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College athletes deserve to be paid: Joe Theismann

Thursday, 30 Jan 2014 | 2:07 PM ET
Joe Theismann on paying college players
Thursday, 30 Jan 2014 | 12:43 PM ET
The threat of unionization will force the NCAA to make changes and what they do for the athletes," says Joe Theismann, a former Super Bowl champion, in discussing Northwestern football players' move to unionize.

On a week when the sports world is intently focused on the NFL's Super Bowl, the question of whether or not elite college football players deserve monetary compensation beyond their scholarships reached a new level.

On Tuesday, members of Northwestern University's football team took the first step toward creating a players union and announced the formation of the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA). The issue is hitting home for many NFL players who were also once collegiate athletes—including NFL legend Joe Theismann.

(Read more: The 15 most bizarre Super Bowl bets)

Joe Theismann
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Joe Theismann

Theismann said Thursday on CNBC's "Fast Money Halftime Report" that he's had a change of heart. "I was absolutely opposed to paying college athletes, because I felt you got a scholarship for $60,000 over the course of four years, that's a quarter of a million," he said.

"But then I started to rethink where we are in the 21st century. We can't be stuck in old thought patterns. We need to be able to be progressive in thinking how do we take care of the athlete that really does make money for the university."

But the Notre Dame alum and former Washington Redskins quarterback said he was unsure if unionization is the way to go because of the short time athletes spend being college athletes before graduating or moving on to the professional level.

The debate over whether or not college athletes should be paid may not be a new one. However, it is being escalated as the amount of money being made by colleges in the form of broadcast rights, ticket sales and memorabilia has skyrocketed.

Numbers reported by 123 NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision Schools (formerly called Division I-A) to the Department of Education show total revenue of $3.2 billion for the 2012-2013 season, the most recent figures available.

(Read more: Super Bowl TV ratings: Fast facts at a glance)

"There needs to be a system where these athletes get some kind of money. We have a system now that begs to be violated. And it will continue to be violated," said Theismann.

The "system" Theismann is referring to is one in which student-athletes are given full scholarships at their schools, but are unable to profit from their own likeness.

According to the NCAA, the nonprofit organization which regulates and organizes student athletics, top-tier athletes may be given money to cover tuition, fees, room and board as well as books. But these students cannot sell autographed jerseys, or sign lucrative licensing deals like their professional counterparts.

It's an issue Thiesmann thinks can no longer be ignored. "What it's going to force the NCAA to do is accelerate the process to say a stipend should be given to our athletes. There should be opportunities provided to our athletes."

Turning back to this weekend's main event, the former Super Bowl champ gave his big prediction, telling CNBC, "I'm with Seattle. [The] Broncos haven't faced a front four like the Seahawks, and that team is driven by their defense."

And, he thinks managing the clock will be key to a Seattle victory. "The big thing is to keep Peyton off the field. If the score is in the 20s I'm with the Seahawks, if they get up into the 30s I like [the] Broncos."

By CNBC's Katie Young. Follow her on Twitter @KatieCNBC

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