get to the NFL or start their careers and then no one speaks for the college athletes anymore.

"But I think it's moving in the right direction. I think eventually, hopefully something will happen."