Thursday, January 05, 2012

Should College athletes be paid?

The NCAA announced in late October a plan that would give member intuitions the right to offer select athletes an additional $2,000 above the full scholarship athletes currently receive. The plan is now on hold and will be considered at next week’s Indianapolis NCAA Convention.

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 NCAA money pie.

October 25, NCAA President Mark Emmert told members of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics he believed the NCAA was ready to look at offering college athletes additional financial support that goes beyond the current system’s offering.

"We are going to create a model that would allow -- probably ... up to $2,000 [in addition to tuition, fees, room and board, books and supplies]…I believe the Presidents are committed to creating rapid change to benefit the student-athletes on their campuses. We need to take serious action now to improve the student-athlete experience and make sure our conduct aligns with our values”, Emmert stated when he made the announcement. “All of these changes will happen in short order and will have a positive impact on the enterprise.”

The proposed changes announced were to go well beyond offering certain athletes a financial stipend. The proposed NCAA plan included:

•Increased emphasis on academic performance, including a minimum academic standard to qualify for postseason competition.

•More rigorous initial-eligibility standards, including tougher core-course requirements coming out of high school.

•Increased standards for two-year college transfers.

•Increased assistance to student-athletes, including up to an additional $2,000 miscellaneous-expense allowance toward incidental educational costs above tuition and fees, room and board, and books.

•Allowing institutions to award multi-year grants in aid.

Schools had the option of opting into the plan. The plan would have created a two-tier system - the haves and the have-nots - those who could afford to pay their student-athletes the additional $2,000 and those who couldn’t afford the luxury of paying their student athletes the $2,000.

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

David Berst, Division I Vice President of Governance, hints that more than 1,000 athletes have agreed to school scholarships that already included the $2,000 bonus during the November signing period for high school student athletes. A change to the proposed system may be impossible, in some cases.

"We would honor the agreements that have taken place," Berst told The Associated Press. "So even if you were to rescind the rule as of December 26 and not operate under that rule in the future, we would honor those agreements. I think that causes the board to redouble its efforts at the January meeting”.

"My belief is that if the board believes the $2,000 proposal is appropriate, I think they will modify the proposal to make it clear that we expect institutions to comply fully with Title IX. I think we've already done that, but we'll make that abundantly clearer in January, and then we'll have to talk about the implementation time," Berst said. "My job is to help everybody accomplish what they're trying to get done. I believe the board was sincere in trying to provide for the miscellaneous expense allowance, and my job is to find what alternatives may be more pleasing for them."

As members of the Big Ten, the University of Minnesota provides a major stumbling block to the $2,000 stipend’s implementation. There isn’t a question as to whether Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State or Penn State will pay their football players the additional $2,000 per player. They can clearly afford it. For instance, Penn State’s football program has made a profit of at least $50 million each of the last five years. The same is true for the other Big Ten football revenue generating machines, but not necessarily true for the Big Ten football programs in Minnesota, Northwestern or Indiana. Could these schools afford to pay each of their 75 football players $2,000?

"I don't think [the stipend] is necessary for those who come from families that have means to help support their kids in college," Gophers athletics director Joe Maturi told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "If Joel Maturi's son or daughter is on a full scholarship right now, they don't need more than that, (with) all due respect. That's my personal opinion”.

"Those kids in need already are qualified for a Pell Grant, which at Minnesota is between $5,000 and $6,000. Kids in need can already get 5,000, 6,000 extra dollars, which isn't bad. But now we're potentially going to give them $2,000 above that."

New York Times op-ed columnist Joe Nocera offered an opinion piece Saturday in the Times asking “how can it be that the N.C.A.A. can define amateurism in one moment as allowing a $2,000 stipend and in the next moment as forbidding such a stipend? How can it justify rolling back a change that would truly help student athletes, such as the four-year scholarship, simply because coaches want to continue to have life-or-death power over their charges? How can the labor force that generates so much money for everyone else be kept in shackles by the N.C.A.A.? “

On November 28, Urban Meyer agreed to a multi-year contact with Ohio State University to save its football program after former coach Jim Tressel was fired. Meyer’s contact calls for a $4 million base salary and incentives that could add millions to his agreement. He will be one of the highest paid coaches in the NCAA.

“He is without a shadow of a doubt one of the premier leaders in football. It’s represented in his record. But more importantly, it’s represented in him, the man,” OSU Athletic Director Gene Smith said last month when introducing Meyer to the press.

“It’s the tail wagging the dog. It’s ridiculous that Ohio State is known for football and not for physics,” said Gordon Aubrecht, OSU professor of physics. “We are not the best university in the whole world — I wouldn’t claim that — but we are a very good university. ... There are so many opportunities for students to find something that will excite them and interest them. Yet all we hear about is football.”

If the football coach is being paid more than $4 million a year, how can the players of the football team not have earned some spending money?

"The NCAA and Presidents step up with this legislation and then the universities want to vote it down," said Christian Dennie, a former compliance officer at Missouri and Oklahoma who now practices sports law in Fort Worth, Texas, and writes an NCAA oversight blog.

"They say, `We don't have enough money,' and then the coach gets a $2 million raise," Dennie added in an AP report, speaking in general terms rather than about a specific school. "It's really a resource allocation issue."

Both Boise State and Indiana State commented as to why they want the $2,000 stipend overridden.

"There is never a guarantee that the incoming student-athlete will be a good fit for the program and the institution," Boise State wrote in its override request. "If it is a poor fit, the program is put in a difficult situation to continue to keep a student-athlete on scholarship."

"The current system works. We don't need to get into bidding wars where one school offers a 75 percent (scholarship) for two years and the other school then offers 85 percent for three years, etc., etc. This puts the kid into a situation where they almost need an agent/advisor just to determine the best "deal." Again, if it isn't broke, don't fix it", Indiana State offered.

It’s not a black-and-white issue. The major men’s football and basketball programs can and will pay the $2,000 stipend. However, how about the schools that can’t afford to pay their football or men’s basketball players? And what about programs that aren’t generating the money that men’s football and basketball does? What about women’s college sports programs? Do those athletes make as much of a commitment to their schools as student athletes at major schools do? Interesting times in Indianapolis next week for the NCAA.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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