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NCAA Sports: Money To Student Athletes Confounds Coaches

There's the famous story told about Winston Churchill, who was at a dinner party and apparently well into his cups.  The story goes that he asked an attractive woman at the party if she would sleep with him for a million pounds.  The woman responded, coyly, "Maybe."  Then Churchill asked her if she would sleep with him for one pound.  "Of course not, what kind of woman do you think I am?" she responded, outraged. Churchill replied, "Madam, we’ve already established what kind of woman you are. Now we’re just negotiating the price."

This passage clearly illustrates the point of view many people have about this summer's debate on increasing the value of a scholarship.  They think that the discussion has already established that paying athletes is going to happen, and now we are just haggling about how much.

Andy Katz has a good story yesterday that highlights the problems with the recent debate over paying athletes additional scholarship money, or any kind of money for that matter.  Several coaches were interviewed about the matter, including UK coach John Calipari.  The results will be surprising to many, but they were completely in line with what I expected.

First of all, coaches were universally opposed to paying players a salary, or apparently anything more than a fairly nominal amount of additional money.  The suggestions for how this might be done were pretty predictable, just an additional "stipend" or what basically amounts to an increased scholarship value, and amounts discussed ranged from  $500 per semester to $200 per moth.

Billy Donovan suggested colleges pay for official visits that included the parent's cost of travel and lodging, which would seem to amount to a significantly greater value than anyone else has proposed, if taken to cover all athletes.  He also mentioned flying parents to NCAA Tournament games.  Significantly, he was the only one who did.

Of course, there is the obligatory discussion about the possibility of breaking off the Big Six conferences and forming their own league, which certainly could be done and achieve the payments that people are talking about.  The problem there is that the rest of the now Division I schools would be reverted to second-class citizen status, much like the NAIA is now.  That's unappealing to most Division I coaches (and undoubtedly most university presidents) for many reasons.

Unsurprisingly, although most coaches wished for a small amount of additional money, every single one of them understands the reality that Title IX, along with the perception of unfairness that would go along with shutting out the non-revenue sports, makes this proposition a very difficult one without breaking off the Big Six, and none of them think that will happen.  Katz concludes his article thus:

Baron was joking on the last point -- sort of. But his overall thesis is a consistent theme among coaches polled. A nominal stipend to help with spending money makes sense per semester. But every sport must be included. And no one seems to think that could be possible with 300-plus Division I schools, hundreds of sports and thousands of athletes all deserving some sort of aid.

"I just don't know how you do it," Donovan said.

And that's the problem. No one does.

For what it's worth, these are the parameters of the discussion.  Nobody is talking about paying student-athletes their market value -- that is not being discussed at any level except for bloggers who seem to think the NCAA takes all that money they earn and socks it away in an island of Jersey bank account. Nobody is suggesting, for instance, that the NCAA siphon off the necessary money for the stipend for all schools and distribute whatever is left like they do now -- that probably would drive the Big Six to break away.

So those that think that we've already established the student-athlete as the new apprentice professional complete with paycheck and that we are just haggling over the price clearly is not paying attention.  For that to be so, the higher price has to at least be on the table.  It doesn't seem to be.