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A One-Word Response To Call For Paying College Athletes

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Jim Tressel, Terrelle PryorJim Tressel, Terrelle Pryor

The Ohio State football fallout for departed coach Jim Tressel and suspended quarterback Terrelle Pryor bring to mind the pay-for-play debate.

The off-the-field news in college athletics over the last year has all been about allegations of student-athletes getting extra benefits, which in turn has led to discussion of adding a stipend to scholarships – or the new catchphrase, “full cost of attendance.”

Let me answer those in favor of said stipend as succinctly as possible.

No.

As someone who has worked in college athletic departments for the better part of two decades, here’s what I can tell you.

There’s no denying that the ticket-buying, television-watching and athletic fund-contributing public is most interested in football, and that’s where much of the athletic revenue for football-playing schools are generated.

There’s also no denying that the dollar figures continue to grow. Conferences are signing television contracts in the billions. Ticket prices have increased along the way as well. Coaches’ salaries have grown exponentially, and not just in football.

Meanwhile, the student-athlete continues to receive the same scholarship.

So, should those on the field receive something more? While it’s being talked about – a lot – all of the plans I’ve seen to date have warts.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier proposed earlier this week at the SEC meetings in Destin, Fla., that 70 football players be paid $300 per game.

“I doubt it will get passed,” Spurrier admitted, “but as coaches in the SEC, we make all the money – as do universities, television – and we need to get more to our players.”

But why just 70 players, Ol’ Ball Coach? Don’t you have 85 players on scholarship and 105 or more on your roster? Why not pay more money to the starters and give bonuses for touchdowns, sacks and interceptions?

As ridiculous as Spurrier’s concept is, six other SEC coaches signed on to his proposal, including LSU’s Les Miles.

Besides the 70-player concept, Spurrier conveniently forgot that there are at least 15 other teams at every other Football Bowl Subdivision program in America, and there’s a thing called Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Whether you like Title IX or not, it is the law.

The long hours that student-athletes put into preparing for and participating in a season of athletic activity isn’t just limited to football. If anything, other student-athletes have greater challenges to maintain a healthy balance of athletic, academic and personal life because other sports’ schedules are much less consistent than football.

Want to more closely analyze the numbers? Let’s use our local FBS program, Tulane, as an example.

According to Tulane officials, there were 154 student-athletes on full scholarship and another 47 on partial rides in 2010-11.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s leave out the partials and give those on a full ride $200 per month in living expenses for nine months out of the year. It’s a lot less than Spurrier wants to give two-thirds of his football team, but let’s just go with it for a second.

That’s $1,800, multiplied by 154, for a total of $277,200. (Keep in mind, Tulane is on the low end of scholarship numbers in the FBS, and these numbers don’t yet include the minimum 16 sports in which the university will again participate in 2011-12.)

Maybe a dozen of the 120 FBS programs make money. So where do all of the other 108 schools figure to come up with this additional quarter-million or more?

Unlike many “costs of attendance” that are essentially soft numbers transferred from one budget line to another at a university – think tuition and dorm rooms – we’re talking cold, hard American dollars in this case.

For another great argument on not paying student-athletes, read the recent column by Penn State assistant football coach (and son of a coaching legend) Jay Paterno earlier this week at StateCollege.com.

While I will be the first to admit that many student-athletes are in college for the wrong reasons, they are still there as both students and athletes. And the large majority won’t ever play professional sports, so that little thing called a college education will have more value in the long run than a stipend.

That might not buy a hamburger or a pizza today, but in the end, it will pay off in spades.

 
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