The Clock is Ticking on Pay-to-Play
The past few months have seen regular bursts of publicity over alleged rule violations involving impermissible benefits being paid to NCAA student-athletes. At this time athletic programs at Ohio State, Oregon, Auburn, Boise State, North Carolina and Tennessee (for starters) are currently involved in ongoing investigations. Media reports surfaced on July 14 that the Georgia Tech football program is about to be notified of alleged violations.
All of this has caused some schools to look at new approaches to dealing with compliance issues. This is just one example of events that are fueling the debate over whether the NCAA should overhaul the manner in which student-athletes are paid for their services.
Other examples of the impact of money on college sports include reports of new TV deals, stories detailing the huge amounts of money now being paid to conference commissioners, new ideas being put forth to address shortfalls in expenses covered by current athletic scholarships, and the continued concern over the undue influence of agents.
Mark Emmert, the NCAA President, has said repeatedly since he took office last October that he will never allow the payment of student-athletes while he is president. That, however, has hardly quieted the growing discussion of the need to come up with some kind of plan to compensate these students by giving them more benefits than they currently receive.
The debate rages because of things like the $250 million TV contract announced in May by the newly expanded Pac-12; the $150 million deal previously announced by the newly downsized Big-12 (that does not include the separate deals announced by the University of Texas), the $252 million deal signed this year by the newly expanded Big Ten or the $205 million deal signed by the SEC.
Social media has impacted this debate. A round of NCAA investigations was kicked off this time last year when several University of North Carolina football players went on Facebook andTwitter and talked about being wined and dined by agents and their runners. Suddenly commissioners Mike Slive of the SEC and Jim Delaney of the Big Ten were quoted as talking about the need to consider liberalizing rules surrounding paying players.
The issue is on the front burner because of reports that the average college football head coach of a Division I program earns on average just over $1 million per year, topped by Nick Saban of Alabama at some $4.7 million and Mack Brown at Texas at around $5.1 million. A few weeks ago Kentucky announced that it had re-negotiated men’s basketball head coach John Calipari’s salary and that he would be paid an average of $4.6 million per year under its terms.
The issue is front and center because of incidents like Cam Newton’s father, Cecil, admitting that he solicited a total of $180,000 in payments to have his son play for Mississippi State. Auburn officials have denied paying anything for Newton’s services. The NCAA Vice President for Enforcement told a conference call on July 13 that the NCAA is still investigating Auburn. Meanwhile Newton led Auburn to the BCS National Championship and helped the school earn millions of dollars. Head coach Gene Chizik was rewarded with a new contract paying him in the neighborhood of $3 million per year and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn is now being paid $1.3 million annually.
The debate is intense on both sides of the issue. Some talk about how many schools, already losing money on athletics, cannot afford to pay student-athletes. Others point out that only the football and men’s basketball programs are consistent money-makers at NCAA Division I schools. If schools try to single out athletes in just those sports for extra benefits how long will it be before someone brings a legal challenge?
Then there is the shadow created by the ongoing federal lawsuit challenging the use of NCAA athletes’ likenesses to bring profit to schools without compensating the athletes involved. As recently as July 13 a new NCAA video football game was launched with much fanfare. It features a picture of 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram of Alabama on its cover. Schools cringe at the thought of the consequences if the plaintiffs prevail in that lawsuit.
There is an old saying that timing is everything. There is no question that change is in the air. There is an excellent article on this topic that is now on SI.Com that is must reading for anyone interested in this hot topic.
(Editor’s Note. If any readers have an opinion they feel is worthy of being posted as a contribution to this debate feel free to submit an article to the Digest. Click on the link at the top of the page for instructions on how to submit).