by Kent Sterling
Coaches get paid more and more money. Nick Saban makes more than $7 million for coaching football at Alabama. That’s a lot of cash for a guy leading a program that supposedly is a net zero enterprise. Mike Krzyzewski and John Calipari earn more than $5 million each for coaching basketball at Duke and Kentucky.
Elite coaches make that much money for one simple reason – their value to their universities demand it.
Even assistant coaches at big-time football programs can earn more than $1 million annually.
The most important marketing for many universities resides in the success of their football and men’s basketball programs. It was estimated that the attention brought to Baylor University by Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III was worth a quarter of a billion dollars. RG3’s take – the education that best fit into the football team’s practice and workout schedule.
On the agenda at the NCAA Convention in San Diego are a variety of meetings and discussions dealing with the question of paying players for their participation in athletics, a separation of the 65 schools that belong to the five major conferences and the rest of the Division One schools, increasing the allowed access for agents meeting the NCAA’s criteria for approval, and allowing players to profit from the sale of their own images.
That’s a lot for one three-day confab near the beaches of Southern California to ponder.
Here’s a look at each issue (each could easily command 3,000 word of analysis, but who has the time to read that granular level of discourse):
Paying players a stipend – or “full cost of admission”
There are student-athletes without the means to pay for the expenses of attending college beyond those covered by a scholarship. These stipends – $5,000 seems to be the consensus figure – would be used to share a piece of the pie with athletes so they aren’t forced to live in relative poverty.
Some argue that players should be thrilled to have their education paid for, and a stipend edges collegiate athletics toward an employer/employee relationship. Of course, that is exactly what the relationship is. Why should players not be paid? What’s wrong with a kid getting some cash when he is responsible for seats being filled and a participant in enhancing the value of the university’s brand?
Sure, kids can apply for Pell grants or get a job, but being paid a very conservative amount of cash for the 40+ hours he devotes to preparing to play throughout the average of 49 weeks of work is hardly unjust given the enormity of the cash the programs generate.
Allowing agents access to players
Some rules can’t be enforced, and prohibiting contact with agents is one of them. There is just no way to keep an agent from talking to a collegiate athlete or his family. If an agent wants to hand a sack of cash to the uncle of an SEC quarterback, there is no way to keep that from happening, so the NCAA might as well try to work with agents to build a system that operates in the best interest of fairness for the schools and guides potential pro athletes toward success.
Allowing athletes to profit from their images
There is an impossible to refute argument that allowing athletes to cash in on their fame through the sale of autographs will provide boosters the loophole needed to make $100 handshakes legal, but that doesn’t make right a rule restricting the ability of an athlete to profit from his likeness.
The annual rights forfeiture that athletes must sign in order to participate in NCAA sanctioned events strong arms adults into a relationship unlike any in America. The school can sell jerseys bearing the athlete’s likeness, booster clubs can auction autographed items, and the school can profit from video games using players names and attributes. The kids get nothing in addition to the education they are already receiving as compensation for their participation.
Many worry about the Title IX issues involved with paying athletes, but let’s flip it around. Non-revenue athletes get the same scholarship benefits as those in football and men’s basketball, but without ever being forced to deny themselves access to their own marketability. The argument in favor of equanimity should work both ways. Why shouldn’t Johnny Manziel be able to fill a trust to which he would have access after leaving Texas A&M with cash from selling his likeness? That doesn’t prohibit A&M women’s tennis player Anna Mamalat from doing the same thing. Let the market determine value.
A separate division for members of the five major conferences
The 65 schools that belong to the Big Ten, SEC, ACC, Big 12, and Pac 12 are tired of being shouted down by the other nearly 300 schools who also belong to the NCAA’s top division. They have different needs and challenges, but are unable to legislate to those needs because the smaller schools vote as a bloc to retain as much power and wealth as possible.
This is an economic no-brainer because the alternative is the major conference schools resigning from the NCAA, and forming their own oversight organization. The smaller schools can either agree to a smaller piece of the pie, or watch the entire pie walk out the door.
It might be better for everyone if an entirely new organization is founded to address the needs of the major conference schools, but no one seems ready to pull the pin on that grenade.
Administrators like slow and steady change, so the likelihood is that nothing wacky will be adopted in San Diego. Steps will be taken to continue the glacial evolution of college athletics toward logic and reason. Human beings will be paid cash for their work. Advice will be available for potential professionals. Human beings will be able to accept compensation in ways available to every other American. And the chasm in the needs of major university teams and the rest will be acknowledged.
It’s going to take time, but the NCAA doing the right things will be worth the wait.