Show me the money!

College athletes are the key to big dollars for athletic and academic programs. Why shouldn’t they be paid?
By Cody Johnson

This article was published on .

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Tara Park anxiously awaits May 14, 2014, when the Mountain West Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships kick off. On that fateful day in Laramie, Wyo., Park’s future as a student-athlete might come down to three throws.

Park, a javelin and discus thrower for the women’s Wolf Pack track and field team, makes sacrifices most students do not in order to afford a college education at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Dropping soccer, her favorite sport as an adolescent, for track and field was just one of the many changes Park was willing to make in order to compete at the college level. Now on cold Reno mornings, she skips sleeping in to work out in the weight room in order to prepare for those conference championships down the road.

Park’s athletic scholarship chances, along with those of the rest of the track and field team, rely on scoring points at conference meets to determine how much scholarship money is appropriated on their behalf.

Park is one of the many equivalency student-athletes who rely on appropriations that are difficult to obtain and keep in order to be a student-athlete. Football players, a large majority of head count student-athletes who have all costs covered, are at the center of a debate that full-ride scholarships are not enough anymore.

There is a growing debate in college sports about the possibility of paying college football players. The idea of such a thing has been in the public sphere for decades, but new issues are beginning to emerge that could challenge and shape the university landscape.

According to National Collegiate Scouting Association athletic recruiting, a “head count scholarship” is a full-ride scholarship that is not limited by any set monetary amount. An equivalency scholarship is based on percentages of full-ride scholarships. Coaches of sports that use equivalency scholarships, not the university, determine the amount a student-athlete might get.

Star quarterback Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, a prime example of a head count student-athlete, was selected as the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy in December 2012. According to a report from ESPN, from September 2012 to August 2013, Texas A&M raised more than $740 million in donations, $300 million more than the total of any other one-year period.

Texas A&M is reaping the benefits off what is known as the “likeness” of Manziel. This violation of the law, argued by former student-athletes, has served as the major segue to the argument of paying college football players.

In what might go down as a monumental court case in the history of college athletics, former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon filed a federal antitrust lawsuit in 2009 against the National Collegiate Athletic Association and EA Sports and Collegiate Licensing Co., for making profits off the “likenesses” of college athletes while preventing those athletes from receiving any portion of those profits. Six more college athletes have joined the class-action lawsuit, with the potential for many more joining in the future.

Current college football coaches and athletes are beginning to join the campaign for stipends.

Head football coaches from the Southeastern Conference have called for stipends so football players can pay for the things a student with a job can afford. A group of 28 football players began wearing patches during games with the acronym “APU,” standing for “All Players United” to signify a united effort to fight for football player compensation.

As it stands now, all universities must adhere to the “Commitment of Amateurism,” which declares that universities must keep all student-athletes behind the line that separates professional earnings from necessary college costs.

Play for pay?

Cary Groth, the first female athletic director, believes college athletes should be compensated for the money they bring in for the university through the television exposure and merchandise revenue.

PHOTO/NIABI DANN

Cary Groth, the first woman to serve as a university athletic director, does not endorse a “pay for play” system for college sports.

Groth does, however, believe college athletes should be compensated for the money they bring in for the university through the television exposure and merchandise revenue. Groth is afraid most people do not recognize there is a difference between merely being paid to play and reimbursing athletes with some of the revenue they helped drive to the university.

“The O’Bannon case is the key case for this issue,” Groth said. “It addresses compensation for the use of a player’s likeness and image, which I agree should be compensated, but as for pay-for-play, I do not agree with that and I don’t think it will ever happen.”

Jennifer Hill has spent the past 17 years as a political science professor, specializing in gender and sports. She said she maintains a “romantic” philosophy of college athletics.

Hill, who also serves on the athletic advisory board for UNR, wrote a paper addressing the role of women in sports, so she has extensive knowledge of Title IX, but has never given much thought to how Title IX could affect the possibility of paid stipends for football players.

Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 “prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex or gender in any program receiving federal financial assistance.” It applies to all institutions that are “receiving federal financial assistance.” Many football budgets are funded partly by subsidies, which come from student fees, institutional support and state funds.

According to a database of the total revenue and expenses of all 126 Division-I football programs from 2006-2011 generated by USA Today, 44.2 percent of Wolf Pack football revenue is derived from subsidy. This forces UNR into compliance with Title IX. According to the USA Today database, only seven college football programs in the nation don’t receive any subsidies to support football.

Questions, questions, questionsIn the unlikely event that a bit of pay for college athletes were to become available, where might that money for stipends come from?

One potential source to fund stipends could be conference money. UNR, which recently joined the Mountain West Conference, will pull in an estimated $2.3 million from a television rights agreement with CBS this season. According to the contract between the MWC, CBS Sports and ESPN, any team from the conference that plays in a game with national exposure to at least 90 million people will receive a payout between $300,000 to $500,000 per game. The Wolf Pack football team is scheduled to appear on television for CBS Sports and the ESPN family a total of eight times in 2013, resulting in an estimated payout of $2.3 million.

This source of revenue is a great option for stipends for a university that is self-sufficient through donations, but such is not the case for the University of Nevada, Reno.

Groth said although the revenue generated through television deals can go to any aspect of the university, almost all funds go back to athletics to cover costs of future renovations. The future indoor track and practice football field will rely on a combination of funds from student fees and revenue funds, such as the $2.3 million from the television deal.

Another is public funds, an already existing portion of the athletic budget. A stipend of even $500 for each football players and female athlete would equate to about $140,000 a semester. This does not consider the non-football male athletes, which would add another $30,000 a semester. It remains to be seen what the public reaction would be if such a financial burden was placed on the students of a university or the taxpayers of Nevada.

A second question to answer is how to appropriate funds for stipends if those funds were available. Hill said despite Title IX, football always comes first when deciding the athletic budget. Appropriations for stipends could possibly follow the same logic.

“Every year, athletics allocates funds for football to ensure scholarships, facilities, equipment, travel and any other costs are covered,” Hill said. “After that, the rest of the budget is left for the remaining sports.”

Tara Park hopes to do well in an upcoming event to help fund her college education.

If football programs can justify getting more of the stipend budget out of necessity because the sport is more expensive, where is the line to be drawn? Would football pay out $5,000 while all other sports get $500?

For the love of the … dollarEver since Shane Smith was in elementary school, in Albuquerque, N.M., he wanted to play football for the University of Kansas, a school known more for basketball than its football program.

Despite not receiving an offer to play football by any of the universities in his home state of New Mexico, Smith was offered to walk on for the Jayhawk football team. Smith is now a senior defensive end for the Jayhawks.

Smith said he thinks any college athlete who helps drive revenue for a university should receive a stipend, but he sees Title IX as the main inhibitor for that possibility.

“I am all for athletes getting some kind of compensation, but it is kind of obnoxious in my eyes to think that rowing or tennis should get the same share as football and basketball,” Smith said. “It is going to be interesting to see what happens.”

Other questions facing the college football world is where to draw the line for the amount of a reasonable stipend. A report by Sean Gregory published in the Sept. 16, 2013, issue of Time Magazine suggested a $30,000 annual stipend for college football players, similar to a professional salary. Gregory only referred to some of the most powerful football programs in the country, such as Alabama, Texas A&M, Texas and Michigan for his proposal.

UNR, like the vast majority of other football programs in the nation, is no Alabama. At a university that is requiring additional fees from students to fund an indoor practice facility, a university with two tennis teams but no functional tennis courts, money for stipends is short. to say the least. If stipends were decided based on the USA Today database, UNR would not have a penny to spare.

Success in football revolves around recruiting like a cyclone, and the lack of a stipend limit could push boundaries for competitive advantages. Schools that can use the promise of a stipend as a recruiting advantage will pull in better athletes, more money and power while those that cannot afford stipends will be forced to play the same game without the same tools.

“If bigger schools can pay more they will definitely have an added lure to kids who might be more focused on the money aspect,” Smith said. “If things are set up where everyone is getting the same then I see it having little to no impact on recruiting.”

Iman Lathan is a freshman with the Wolf Pack women’s basketball team. Lathan has all expenses covered because she is a head count athlete and lives on campus, so extra stipends are not a concern to her.

“Ugly. Everything would look ugly if football players started receiving stipends,” Lathan said.

Tony Spiker, a UNR graduate student, offers a different solution for paying football players—separate the “student” from the “athlete.”

“Schools should pay them to play football,” Spiker said. “When they finish, they go pro or they can go back to college to get an education without playing football.”

While Tara Park knew since high school she wanted to compete at the collegiate level, she did not know it was going to be in track and field. Although Park nurtured her competitive fire with equestrian sports and soccer, she realized track and field was the best avenue to test her mettle against other high-level athletes—because that’s where the support is.

“Scholarships are helpful enough, and if scholarships are based on performance, that should be dedication enough and does not need a price tag,” Park said.

And so, as Park anxiously awaits that day in Laramie that may well determine her future as a student-athlete, other college athletes, adminstration and fans look on as the argument of paid stipends increasingly takes shape in locker rooms, press boxes and conference calls around the nation.