As a concept, paying college athletes is OK by me. It’s a sad commentary that Ohio State football produces the lion’s share of funding for some 35 other sports, that coach Jim Tressel earns $3.5 million annually to orchestrate it, but that some of the players who make it all possible have to sell their trinkets to pay for tattoos and gas money.
College athletics are corrupt — for further information see Jim Calhoun, North Carolina, Tressel, Cam/Cecil Newton, Southern Cal/Reggie Bush, Bruce Pearl, the BCS bowl fat cats, even Boise State — and the root of most evil is money. Everybody gets a payday except the athletes. The concept of amateurism was fine back when Pop Warner was coaching and sport was sport. That was many yesterdays ago.
Today, it is business and even the powerful BCS conferences realize the process has gone sour as they watch more and more of their athletes and coaches get into trouble. At its recent spring meeting, the Big Ten broached the subject of paying athletes more than scholarship money — tuition, room, board, and books — and within 24 hours all of its big-boy conference brethren were on board with the discussion.
Yes, the concept is fine. It won’t wash the stink out of college sports, but it could be a first step. The catch phrase is “full cost of attendance,” meaning a stipend would be offered that makes up the difference between what an athletic grant-in-aid provides and the additional expenses that recipients, especially those from disadvantaged economic backgrounds, might have trouble covering.
Executing the concept, though, is very, very problematic. It opens up a Pandora’s Box of questions to which nobody has good answers. For example:
If the starting quarterback gets a $3,000 debit card, what do the No. 2 doubles players on the tennis team get? Is one more important or needier than the others?
Is this for athletes in revenue sports only, or should it include all athletes in all sports? Toledo has about 300 full and partial scholarship athletes and a $3,000 stipend for each would be an annual expense of $900,000.
If it proves to be revenue sports only, how much time would transpire between the first stipend being paid and the first Title IX lawsuit being filed?
Ohio State and Toledo compete at the same NCAA level. OSU has an annual athletic budget of nearly $120 million. UT’s is slightly over $19 million and doesn’t enjoy the same lucrative BCS, March Madness, or Big Ten Network revenue. Are stipends that might be pocket change for one a near-impossible expense for the other?
OSU athletic director Gene Smith responded to that question recently by saying: “The reality is, if there’s a cost of attendance and you can’t afford it, don’t do it. The teams you’re trying to beat [in the MAC, for example] can’t do it either. Don’t do it because Ohio State’s doing it. That’s one of the things schools at that level get trapped into thinking.”
That’s a rather elitist answer, but then Ohio State is one of the elite.
Hey, maybe it’s time to blow up the whole thing, give the modern-day gladiators a choice, and let the big-time athletic factories operate, at least in part, as the NFL and NBA farm systems they really are.
Give scholarships to the student-athletes who seek a degree and pay — really pay, not just stipends — the jocks who are merely biding their time, filling stadiums and arenas to the brim, and creating the hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue before moving on to the next level.
It would still be corrupt, but it at least would be honest.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.