Monday, June 04, 2012

Is it time to pay college athletes – playing for pay?

The ongoing debate regarding paying college athletes a stipend above full scholarships was revived last week at the annual Southeast Conference spring meetings. South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier put forth a proposal that would change the landscape of college sports. Spurrier believes football and men’s basketball players should be paid "approximately $3,500 to $4,000" for the entire year to cover most college expenses above and beyond their tuition, cost of books, room and board that are covered by their current athletic scholarship plan.

"We as coaches believe they're entitled to a little more than room, books, board and tuition," Spurrier said. "Again, we as coaches would be willing to pay it if they were to approve it to where our guys could get approximately get three-, four-thousand bucks a year. It wouldn't be that much, but enough to allow them to live like normal student-athletes.

"We think they need more and deserve more. It's as simple as that."

The SEC football coaches passed the motion 14-0. It’s likely at least in the short-term Spurrier’s suggestion won’t go any further than the support it now has from SEC football coaches.

On Friday the SEC announced it will distribute $241.5 million to its 12 institutions for the 2011-12 fiscal year, giving each school $20.1 million. The $241.5 million is the highest total ever distributed in SEC history and represents a 9.8 percent increase from the $219.9 million distributed to the schools in 2010-11. Broken down by categories and rounded off, the $241.5 million was derived from $116.6 million from football television, $34.2 million from bowls, $15.3 million from the SEC Football Championship, $31.2 million from basketball television, $4.9 million from the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament, $24.9 million from NCAA Championships and $14.4 million in a supplemental distribution. $166.1 million was generated by football – the SEC’s economic engine.

"We recognize that the income producers are both the football and basketball programs, period," LSU coach Les Miles told ESPN. "So there's a want to say with this extra income we would like to provide cost of education and cost of expense stipends to those players. We recognize that it's going to be difficult for every team on every campus -- volleyball, gymnastics, baseball, etc. -- to come up with the same number.

"What we're saying is the revenue-income sports, certainly football, would need in a possibility of sharing the income that's being produced, paying it back to those guys.

"It would be a difficult task putting it to work, but I think it's something we all want to push forward."
NCAA president Mark Emmert announced a plan in late October that would have allowed NCAA institutions to begin paying their student athletes an additional $2,000 a year. The program would have allowed schools to opt-in or opt-out of the program.

The NCAA’s has more than 1,100 members – 330 at the Division I level. The play for pay concept is now being reviewed by an NCAA committee – where it is likely to stay for an undetermined period of time. At the NCAA’s annual meeting in January the debate of playing for pay bogged down, forcing Emmert to toss the concept to a committee.

Emmert wasn’t a part of the discussions at the SEC meetings. However Emmert did offer this on the play for pay concept in late March.

“Because this (college athletics) is about a model completely different than professional athletics. College athletics has always been about college students who happen to be athletes. Indeed, the NCAA was created over one hundred years ago to prevent that professionalization of the sport, to differentiate it from professional athletics. The whole notion is that these are young men and young women who come to universities, who play athletics avocationally and represent their schools. When you convert those student-athletes into professional athletes, then they're virtually no different than NBA and NFL or MLB.” Emmert told ESPN.

“That's all fine. I have nothing against those professional sports. But college sport has always been intended to be something quite different.”

The USA Today recently reported that only 22 out of 227 public schools in NCAA Division I generate enough money to pay for athletics. The private schools (meaning private Division I schools including Notre Dame, Duke and Boston College) do not have to report the profitability of their athletic programs. The profit/loss formula is based on all of the sports. Penn State’s football program has annually averaged made more than $50 million over the last ten years. Penn State spends $101.1 million on athletics and generated $116.1 from their athletic department. In simpler terms, without football, Penn State athletics would have lost more than $35 million last year.

Texas President William Powers believes that one day in the not too distant future financial disparity could create a seismic shift in college football, with the haves moving away from the have nots.
"We may get to a point — I want to underline the word may — where many schools are really not in a position to compete at the level of the Florida's and the Notre Dame’s and the Texas's and the USC’s,"

Powers told the USA Today. "Like any competitive business, being in it and not really being in the game, you can get hurt. Will there be some restructuring? I am not a fan of some national league, but we may end up with 50 schools in (the upper football division of the NCAA's) Division I."

How real is Powers suggestion? Closer than most casual observers believe it may be. There is a growing belief that the six power conferences —Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern — plus Notre Dame and a few others could leave the NCAA and create their own super-division. That would include between 60 and 70 schools. The breakaway schools could create a college football playoff.
The NCAA controls men’s basketball the other major revenue generating sport – however if those 60 to 70 schools left the NCAA March Madness would become March Sadness overnight.

Incoming Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby Friday spoke out against the SEC football coach’s proposal.

"We should never do anything to establish an employee-employer relationship," Bowlsby said on the final day of the Big 12 meetings. "There are places you can go and play for money, but colleges and universities are not among them. This is an educational undertaking."

Oklahoma State president Burns Hargis, the chairman of the Big 12's board of directors, was even more forceful in his opposition to stipends, even for athletes in revenue-producing sports such as football.

"I don't think it's a good idea," Hargis told ESPN. "These student-athletes are provided scholarships in many cases, and they're eligible for other assistance. You get into all this kind of stipend stuff and it affects the amateurism, I think it affects recruiting. I just think it's introducing an idea that's not necessary."

There are a multitude of issues facing any playing for pay plan. Title IX has to be near or at the top of any list of challenges. Assuming the 60 to 70 so called super schools decided to leave the NCAA and create their own college sports league and conference(s), what exactly would be the difference between a men’s basketball player at Duke and a women’s basketball player at Duke? The Duke men’s program generates tens of millions of dollars for Duke (a private institution), the women’s team pales in comparison economically. The football program at Boston College generates revenue, their men’s hockey program far fewer dollars. Does that mean at Duke only the men’s basketball team would be paying their players and at Boston College the men’s hockey team, who have a far greater winning percentage than the Eagles football program, wouldn’t be playing their athletes?

The NCAA would create a class system and even scarier a class system within schools (Duke and Boston College two examples). The issue of playing for pay is complex and the implications are far ranging. A year ago at the SEC meetings Steve Spurrier’s idea went nowhere. A year later he has the support of the 13 other SEC football coaches. Texas President William Powers suggests that one day the bigger schools will leave the NCAA. The play for pay concept isn’t going away – that is certain.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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