Resistance to player pay shows lack of imagination
Posted July 18, 2014
Athletic directors from North Carolina, Duke, NC State and NC Central participated in Capitol Broadcasting's inaugural "Fan Town Hall" on Thursday. The discussions ranged from academic compliance, Title IX, "Power Five" conference autonomy and financial compensation for student-athletes. It was the rhetoric over that last issue that truly peaked my interest.
Dr. Kevin White, athletic director for the Blue Devils, made it clear that straight up payment for student-athletes was not on his priority list. In White's view, incoming players are getting a great deal considering the financial commitment already in place thanks to the scholarship and support staff.
"$62,000 plus strength coach, academic advisement, travel, per unit, who knows what it is – a half a million dollars per student-athlete at a private [institution]," said White. "I mean it's a pretty sizable investment."
Bubba Cunningham, athletic director of the Tar Heels, was a little more blunt on why paying student-athletes was a non-starter issue.
"If you want to be a professional, be a professional," said Cunningham. "The option here? Room, board, books, tuition and fees. The cost of attendance, the opportunity fund. We have Pell Grants. and you're going to get a great education. That's what we offer and if there's something better then I would love to have you do it."
However, the options for those interested in succeeding in the revenue sports of football and basketball don't have legitimate alternatives to playing at the collegiate level. There is no minor league football system for players to join and work on their skills as they wait for the NFL entry limit to expire. And do we really expect 18 year olds to go head-to-head against adults in Arena League Football or the CFL? Same goes for expecting high schoolers to head overseas to play basketball before they're eligible for the NBA.
Like all good executives, these ADs are great at giving excuses and reasons because real change would hurt their bottom line.— Austin Johnson (@austin_johnson) July 17, 2014
Debbie Yow, athletics director for the Wolfpack, at least acknowledged schools are making money off the likeness of players.
"We're making money off the jersey, and they're not getting any of the money," said Yow. "I would be okay about the option of their having an escrow account. Maybe it's something small – 2 or 3 percent of the net or gross costs of that jersey goes into that escrow account, and once they either leave school to go pro or graduate he gets that money."
Dr. Ingrid Wicker-McCree, athletics director for the Eagles, echoed those sentiments. However, she was concerned about fairness.
"I wouldn't want to see that student-athlete not be able to capitalize off of their talent but at the same time keeping in mind it's much larger than that," said Wicker-McCree. "It's a fairness and equity issue for me."
White took it a little further.
"If Johnny (Manziel) gets to make a lot of money off of his celebrity, does he give a little to the offensive line? Where does it stop?" asked White. "What is Johnny without the offensive line? I'm not sure."
Actually, we can be sure how this plays out. We see it every day in the real world. Peyton Manning gets more than his offensive line. So does Cam Newton. This is how capitalism works, and there's no reason why student-athletes can't be exposed to it.
"How do you think this is for team morale," pondered Yow. "So you going to be passing the ball to me the next game or not because you were counting on that money from your jersey sale. The retailers didn't pick you, in fact you're pretty certain in your mind that your coach was the difference maker. You knew he didn't like you, you knew he liked me better, that's what you thought."
Except these issues already exist within a team dynamic without the involvement of money. Coaches overcome internal team politics by building trust and setting up concrete consequences for those whose grudges adversely effect the room. Coaches already manage assistant coaches and coordinators, how would this be any different? Especially when you consider all these issues are sustainable in the pros.
At best, the cautionary tales posed by White and Yow come off as either distractions from the real issue or a sign they haven't come up with workable solutions. At worst, it shows the athletic departments simply want to preserve the bottom line.