Big Ten

College Football Analysis: Ohio State, NCAA and Paying Players

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By now the college football world knows all about the problems facing Ohio State.

Head coach Jim Tressel, as we all know, resigned his post as head coach at Ohio State following revelations that he knew of the impropriety of some of his players who are accused of trading memorabilia and autographs for tattoos and other benefits, and did not take the appropriate steps of reporting the issues. A damning article that appeared on SI.com shortly after Tressel’s resignation, the veracity of which has been questioned amid questions concerning the credibility of one of its sources, mentions several instances of players under Tressel’s watch accepting illicit benefits.

One of the players said to have received illicit benefits is quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who, among other issues, is facing questions regarding the several cars that he drove while attending Ohio State. Pryor’s mother, however, produced a bill of sale showing that there was nothing unbecoming in regards to the purchase of his latest car.

Putting aside whether Tressel, Pryor or anybody else at Ohio State did anything wrong, the problems surrounding the Buckeyes program has brought into greater focus one issue in particular that has not received the attention it deserved following an episode of HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel that delved into the subject: Whether college athletes—particularly football and basketball players—should be compensated beyond the education, room and board, and meals already provided to them. 

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It should be mentioned that the topic has been given a little more attention of late after Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany brought it up during the Big Ten’s annual meetings. The SEC has discussed it as well, and hopefully others will do the same.

The majority of attention the HBO special received, though, dealt with the issues the game has with boosters who provide athletes with illicit benefits—the special highlighted problems at Auburn, but the issue is widespread. The subjects are related, and the issue of paying college athletes is one that could perhaps lessen the impact of boosters who are providing athletes with illicit benefits.

First, let me say that the problem will never go away entirely. As long as you have people with money willing to offer it to kids who may not have a whole lot coming out of high school or who simply find it difficult to turn it down, the problem isn’t going away. But if an athletic scholarship puts a little money into their pockets, there will be fewer kids who will be inclined to accept illicit benefits they a) know to be against the rules, and b) have seen get others in trouble in the past.

Maybe I’ve too many mafia movies, but I don’t think getting into somebody’s debt when you’re 18-, 19- or 20-years-old by accepting cash, cars or other benefits is a great situation. Boosters have their reasons for offering illicit benefits to young kids and while all boosters aren’t looking for something in return from the player, it’s naive to think that accepting these benefits is always harmless.

There’s also the issue of whether the players simply deserve to be paid for the role they play in what the powers-that-be would like us to believe is still an amateur sport. This is a subject I discussed shortly after the HBO special aired back in March, so I won’t go into it too much except to say that the argument for paying individuals most vital to the success of the industry isn’t a hard one to understand.

As has been pointed out before, there’s a reason Buckeyes fans are buying that Scarlett #2 jersey and it isn’t Buckeyes Athletic Director Gene Smith, who ESPN reported last year could earn up to $1.2 million a year after a contract addendum signed last summer, or OSU President Gordon Gee, who the ESPN article also reports earns a base salary of $800,000 a year. College athletes have real value and it’s because of their talent that so many other men and women have been able to earn a comfortable living; shouldn’t the athletes be given some financial compensation for their efforts?

I was a guest on RotoRadio’s RotoRx with Dr. Roto and Tom Lorenzo this past Thursday to discuss the issues at Ohio State and the subject of paying college athletes inevitably arose. Dr. Roto brought up the point that some athletes whose families are unable to provide them financial support may find it difficult to simply pay to take a girl on a date—and if she pays you’re looking at an NCAA violation. With their time consumed by football and the classroom, it can be hard to earn extra spending money to gain even the slightest financial freedom that a lot of other college students, who may also come from poor families, may be able to gain through a part-time job.

So these kids who are earning billions of dollars for the industry by attracting ticket sales, television contracts, advertising agreements, merchandise sales, etc. are not allowed to see a dime of it when some are not even able buy a couple of movie tickets? No wonder the boosters can be so appealing.

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