It seems you can’t turn around these days without someone getting in trouble with the NCAA for receiving what that all-powerful organization loosely calls “improper benefits.”
That usually means money, cars, tattoos, clothes, shoes, etc. In fact, you name it and there’s probably a star football or basketball player out there who’s gotten it — a practice which dates back a bit but hardly is dated.
At some point in the last millennium, Florida State got into hot water because players were getting free gear. It prompted then-Florida coach Steve Spurrier to call FSU “Free Shoes University.”
Southern Methodist’s once-proud football program was ruined because players were driving free cars around Dallas back in the 1980s.
In 2003 came the revelation that Chris Webb of Michigan’s Fab Five got about $200,000 from a booster in the ’90s.
In short, neither current bad boys Reggie Bush or Terrelle Pryor — nor Cam Newton, who still hasn’t been found guilty of anything — invented the notion of getting extras from more-than-willing boosters with plenty of cash.
It’s not illegal. It’s just against NCAA rules, so they’re being punished.
Fair enough — but that’s the only thing fair about it.
That’s why it’s time for college sports to look seriously at changing the definition of improper benefits. Providing stipends for all college athletes is a start, but the NCAA also should let star athletes capitalize on their worth. After all, just about everyone else does.
Ohio State raked in nearly $52 million in football revenue last season, according to Forbes.com. Coach Jim Tressell, the sweater-vested straight arrow who resigned late last month after it came to light he covered up rules violations by his players, was due to be paid $3.5 million in salary this year.
He may not get it, but Tressell long has been one of the highest paid coaches in Division I football, so he should be OK for a while.
Pryor, who quarterbacked the Buckeyes to a 12-1 record in 2010 and has a 32-4 record as a starter, officially got only books, tuition, room and board last year. Nothing to sneeze at, certainly, but it probably has a cash value of less than $30,000 annually.
Newton, the Auburn field general, was at the center of a pretty ugly fuss last year regarding whether his father had required a six-figure signing bonus for his son’s services.
He steadfastly denied the allegations and went on to lead Auburn to a national title while winning the Heisman Trophy along the way.
Whatever he didn’t get paid, it wasn’t enough.
Auburn coach Gene Chizik made $2.1 million in 2010. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn was paid $500,000, according the Birmingham News.
Of course, Auburn can afford to be generous. The Southeastern Conference school had nearly $59 million in revenue from football in 2008 alone, according to 2008-09 financial reports reported by the Birmingham News.
In fact, it’s hard not to find a major school that doesn’t reap major financial rewards from its athletics department.
Maybe that’s why it should come as no surprise that those in charge of running big-time college sports aren’t faring too badly, either.
According to a Sept. 9 story in The Chronicle for Higher Education, the top 14 executives at the National Collegiate Athletic Association split nearly $6 million in compensation in 2009.
In all, the NCAA, which doesn’t have to pay taxes because of its status as a nonprofit, paid its 400 employees some $50 million in 2009 while also spreading out scholarships and payments to schools and conferences on income of about $700 million, the Chronicle reported.
If news of that kind of money floating around college sports makes purists queasy, have no worries.
The NCAA still found time last year to bust Georgia wideout A.J. Green for selling his jersey to an agent for $1,000.
Jeff Whitten writes about sports for the Bryan County News and Coastal Courier.