College “Spending Money” – The Rest of the Story…

Posted: May 27, 2011 in BCS, College teams, sports
Tags: , ,

The Big Ten conference is talking about giving scholarship athletes more than the standard room, board, books and tuition. It wants to add several thousand dollars a year to the scholarship to give the athletes some spending money for incidentals and, perhaps, some necessaries such as toothpaste and toilet paper.

This isn’t something new. It has been debated for years that scholarship athletes in the big-money sports deserve more than they get. College football generates millions of dollars for some schools. Coaches become wealthy. Yet many of the athletes walk around with only dimes in their pockets and unable to afford a winter coat.

Less than 50 years ago some schools gave scholarship athletes $15 a month. It was called “laundry money” but more often than not it was spent for pizzas, movie tickets and gas. Understand gas was 20 cents a gallon back then. But then college football and basketball became big business. Multi-million TV contracts were written. Coaches started being paid like CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Big business led to more cheating. More cheating led to more rules, and that included not allowing scholarship athletes to have paying jobs during their seasons. (You remember stories about athletes getting $50 an hour to watch grass grow, don’t you?)

The problem is if you pay football and basketball athletes then you have to pay volleyball players, swimmers, etc. i.e. athletes from non-revenue producing sports.

Truth is most schools don’t make money on athletics. They can’t afford to pay football players, much less athletes in other sports. We concentrate on the elite programs – Florida, Texas, Ohio State, Penn State, etc. Even some of those programs would have difficulty paying all scholarship athletes unless there were significant changes made.

The Big Ten officials know this, and that’s why I think there’s far more to this story than meets the eye.

The Big Ten is trying to increase the huge gap between the “haves” and have-nots” in college football. It is, in my opinion, laying one more brick it what will eventually become a “super division” in college football.

That discussion, too, has been going on for years. Last spring was filled with stories of schools switching conferences. Nebraska joined the Big Ten. Utah and Colorado joined the Pac 10. Texas Christian joined the Big East. Texas was courted by nearly every BCS conference, namely the SEC and the Pac 10, before deciding to stay in the Big 12. Missouri was courted. Every conference called Notre Dame.

We came close, very close, to having four 16-team, football-only super conferences. That will happen one day, and when it does big-time football will operate separately from the remaining sports under the NCAA umbrella. And, yes, there will be a college football playoff for the big boys.

The Big Ten discussion brings that destiny closer.

If the Big Ten starts paying athletes other BCS conferences will have to follow suit or they’ll fall behind. Thus, the gap between most BCS schools and, say, Mountain West schools will widen even more. Those schools can’t compete very well now. Occasionally a Boise State or TCU becomes a serious player in the national championship hunt but such runs are usually short-lived. Remember when Louisville looked ready to be a national power?

The face of big-time college football is constantly changing with one goal in mind: To become bigger business. Many schools have no choice. Huge stadiums and millionaire employees with long-term contracts are expensive.

These schools have spent themselves far beyond going back to the days when college football at the highest level was for amateurs. Academic s has been compromised behind the argument that big-time athletics attract more students. Athletic programs do sell schools. Athletics increase donations from alumni and boosters. That’s a fact, like it or not.

That old philosopher, the late Bear Bryant, said it best: “The alumni don’t rally around the library.”

The bottom line is if you want to play with the big boys, you gotta spend the money. And I ain’t talking about giving your scholarship athletes a few thousand dollars extra in their scholarships.

I’d love to see the athletes get “walking around money” included in their scholarships. I know Pell Grant money is available to needy athletes. I know the NCAA has softened its stance and now allows schools to help athletes in need with traveling money for family deaths and in some medical situations such as eye glasses. I do think such walking around money should be a small amount and closely supervised. (Yeah, I know there’d be more cheating, but some things will never be totally eliminated.)

But the No. 1 thing I know is Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney and its school presidents are smart enough to know their proposal isn’t about their athletes getting a few bucks. The goal is much bigger.

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