Even Playing Field?

By Ford, William J. | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, April 28, 2011 | Go to article overview
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Even Playing Field?


Ford, William J., Diverse Issues in Higher Education


WINNING ATHLETIC PROGRAM CAN BRING MILLIONS OF DOLLARS AND INSTANT NOTORIETY TO A SCHOOL. BUT SOME SAY COLLEGE ATHLETES ARE GETTING PLAYED IN THE PROCESS.

An athletic scholarship at Wake Forest University includes books, tuition and thousands of dollars per semester to rent an apartment, pay utilities and purchase food and other personal items.

Gary Clark, a senior who will graduate May 16 with a degree in mathematics, says athletes deserve a little more.

"Let's say you have $10 a ticket and 10,000 people at every game. The school is definitely making more than what your scholarship costs. Football and basketball bring in a lot of revenue," says the 21 -yearold, who plays guard on the men's basketball team.

"At a lot of schools, players come from underprivileged families. I know we are getting a scholarship, but some folks don't have cash to get something to eat when the school cafeteria is closed, or money to buy a used car," he continues. "I am not saying we should get paid with a full-time salary, but a stipend would be nice."

The National Collegiate Athletic Association governs intercollegiate sports under the premise of amateurism. NCAA President Mark Emmert says that premise is incompatible with the idea of paying players. But "amateur" in no way means "nonprofit." The NCAA signed a 14-year, $10.8 billion contract last year with CBS and Turner Sports to air March Madness, the men's Division I basketball tournament. College football's Bowl Championship Series is in the midst of a $125 million television deal with ESPN. A deep run during March Madness or a victory in a high-profile BCS bowl game can mean millions of dollars both to the university and to its conference. The monetary award for the athletes themselves? Zero.

The long-running debate about whether to pay players for their athletic accomplishments has garnered renewed attention recently due to a rash of scandals involving some of the nation's highest profile players and programs. In a story that aired in March on HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel," several former Auburn University football players recounted receiving cash from boosters during recruiting trips and after games. Auburn quarterback Cam Newton won the 2010 Heisman Trophy while leading the Tigers to the BCS national title but spent much of the season dogged by an NCAA investigation into allegations Newton's father demanded $180,000 from Mississippi State University in exchange for his son's commitment to play there. Mississippi State refused the offer, and Newton enrolled at Auburn, although there is no indication a "pay-for-play" demand was made or accepted by the school.

Elsewhere, University of Georgia star wide receiver A.J. Green was suspended four games after selling a game- worn jersey for $1,000. Five Ohio State University football players, including potential Heisman candidate Terrelle Pryor, are facing five-game suspensions in 2011 for selling memorabilia and receiving discounted services from a tattoo parlor. The University of North Carolina's football season was derailed almost before it began after several players were suspended for receiving improper benefits from agents. And the University of Southern California was forced to vacate wins in football and basketball after an NCAA investigation concluded that Heisman-winning running back Reggie Bush and basketball player OJ. Mayo had each received benefits from agents. The violations cost USC its 2005 BCS title and prompted the school to return Bush's Heisman Trophy.

The scandals have prompted some to question why schools and the NCAA can profit from a player's on-field exploits while the players cannot. Ironically, soon after Green was suspended, the University of Nebraska auctioned offa game jersey worn by star quarterback Taylor Martinez. The winning bid was $1,000.

"The coaches and other officials get paid quite well. They probably deserve [their money] and work extremely hard, but so do the players," says attorney Jon King, who is representing former college athletes in a class action suit against the NCAA.

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