Thoughts About Paying College Athletes

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck... Notice how those in favor of paying college athletes are adamant that it is providing “full cost of attendance.” Is that because this slope is made slippery by the sleaziness of paying college players?

Last weekend at the annual NCAA convention in Washington, the so-called Big Five – the Southeastern Conference, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and Atlantic Coast Conference – had the first opportunity to flex their NCAA-granted autonomy and voted to change the status of student-athletes. The representatives of the 65 teams (along with 15 student-athletes from among those schools, added as politically correct window dresssing to take part in the NCAA legislative process) voted 79-1 to pay players.

Alabama was among those voting for the measure. The only school that did not was Boston College. The measure goes into effect Aug. 1.

So what, exactly, is the full cost of attendance beyond what an Crimson Tide athlete on scholarship? According to the Big Five its several thousand dollars more to comply with the federally determined actual cost of attendance. Let’s just say you’re welcome to take that at face value.

There are many, many issues to consider.

The first is that more schools are making more money than ever before. Even though there is no let-up from Alabama fund-raisers, there also is no question that Bama can afford this new expense.

The athletes are generating this income, so a case certainly can be made that the wealth be shared.

All athletes are not created equal. Football at Alabama brings in big bucks and men’s basketball (for the moment, at least) generates decent revenue. Other sports provide anywhere from a smattering of income (softball, gymnastics) to basically zero.

Nor are all athletes on the same scholarship. Some sports have enough scholarships to have a competitive team. They include football, basketball, gymnastics, softball, golf, tennis, and the like. Some do not, notably baseball, but also track & field and swimming and diving and rowing. Those sports divide up the scholarships a bit.

Whether all athletes will receive the payoff or just those from cash-producing sports has not been made clear. Presumably, the third team tackle would get the same as the first team quarterback, even if the women’s cross country star gets nothing.

Was there any consideration of putting this money into a trust fund to be distributed to those players after their college careers?

Scholarshipped athletes do have to give a minimum (probably more) of 20 hours a week to their sport.

The Big Five also voted to guarantee four-year scholarships; at least that scholarships would not be revoked because the athletes wasn’t good enough on the field. If he or she is not up to snuff academically or otherwise off the field, the cut presumably can be made.

At Alabama, athletics scholarships are de facto four-year scholarships. That goes back to when the rule was changed by NCAA vote to make scholarships – previously four-year grants – into year-by-year renewable scholarships. Bama’s athletics director (and head football coach) at the time was Paul Bryant, who declared that Alabama scholarships would be for four years. “If we made a mistake in signing him, that’s our fault, not the player’s,” he explained.

On the other hand, are athletes going to commit to the school for four years? Are you Mr. Kentucky Basketball Player?

So what does an Alabama athlete on full scholarship get? Tuition, fees, books, room, and meals. Also, medical care, counseling, tutoring, and nutrition guidance, to mention a few things. In the case of football, there are numerous visiting lecturers for various areas of living correctly.

Consider this against what their fellow students have, even those on academic or other scholarships.

But what about a student-athlete who comes from a poor background? There are Pell Grants available to all who are truly poor to provide extra money. But what if an athlete has an emergency or even a death in the family and needs to return home, perhaps all the way across the country? There is a fund for that.

Need an extra year to finish that degree? The scholarship continues.

Starting to wonder what the “full cost of attendance” could include? Gas for the car, movies, dining out? Public library card?

That athletics scholarship probably looks good to most students. What does an athlete on full scholarship NOT get that many other students do? A bill for the student loans at the end of the college career.

Alabama was definitely in favor of being able to pay its players. That is not completely altruistic. To be against this policy in the SEC would be recruiting suicide.

One wonders if the magic goes out of college athletics when the players are paid, something like watching the United States Olympic Basketball Team. It’s like watching the NBA All-Star Game (if anyone actually watches that).

Can the “right” of the student-athlete to make money off his name (i.e., getting paid to sign autographs) be far behind? The level of cheating when this goes into effect is incalculable. But we don’t need to add straw men.

One of the points Boston College made in its dissent was that not all schools bring in enough money to pay all of their expenses; that the school has to subsidize athletics. BC has a lot of sports. Maybe it will cut some sports in order to pay its basketball players. Perhaps the student activity fees will be raised. Students probably won’t notice. They’ll add it to the student loan or work a few more hours on the after school job.

Student-athletes, by the way, don’t have to worry about that fee. It’s part of the scholarship.

Boston Collge also worried about paid players being more disconnected from other students. Maybe.

But the student-athletes may also get to be around other students more. When the players are out spending their “full cost of attendance” check, maybe they will be waited on by a pre-med student, or have their table bused by an education major.

Quack quack quack quack quack.


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