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Money for college athletes: not if, but how

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Money for college athletes: not if, but how

MIAMI (AP) After decades when paying college athletes was thought to violate the spirit of amateurism, the enormous television revenue generated by sports - football and basketball in particular - and the long hours of work by the players have changed the debate.

The head of the NCAA now supports a stipend for athletes to cover costs beyond tuition, books and fees, and both coaches in Monday's BCS championship between No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Alabama spoke in support of the idea in the days before the game.

The question is no longer whether to cut athletes a check, it's how best to do that.

``I still think the overriding factor here is that these young men put in so much time with being a student and then their responsibilities playing the sport, that they don't have an opportunity to make any money at all,'' Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Sunday.

``I want them to be college kids, and a stipend will continue to allow them to be college kids.''

To get a sense of the landscape, look at the way things were when Notre Dame last won the national championship, in 1988. That season, Fighting Irish players earned scholarships worth about $10,000 per year and the school got $3 million for playing in the Fiesta Bowl to go with the revenue it made for TV appearances throughout the season. Even then, there was discussion about the disparity between benefits for the players and for the schools.

This season's Irish will get scholarships worth about $52,000 per year and the school will receive $6.2 million for playing in the title game - to go with the $15 million NBC reportedly pays just to televise the school's regular-season home games.

While the value of that athletic scholarship has never been greater, the money being made by the schools that play big-time college football has skyrocketed, too.

NCAA President Mark Emmert believes it is time for a change.

While Emmert draws a clear distinction between the $2,000 stipend he has proposed and play-for-pay athletics, he unapologetically advocates for giving student-athletes a larger cut of a huge pie that is about to get even bigger.

The NCAA's current men's basketball tournament agreement with CBS is worth an average of more than $770 million per year, and the current Bowl Championship Series television deal - money that goes to conferences and then is distributed to schools, with no NCAA involvement - is worth $180 million per year.

The new college football playoff, which starts in the 2014 season, will be worth about $470 million annually to the conferences.

Emmert chides athletic programs that make major decisions guided by efforts to generate more revenue, such as switching conferences, and then complain they can't afford a stipend.

``When the world believes it's all a money grab, how can you say we can stick with the same scholarship model as 40 years ago?'' he said last month.

In October 2011, the NCAA's Division I Board of Directors approved a rule change that would give colleges the option of providing athletes with a $2,000 stipend for expenses not covered by scholarships.

``It doesn't strike me as drastic by definition,'' said Mike Slive, commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, Alabama's league, and one of the most vocal advocates for a full-cost-of-attendance scholarship. ``There is a fixed definition for a scholarship. There's no reason why it shouldn't be reviewed.''

But many schools objected to the policy, and last January, the board delayed its implementation. Colleges worried about how the stipends would affect Title IX compliance and whether they'd be able to afford them.

``I do understand the economics, that it might be more difficult for some than others, but for those that can do it, it's the right thing do to and that ought to be the guiding factor,'' he said.

Right now, the millions of dollars schools are making through sports are often going back into athletic programs. Colleges are caught in a never-ending race with their fellow institutions to attract the best talent with the best facilities, stadiums and coaches.

The Associated Press looked at federal filings by schools in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12, Big Ten, Pacific-12 (formerly the Pac-10) and Southeastern Conference.

In 2003, the members of those conferences at the time reported average athletic department revenues of $45.6 million and expenses of $42.3 million. By 2011, the current members' average revenue had increased 76.1 percent to $80.4 million. Expenses had grown at an even faster rate, up 76.5 percent to $74.6 million.

The average salary for head coaches of men's teams increased almost 131 percent in that span, with football driving that number.

Alabama coach Nick Saban will make about $6 million this season, including bonuses, if the Crimson Tide beats Notre Dame. Kelly's contract with Notre Dame pays him about $2.4 million per year, according to research done by USA Today (because it is a private school, Notre Dame does not make Kelly's salary public).

Having benefited most from the boom, it's perhaps not surprising coaches such as Kelly and Saban support finding a way to get more money to their players.

``A lot of the young people that we have, that play college football, the demographics that they come from, they don't have a lot and I think we should try to create a situation where their quality of life, while they're getting an education, might be a little better,'' Saban said. ``I feel that the athletes should share in some of this to some degree. I don't really have an opinion on how that should be done. There's a lot of other people who probably have a lot more experience in figuring that one out, but I do think we should try to enhance the quality of life for all student-athletes.

``I believe the leadership in the NCAA finally sort of acknowledges that so that's probably a big step in that direction.''

The old argument was that a scholarship provided enough benefit. And while there is wide variation, depending on the college and major, there is little doubt among those who study the issue that a bachelor's degree is a huge economic boon, even for those who have to borrow to pay for it.

In a 2011 report, Georgetown's Center on Education and the Workforce calculated a worker with a bachelor's degree will earn on average $2.3 million over a lifetime. That's roughly $500,000 more than associate's degree-holders, $700,000 more than those with some college but no degree, and $1 million more than those with just a high school diploma.

According to the latest NCAA statistics, 70 percent of football players in the top division graduated within six years. The NCAA's Graduation Success Rate takes into account transfers and athletes who leave in good academic standing.

In the 11 years that GSR data have been collected, the rate for football players in the top division has increased by 7 percentage points - so more players are getting the benefit of a college degree.

The problem is scholarship rules have lagged behind the times, said Pac-12 Conference Commissioner Larry Scott, now in his fourth year in the job. His conference, like most of the major ones, supports a stipend.

``The scholarship rules don't allow you to cover the full cost of attendance,'' he said. ``Doesn't cover things like miscellaneous meals, trips home, clothes and other things. For me there has been a gap.

``This does not cross the philosophical Rubicon of paying players.''

Players, naturally, agree.

``It kind of goes both ways,'' said Alabama defensive back Vinnie Sunseri, whose father, Sal, is a college football coach and former NFL player. ``A lot of people would say we don't deserve it because we already get enough as college kids that just happen to play a sport. A lot of people don't realize all the work that goes into all the stuff that we have to do throughout the day.

``I have no time during the day. I wake up at 6 a.m., lift, go to class, right after class you come back up to the football complex to watch film and get ready for practice. By the time you get out, you've got to go to study hall. By the time you get out of study hall, it's basically bed time. It is really like a full-time job.''

Alabama long snapper Carson Tinker made the team as a non-scholarship walk-on, but earned a scholarship this season.

``I'm very thankful for my scholarship,'' Tinker said. ``All of us have bills. All of us have expenses, just like every other student. I don't live with football players. I live with two of my good friends. While I'm at practice every day, they have a job. They're able to pay their bills, buy food, stuff like that.''

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick is on the NCAA committee studying how to implement a stipend. It's complicated.

To help build more support, Emmert's latest proposal would make the funds need-based. In other words, lower-income students would get more money than wealthy ones.

The problem is, that could limit students' access to federal aid, such as Pell Grants.

``If what you're doing is subsidizing the federal government because you offset the Pell Grant, what's the point?'' he said Sunday. ``What have you achieved if they are getting less money from the Pell Grant and more from you and the student-athlete hasn't netted out an additional dime?''

Also, this isn't just about paying football players.

``I'm not interested in having a different standard for football players than volleyball players,'' Swarbrick said.

However it works out, Kelly sees stipends as inevitable.

``This is going to happen,'' Kelly said. ``It's just when is it going to happen? I think like minds need to get together and figure it out.''

---

Cohen reported from New York. AP Education Writer Justin Pope also contributed to this report.

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Ryan Zimmerman expects to be on the field more this spring; not happy with free agent slog

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USA Today Sports

Ryan Zimmerman expects to be on the field more this spring; not happy with free agent slog

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Ryan Zimmerman set up at first base midway through Sunday morning to take ground balls. It is among the simplistic spring training activities Zimmerman expects to participate in more often this year. Last year, he worked mostly in the cage, on back fields and out of site. It became a thing that didn’t need to be a thing.

Zimmerman played only 85 games because of an oblique injury, cutting off momentum from his All-Star season the year before. He thinks the equation for success now, and even last year, is simple.

“The key for me is to stay on the field,” Zimmerman said Sunday. “Two years ago I did. Last year I didn’t. When I stay on the field, I still feel like I’m a really good player. And that’s the goal. Everything we do in the offseason and during the season is geared toward that.”

Zimmerman used part of this winter to reflect on what may have caused his oblique problem last year. He has repeatedly said he was healthy throughout spring training. His career output in April shows his typical streaky fluctuation. It does not appear tethered to how many spring training games he plays or whether they happen out of sight or in front of fans.

“I don’t think there’s any one thing we did,” Zimmerman said. “But things happen and you learn from them. I think it wouldn’t be very smart not to look back and try and see why something happened. I don’t think anyone can tell you exactly why it happens, but you have to learn from your mistakes and from what happened and use it toward this year. That’s the plan.”

Those plans are less impervious to derailment when younger. Zimmerman averaged 140 games played per year from age 21 to 28, including a run through all 162 when he was 22 years old. He’s averaged just 100 annually since his age-29 season.

This one carries intrigue not usually associated with his steady presence. The Nationals hold an $18 million option on Zimmerman next season. If he repeats 2017, they could pick it up. If he repeats 2018, they will not, then the complicated process of possibly cutting loose an organizational icon would begin. Zimmerman is aware. He wants to return. He’s willing to figure it out. The Nationals also have a strong interest in bringing him back, at this point. Those numbers will be figured out after the season, once Zimmerman entered the now treacherous waters of free agency should his option not be picked up.

Bryce Harper’s nameplate is usually back near Zimmerman’s in the Nationals clubhouse in West Palm Beach. New second baseman Brian Dozier is now in what was Harper’s spot. If you haven’t heard, Harper remains unemployed a day before position players are supposed to report. The process has rankled Zimmerman the same way it has his teammates.

“I don't think it takes a genius to see that something is going on,” Zimmerman said. “I don't know what it is, but there's too many good players out there that aren't on teams and this is an entertainment business. Fans should be able to see the best players in the world play, doesn't matter what team they're on. Him and Manny [Machado] obviously and throw [Craig] Kimbrel in there too, those are three I don't want to say generational but if you look at Kimbrel's numbers, it's pretty dumb what he's done and then Manny and Bryce have obviously done what they've done at the age that they've done it. So now you have guys that are not even old that aren't getting jobs either. We'll see what happens, it’s definitely trending in a bad direction.”

And those teams that are intentionally not trying to be competitive?

“I try and win everyday, I think that's kind of the point of sports,” Zimmerman said with a half-laugh. “That's kind of what the whole basis of professional sports is to try and win. When you have teams actively saying we'll go into this free agent market in win-now mode, I don't know that you should have to state that it's win-now mode, but I guess that's where we're at. I think that's troubling obviously. There's a lot of stock being put into the draft and prospects and young kids that are supposedly going to turn organizations around. There's a lot of legit big-league players that have done it for a long time and you know exactly what you’re going to get and you could build a pretty good team with those guys. But if you just want to make as much money as you possibly can, that's their right too I guess.”

Zimmerman’s thoughts are in line with what players have said all spring. Max Scherzer and Sean Doolittle are key Washington voices who expressed their displeasure and concern last week. Zimmerman’s turn came Sunday.

Monday will bring another round of ground balls. The rest of spring is expected to deliver 50 at-bats -- the number Zimmerman keys on -- and more time on his feet compared to last year. Hope for a full season is up after that.

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Bradley Beal's childhood idol Dwyane Wade thinks he's the next great shooting guard

Bradley Beal's childhood idol Dwyane Wade thinks he's the next great shooting guard

CHARLOTTE -- The 2019 NBA All-Star Game will be the final one for Dwyane Wade, who is months away from riding off into the prismatic Miami sunset as one of the greatest players in the league’s history. He will go down as one of the best shooting guards of all-time, ranked somewhere behind Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.

With Wade gearing up for his exit, the logical question is who is next? Who will carry on the legacy of great shooting guards?

When Wade entered the league in 2003, Bryant was the top two in the game. When Bryant debuted in 1996, Jordan was just a few years from calling it a career.

The answer to who’s next after Wade may have shared the stage at Bojangles Coliseum on Saturday at All-Star media day, but deciding who is complicated. The best choices either aren’t seen solely as shooting guards, or they haven’t accomplished enough to be considered the heir apparent.

James Harden certainly comes to mind first. The 2017-18 NBA MVP is clearly on his way to all-time greatness. But he plays more point guard than Wade, Jordan or Bryant ever did.

After Harden, there is a group of twos that should be in the mix. Klay Thompson of the Warriors is establishing a Hall of Fame career. Victor Oladipo was All-NBA and All-Defense last season. And Devin Booker of the Suns is just scratching the surface of his potential.

Then, there’s Bradley Beal of the Wizards. Beal wears No. 3 in part because he idolized Wade growing up. He is now a two-time All-Star and has some similarities to Wade in his game and his athletic build.

Wade was asked about the next generation of great shooting guards at media day and made an interesting point. He believes we will all know in due time who will take the mantle because that’s how the game has played out for generations.

“You don’t pass the torch, guys take the torch. Like, Kobe didn’t pass the torch to me. Ray Allen didn’t pass the torch to me,” Wade said.

“I’m not passing no torch to James or to Brad, they’re taking the torch. Them guys are unbelievable players.”

Beal, 25, is having a season that compares statistically to some of Wade’s NBA prime. Beal is averaging 25.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists.

From age 23 through 30, Wade put up 26.2 points, 6.4 assists and 5.2 rebounds per game. Wade, though, had some years mixed in that are on a level Beal has yet to reach. He averaged 27 points or more three times, six assists or more six times and regularly averaged more than a steal and a block per game.

That’s not to mention Wade’s playoff numbers and the fact he won three NBA titles. Beal said it himself at media day, that he has “a long way to go.”

But Beal is on the short-list of best shooting guards in today’s game. And maybe he can be the one, or one of the players to someday inspire a new generation.

Wade, 37, has been around long enough to see the cycle of NBA history play out and knows guys like Beal, Harden, Oladipo, Thompson and Booker have a responsibility to follow the same lead others set for him.

“There is a bar that is set when you come in [to the league] and you try to reach that bar and hopefully get over it and set another standard and set another bar,” Wade said.

“Those guys do the same thing, they jump over it. That’s how our game continues to get great and continues to get better, so no passing no torch. They’re taking it.”

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