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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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Caps’ dominant power play comes through yet again in win over Rangers

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USA Today Sports

Caps’ dominant power play comes through yet again in win over Rangers

It seems so simple. The Capitals have one of the best goal-scorers of all-time in Alex Ovechkin and on the power play, he’s almost always in the same spot. He sets up in the “office,” the faceoff circle on the left side of the ice, and waits for one-timers. Everyone knows the Caps are trying to get him the puck, everyone knows the shot is coming.

But nobody can stop it.

“It’s still pretty unique,” Matt Niskanen said after the 4-3 overtime win. “Basic logic tells you it’d be easy to stop, but it’s not.”

Even Ovechkin has no explanation. “It’s all about luck,” he said.

New York Rangers head coach David Quinn had another word for it.

“Sickening.”

Quinn’s Rangers were the latest victims of a power play that has been among the league’s best units for several years. Since 2005, no team in the NHL has a better power play percentage than the Capitals’ 20.8-percent. They once again look lethal this season with the unit currently clicking at an incredible 39.1-percent.

Ovechkin tallied two power play goals Wednesday, both from the office, to help power the Caps to a 4-3 win over New York. Both of Ovechkin’s goals looked pretty similar with John Carlson on the point feeding Ovechkin in the office for the one-timer.

Ovechkin obviously is what powers the team’s power play. With him on the ice, other teams need to account for him at all times.

But the real key to the Caps’ success with the extra man is not Ovechkin, but the other weapons around him.

“In order to completely take [Ovechkin] away other guys are just too open and they’re good enough to score,” Niskanen said. “Are you gonna leave [T.J. Oshie] open in the slot from the hash marks to cover [Ovechkin]? Our power play is set up well with what hands guys are and their skill sets so we have a lot of different options. Guys are good at reading what’s open. It’s pretty lethal.”

“Nobody knows who's going to take a shot when we play like that,” Ovechkin said. “And it's fun to play like that, to be honest with you. When [Nicklas Backstrom] and when [Evgeny Kuznetsov] feeling the puck well, they can find you in the right time and the right place -- same as [Carlson]."

With so many weapons on the power play, teams are forced to choose between playing Ovechkin tight and leaving other players like Kuznetsov and Oshie wide open, or trying to play a traditional penalty kill and risk giving Ovechkin too much room for the one-timer.

The Rangers chose the latter on Wednesday and they suffered the consequences.

“I don't think many teams have played him like they did tonight,” Carlson said. “They gave him a lot more space.”

And Carlson certainly took advantage as well.

Washington’s power play seems to have found a new gear now with the emergence of Carlson. He took his game to a new level last season and he seems to have picked up right where he left off. On Wednesday, as part of a three-point night for him, Carlson provided two brilliant setups for Ovechkin on the power play.

“He dominates the game, I think,” Niskanen said of Carlson. “Moves the puck well, skates well for a big man, can defend. He’s got that offensive feel for the game and offensive touch. Big shot. He’s a good player.”

For many years, it looked like the only thing missing from the Caps’ power play was Mike Green. Carlson has always been good, but no one was able to setup Ovechkin quite as well as Green was in the height of the “young guns” era of the Caps. Now that Carlson seems to be coming into his own as a superstar blueliner who can both score and feed Ovechkin with the best of them, that makes an already dominant Caps’ power play even more lethal.

That was certainly on display Wednesday as the Caps fired eight shots on goal with the extra man. Ovechkin’s two goals tie him for ninth on the NHL’s all-time power play goals list with Dino Ciccarelli at 232.

Even with Ovechkin now 33 years old and after several years of dominance with the extra man, the Caps’ power play may be better than ever.

“They don’t get rattled,” Quinn said. “There’s a confidence to them and a swagger to them, which they should have.  They’ve been playing together a long time and they’re the defending Stanley Cup champions, so they should play with a swagger.”

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5 reasons the Capitals beat the Rangers in overtime

5 reasons the Capitals beat the Rangers in overtime

The Caps gave up a 2-1 and 3-2 lead, but ultimately came away victorious on Wednesday in a 4-3 win over the New York Rangers thanks to an overtime goal from Matt Niskanen.

Here are five reasons why the Caps won.

1. Djoos saves a goal

With the Caps already trailing 1-0 in the first period, they were about an inch away from going down by two. Luckily, Christian Djoos was there to make the save.

Yes, Djoos, not Braden Holtby.

A diving Jesper Fast got to a loose puck before any of the Caps defenders and beat Holtby with the shot. Djoos, however, was there to sweep the puck off the goal line and out, saving a goal.

That play turned out to be a two-goal swing as less than two minutes later, the Caps scored to tie the game at 1.

2. Carlson off the faceoff

The Caps emphasized the importance of the faceoff this week and worked on it specifically in practice on Tuesday. That practice turned out to be very prescient as Washington’s first goal of the night came right off the faceoff.

Nicklas Backstrom beat Ryan Spooner on the draw cleanly in the offensive zone, feeding the puck back to John Carlson. With the players all bunched up off the draw, Carlson benefitted from Brady Skjei standing right in front of Henrik Lundqvist. Carlson teed up the slap shot and beat Lundqvist who never saw the puck.

Of the five combined goals scored in the game, three were directly set up off a faceoff.

3. Hand-eye coordination

With the Caps on the power play, Fast tipped a pass meant for Carlson that looked like it was headed out of the offensive zone. Carlson reacted to the puck then stretched the stick and somehow managed to control the bouncing puck and keep it in the zone.

Fast charged Carlson at the blue line so he chipped the puck to Ovechkin in the office. Ovechkin managed to hit the puck just as it hit the ice and somehow beat Lundqvist with the shot.

Ovechkin was by the boards at the very edge of the circle. It was an amazing shot and it was set up by the great hustle play from Carlson. Both showed tremendous hand-eye coordination to control that puck.

4. Braden Holtby

Lundqvist entered this game with a 1.99 GAA and .939 save percentage, but he was outplayed by his counterpart from Washington.

Holtby had himself a night. He was particularly strong down low with the pads as he made a number of key pad saves throughout the game, particularly in the second period when he recorded 17 saves including a shorthanded breakaway save on Kevin Hayes as time expired.

Of the three goals Holtby allowed, the first he made a great save on Chris Kreider who looked like he had an empty net to shoot at. Mike Zibanejad would score on the rebound. The second goal came as a shot deflected off Devante Smith-Pelly and went right to Jimmy Vesey for an easy tap-in. The third was a deflection goal from Kreider to redirect a shot that was going wide.

Can’t blame Holtby for those.

5. Working from the office

The Caps had three power play opportunities on the night. They scored on two of them and those two goals looked pretty darn similar.

There was the one described above in which a hustle play by Carlson at the point kept the puck alive and he fed to Ovechkin in the office. The second goal came with Carlson on the point feeding Ovechkin in the office.

Those two goals give Ovechkin 232 power play goals for his career, tying him with Dino Ciccarelli for ninth on the NHL’s all-time list.

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