The reality of pay-for-play in college sports

Miami is awaiting NCAA decision on the eligibility of quarterback Jacory Harris and other teammates implicated in an extra-benefits scandal.
Miami is awaiting NCAA decision on the eligibility of quarterback Jacory Harris and other teammates implicated in an extra-benefits scandal. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Posted: August 29, 2011

OK, CAN WE put a bit of reality into this "pay college athletes" debate that is again in the forefront with numerous allegations of misdeeds surfacing at the University of Miami.

Giving "student-athletes" an extra $300, $400 or $500 in addition to their full scholarships is not going to deter the type of activities that have reportedly happened over the last decade at "The U" between jailed booster Nevin Shapiro and Hurricane football and basketball players.

A few hundred bucks a month is not going to buy diamond-studded necklaces, gain underage players entrance to VIP suites of exclusive nightclubs, pay for high-end prostitutes, parties on yachts, big-screen television sets and other perks.

And I doubt the NCAA would look favorably on an athletic stipend being use to pay for an abortion.

Paying college athletes isn't going to stop any of the illicit activities involved with collegiate athletics because this isn't about needing material things.

What happened at Miami, Ohio State, USC and most schools involved in improper benefit violations is primarily about greed. It was student-athletes breaking rules because they wanted something they normally could not have, not because they needed something most other students had.

None of these cases involve things like taking a girlfriend to a movie, buying a hamburger or a new pair of pants. These perks go far beyond "basic student needs."

But I am not even making a moral argument about this.

Conceptually, I could care less if some kid can bilk a few coins from an overzealous booster.

The NCAA likes to talk about amateur integrity, but most of its regulations are geared toward preventing highly funded schools from buying up all of the top players and thus widening the competitive advantage they already have.

Morality- and amateurism-based arguments are just public-stated window dressings. But there is a tangible and compelling argument against pay-for-play.

Most universities simply cannot afford to give athletes more monetary aid than they already are. From the outside we see the billion-dollar contracts the NCAA has negotiated for college football and the men's basketball tournament and we say, "Raking in the cash."

We see the ridiculous multimillion-dollar contracts paid to some coaches and say, "How come there is no cut for the kids?"

That is the myopic look at the situation.

I read a story in the Washington Post recently that said my alma mater - the University of Maryland - may have to cut sports to address a nearly $1.2 million operating deficit in the athletic department.

According to the article, unless Maryland finds some high-end boosters or corporations to step to the plate in a bad economy, the school will likely have to implement across-the-board cuts to all 27 varsity sports or eliminate a few teams to balance the books.

The situation at Maryland is also apparent at the vast majority of the schools that play Division I-A football - the prime money maker of college sports.

According to 2009 NCAA budget figures, only 22 of the 120 schools that play I-A football make a profit. There is no financial wiggle room to simply add additional expenses.

The obvious argument is that since football and men's basketball are the primary revenue generators, just pay those athletes.

That still doesn't work.

Let's say the NCAA said schools could pay football and basketball players an extra $300 a month for entertainment spending. If schools award the maximum 85 football and 13 basketball scholarships, the extra cost would be $235,200 during an 8-month school year.

If you are already operating in deficit, where do you find another near quarter-of-a-million dollars?

The reality, however, is that the judicial system, primarily because of Title IX, will never allow colleges to just pay male athletes from a revenue-generating-sport. The total amount of spending money given to male athletes would have to be automatically doubled to match an equal number of female athletes.

Judicial precedent has clearly determined that will not be negotiable.

Then there is the matter of schools with non-revenue sports that have high regards from fickle boosters. Athletic directors can slight those sports at their own risk.

You can bet that if the football and basketball players at Penn State start getting spending money, the wrestlers and members of the newly created and well-funded varsity ice hockey team are going to get paid, too.

Adding cost without raising revenue will mean program cuts. Boosters will not be too happy if those cuts reduced athletic programs to football, men's basketball and 12 women's sports.

The Pandora's Box? Logic says that it will be impossible to just pay scholarship football and basketball players. Just a $300 per month stipend could mean more than $1 million in additional operating costs to schools whose athletic programs are already working in the red.

When you do the math, paying student athletes simply doesn't add up for most universities.


Send email to

smallwj@phillynews.com.

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www.philly.com/Smallwood.

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