Study, practice, play… and get paid?

Coach Self announces he thinks student athletes should be paid

By Dylan Gehlbach

In Lawrence, Kansas, any statement issued to the media by Bill Self, the KU basketball head coach, is automatically newsworthy. From typical coaching adages heard in press conferences to predictions on an upcoming game, if Self says it, it’s in the news. But Self had an interesting statement on Friday that may draw some national media attention.

“I used to be totally against paying players, paying athletes. I’ve changed,” Self said to the Lawrence Journal World on Friday. “I think if presidents are willing to take these athletes and send them across America, miss more school because they have conference realignment . . . we could compensate the people that are exactly the ones bringing the money to the schools — the student-athletes.”

The payment of student athletes has been a hot-button issue in college sports for quite some time, and the realignment of conferences has stoked the fire as of late. Consider West Virginia, that recently joined the Big 12 conference. Their nearest away games in conference play are across the country in Ames for games against Iowa State and in Lawrence against Kansas.

A student athlete must find time to study, do homework, and attend classes in between practice, traveling, and games. That is one heavy workload, but athletes have dealt with this for years. But what do these athletes do to earn money for groceries? How do they afford to buy gas for their cars? While other students can utilize their spare time working part-time jobs to help pay bills, student athletes are working as well. The difference is, there is no pay for the athletes as they exert more effort and devote more time than most other students do at their part-time jobs. If athletes were paid they would be awarded for their efforts, but the purity of college sports would vanish, as players would no longer just be playing for the love of the game.

There are obviously programs that cheat the NCAA’s system and pay players. We can assume that many players refuse to be bribed, but a number of athletes do accept illegal benefits, as we have seen. It is easy to say that this violation of rules is wrong, but some situations can be very telling of how complicated payment of college athletes can be. For example, last year Jamar Samuels was suspended from playing in NCAA tournament as a senior for Kansas State for accepting improper benefits. At the surface, it seems wrong, but it turned out that Samuels only accepted $200 so that his family would be able to buy groceries. It’s hard to say that Samuels was in the wrong, but if the NCAA makes any exceptions, where do they draw the line?

The most popular argument for athletes deserving payment is to point out how much money a single player earns for a school. Todd Reesing led a previously mediocre Kansas football team to a 12-1 season and an Orange Bowl victory in 2008. Suddenly, ticket sales were up, KU football merchandise was flying off the racks, and the university made a small fortune in revenue from the team’s success. Todd Reesing did not see a penny. Due to his height as a quarterback, Todd Reesing didn’t have a chance in professional football. Right or wrong, Todd Reesing will never see any money from the success of his glory days; he isn’t even allowed to sell one of his own jerseys.

Creating new rules for the payment of players would not be easy. There are so many rules that would have to be created that the NCAA would have to create a new department to figure these things out. There would have to be a salary cap to keep the richer schools from dominating. They would need a way to determine if athletes should be paid equally or if the better players could earn more. And it gets even tougher from there, folks. If basketball and football players get paid, so do track athletes and the swimming team. Heck, we may have to pay the debate team. Does this affect the tuition at universities? As you can plainly see, paying student athletes would open up an entire other can of worms, but this doesn’t mean that it should not be considered.

I am in no way promoting the payment of student of athletes or saying that it would be unethical, but this is something that the NCAA seriously needs to be working on. Bill Self’s change of heart reflects that. And if Self putting pressure on the NCAA, you can be assured that other coaches from other programs are doing the same.

It will be very interesting to see what the NCAA’s next move on the payment of student athletes will be. One thing is certain: it will be very controversial.