With the attempt to unionize football players at Northwestern University, and antitrust lawsuits being fought against the governing board of college athletics—the NCAA—experts say the day when student athletes are classified as workers and get paid may not be far off.
But how much money could a player get on the open market? According to one report, it would likely mean salaries in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more.
"The bidding war for athletes would likely be in the millions," said Ellen Staurowsky, a professor of sports management at Drexel University and co-author of the report.
"However, I think it all depends on whether or not a players' association ends up representing the teams and players," Staurowsky told CNBC by phone. "The salaries could be effectively bargained to have some sort of minimum guaranteed salary for all."
The March survey, from the National College Players Association and Drexel University, said that the projected fair market value of the average college football player is $178,000 per year from 2011 to 2015, while the projected market value for the average college basketball player for the same time is $375,000.
The report also said that football players with the top 10 highest estimated fair market values, like Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, might be worth as much as $547,000, during the year 2011 to 2012.
Basketball players with the top 10 highest estimated fair market values, such as Kansas Jayhawk forward Andrew Wiggins, for instance, might be worth more than $1.6 million for the same year.
The report states that the fair market value was calculated using the revenue sharing percentages defined in the NFL and NBA collective bargaining agreements and team revenues as reported by each school to the federal government. The NCPA is headed by Romagi Huma, who is leading the effort to unionize the Northwestern football players.