After his graduation in 1902, Payne became an assistant in the history department at the University of Georgia. In 1908, he became an assistant professor of history Georgia and was promoted to professor in 1919. Payne was the faculty chairman of athletics for Georgia from 1934 until 1943. In 1936, he succeeded Herman Stegeman as athletic director at the University of Georgia. He served in this capacity at his alma mater until 1943. From 1911 until his death, Payne served the Delta Chapter of Sigma Chi as faculty advisor.