A Bad Idea To Pay College Athletes

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - November 02, 2011
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Under the new proposal, UH’s Kolten Wong would not have been eligible for the stipend. Anthony Consillio photo

One step forward and two steps back is fine for Paula Abdul or when doing the Electric Slide, but it can create potential disaster for the NCAA.

I take that back. It could lead to a national catastrophe. Regardless of reference, it is never OK to do the Electric Slide. Sliding eventually leads to the Macarena, the Bump, the Twist, the Mashed Potato, the Watusi, the Loco-Motion and finally, and most disappointing, the Lambada, which was never as nasty as we were led to believe.

The NCAA has increased its Academic Progress Rate and eligibility GPA to 2.3 for incoming freshman and 2.5 for junior college transfers. This is the step forward.

The two-paced retreat is the plan to allow schools, at the direction of individual conferences, to pay scholarship athletes up to $2,000 to cover the full cost of attendance. The exact number is tied to the area’s cost of living. At the Big Ten’s basketball media day, commissioner Jim Delany said scholarship athletes spend $2,000$3,000 of their own money on expenses. Under current rules, schools are allowed to cover room, board, tuition and fees. Notice that I didn’t say ONLY room, board, tuition and fees.

According to the Oct. 28 Star-Advertiser, the value of the base package is $19,254 for residents and $34,086 for non-residents. Those are pretty good annual salaries for young adults who, generally speaking, have very few living expenses. For those 20-year-olds with children to raise, well, that’s another topic. At large continental schools, the benefits can push the value of the five-to-playfour plan towards $250,000. For some, that’s not enough.

Supporters of the plan, mostly major college progams and former athletes, say it is not fair the NCAA, the schools and coaches get millions while the players get just a free education. As a person soon to be some $10,000 to $15,000 in debt for educational costs Go EMBA 18! it’s hard not to take exception to such misguided beliefs. But this isn’t about the real-world impact of education which only a moron would argue against but that the plan further slides the competitive advantage to the larger schools while ignoring the student-athletes who truly need the bump.

I’ve said it before. In the near future Div-1A, FBS or the whatever-youwant-to-call-them schools, will split from the ranks and create an upper tier organization either inside the NCAA or under an entity of their own creation. The NCAA doesn’t have to help.

The full cost of attendance plan is simply another BCS-style arrangement to further separate college athletics upper crust from the rabble of the lower classes. Providing such a stipend would cost the University of Hawaii about $500,000 a year. That’s a drop in the bucket for anyone plugging into Big Ten Network, but for hundreds of other schools, that huge. Or to paraphrase former Sen. Everett McKinley Dirksen, “A million here and a million there, and soon we are talking about real money.”

The stipends aren’t just about budgeting, they’re also about competitive balance. Schools with the benefit of a max stipend will have an inherent recruiting advantage of those who don’t. This seems to play right into Hawaii’s hands because of the high cost of living. But $500,000 to UH is $5,000,000 to SEC members. And what about the split conferences?

The Big West Conference made up of primarily small west coast schools is far less likely to adopt the plan than the Mountain West which is built upon football. If both OK the idea, it’s also quite likely the numbers won’t match. Title IX dictates equal opportunity so the Wahine of the Big West must be paid the same amount as the Warriors of the Mountain West.

What’s an athletic director to do? Right now, no one has the answer.

Then there is the large number of athletes about 50 percent at UH who play in sports that are not fully funded? Where is their economic bail out?

UH baseball is a money maker yet must split 11.7 scholarships among 35 players. If each one got a half ride that would make their full cost of attendance about $9,000.

Talk about exploitation.


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