Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Is it time to pay college athletes?

The NCAA convention officially begins today in Indianapolis and one of the hottest issues to be debated will be a proposal the NCAA’s executive committee announced in late October to pay student athletes an additional $2,000 above their full scholarships. The NCAA’s decision to try and push the $2,000 stipend through their membership without any real debate blew up in the faces of the NCAA’s leadership in December.

College athletes presently receive full scholarships (tuition, room and board) which amount to as much as $50,000 per year. While a majority of college athletes do not generate a significant return on the investment schools make in them, those who participate in revenue generating sports (football and men’s basketball) have long believed they deserve a piece of the pie.

NCAA President Mark Emmert told members of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics in October that he believed the NCAA was ready to look at offering college athletes additional financial support that goes beyond the current system’s offering.

On December 15, the NCAA announced that 125 schools had petitioned the NCAA to overrule the decision, forcing the governing body for college sports to deal with the issue at this week’s convention.

"In principal, I think it is a bad piece of legislation," University of Hartford President Walt Harrison told The Hartford Courant. "But unlike the Republicans and Democrats in Congress, I'm willing to compromise."

"I personally think the future of Division I and possibly the NCAA is at stake here. I think keeping Division I together is more important than this particular issue. And if this is what it took to satisfy the BCS schools, I was willing."

The long held belief of people like Harrison is the fear that the big revenue generating schools will break away from the NCAA, create their college competitive athletic system, and leave smaller schools on the outside looking in.

In 2010, the NCAA reported that only 22 of 346 Division I programs showed a profit.

"I see their argument," Harrison said. "But most of the rest of us are struggling. We don't have money. Most of us would rather spend money on other things than an additional $2,000 for a full scholarship."

One of the most vocal groups in support of student athletes receiving the stipend is the National College Players Association. The California based advocacy group believes college athletes should be able to share in a much bigger piece of the college athletic revenue pie they, in large part, generate.

“It’s time for colleges to finally do the right thing. The concerns they raised are insignificant compared to the real life toll that they will inflict on their student-athletes who are already living below the federal poverty line,” said NCPA President and former UCLA student-athlete Ramogi Huma.

“It’s cowardly of these colleges to try to rob student-athletes of this much needed increase behind closed doors. Believe me; student-athletes want to know exactly which of their schools are standing in the way of their financial relief. If this increase is eliminated, we will make sure that colleges’ positions on this issue will come to light and that their student-athletes and recruits know exactly where they stand.”

According to The Harford Courant’s Jeff Jacobs the NCAA plans to hold on online vote in February to determine which direction to go. While the issue won’t be voted on during the NCAA convention this week, it is expected to be one of the most discussed issues in Indianapolis. Many of those who expressed their opposition to the stipend were concerned about how the decision had come about.

A small, specially appointed, committee formed in the summer announced they determined student athletes should receive an additional $2,000 during a retreat in September and October. There was no debate and no discussion.

"The reason for us voting for the override was how this happened," Quinnipiac athletic director Jack McDonald said in the Hartford Courant report. "It happened so fast without, frankly, being asked about it. It's not just the cost.

"Football and non-football schools, Ivy League schools that don't award athletic scholarships, how it affects ice hockey and lacrosse, how it applies to women's sports … let's vet this, discuss it a lot more," McDonald said. "We're voting against the process, certainly not against the student-athletes. If the decision was good, it will be good a few months from now, too."

Fair points and what about the Ivy League?

Harvard University’s men’s basketball program is having a great season and has been ranked for much of the year. Ivy League schools have always had competitive men’s hockey programs. Would this force a student athlete to decide between an Ivy League school and a school where they’ll receive an additional $2,000?

Never. The chance to attend an Ivy League school and receive a degree from that institution is a once in a lifetime opportunity. If you’re good enough to attend an Ivy League school the chances you’re going to care less about an additional $2,000 you might receive from a school interested in your athletic abilities.

It’s the cost that seems to be the biggest issue.

"One problem is it came in the middle of a fiscal cycle. There are so many of us that can't fund those additional costs in the middle of the year." Sacred Heart athletic director Don Cook told The Hartford Courant.

Central Connecticut State University athletic director Paul Schlickman offered this to the Hartford Courant: “Philosophically, is it something you'd like to implement across the board?"

"Or something you feel you have to implement in select sports in order to keep pace? If you do it in select sports, it's an immediate financial burden. If you do it across the board, it's essentially prohibitive for us, at least in the short term."

Is this really going to be about small schools taking on the big schools? Small as they may be, University of Hartford’s President Walt Harrison indicated even small schools have big athletic budgets.

"Our budget is in the $13 million-$14 million range and in the 50th to 60th percentile," Harrison said. "We don't make any money on athletics. We basically subsidize a lot of it. So if I'm going to spend money on student financial aid, I would rather spend it on poor students than good athletes."

"I also want to be in the top division in the NCAA and in order to be there I'm willing to compromise. I'm just sorry that the first thing they passed so obviously favored the larger conferences."

Complicating matters is that the chairman of the aforementioned committee was Graham Spanier. Spanier was fired by Penn State University after Jerry Sandusky was indicted on more than 50 charges relating to child sex abuse. Spanier left Penn State and college sports 15 days after the committee he chaired announced the plan to offer the $2,000 stipend.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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