Sports Commentary 9/17/13
To pay or not to pay…the college athlete ?
TO PAY OR NOT TO PAY, THAT IS THE QUESTION
It’s already a slippery slope. Now it may become a dividing line. The question of paying college athletes was front and center again yesterday when NCAA president Mark Emmert addressed a forum at Marquette University, Emmert saying that, while the face of college athletics has already changed considerably, it’s likely to continue to change, due to the expansion that most observers believe is still far from over, Five power conferences have emerged, the Big Ten, Big-12, PAC-12, SEC and ACC, primarily through the process of incorporating institutions from lesser leagues like Conference USA, Mountain West and, primarily, the Big East. Those five conferences have openly discussed elevating their status in the NCAA to a separate division, driven by football, but have downplayed any discussion of an outright split from the NCAA. One issue that may change their minds is the one Emmert addressed yesterday, saying the NCAA will not change it’s position of not paying college athletes and, “Virtually no university president thinks it’s a good idea to convert student athletes into paid employees.” Where the discussion about paying athletes is generating the most discussion is among the five power conferences, which, with their television contracts, generate the most revenue, hundreds of millions of dollars a year apiece, most of that football money. For them to compenstate athletes in the revenue sports would be a small matter. Beyond those five leagues there aren’t a lot of institutions with the athletic department revenue to keep pace, particularly when the definition of revenue producing sports begins to trickle down. The status of major revenue producing sports still relies in part on the overall status of the athletic department and it’s other sports, while the proliferation of conference T-V networks is reliant on many of the lesser sports for product, two factors that make all sports on campus revenue producers of some definition. Start with that definition before trying to create an equitable formula for paying all athletes and don’t forget to factor in Title IX. The cost of the lawsuits alone is likely to eliminate all but those elite programs in the elite five leagues. A departure of those five leagues would devalue the entire NCAA, for them to remain in the NCAA under their own terms, in their own division, would devalue all other NCAA programs. To not be a member of one of the elite five leagues could be a death knell to some non revenue sports at lesser athletic institutions. A possible means of circumventing athlete salaries would be to allow athletes in all sports to jump right to the pro ranks out of high school, removing the upper elite, those few who would be attractive to pro teams, from the college salary scale, talk of which may be removed completely when limited to athletes who know they didn’t have the pro option to begin with. The fly in that ointment is football, the sport that supports all pay for play proposals. Players coming out of high school are not physically mature enough to endure life in the NFL, the reason they are ineligible for the NFL draft for their first three years of college. It’s a vicious circle. Football drives the bus, football writes the television contracts, football writes the rules of economics in college sports. This is the one issue that could bring any split between the NCAA and the power conferences to a head. If any issue will precipitate an outright split from the NCAA, it’s their disagreement over paying athletes. If it comes to that, there’s only one side to be on if you want a slice of the pie. With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.