The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

May 11, 2012

HERTZEL COLUMN: Stipend could have prevented player theft

MORGANTOWN — Call it “The Great Pretzel Caper.”

Talk about crimes of the century, there was West Virginia University’s own Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, aka Darwin Cook and Terence Garvin, a pair of Mountaineer safeties allegedly sacking some pretzels, Doritos and Gatorade out of a local Sheetz, then making an end run around the cashier with their stash.

That’s right. The Frito Bandito had nothing on them.

Now you know this had to be the crime of the century, considering that the local newspaper saw it as its lead story on the sports page in 60-point, bold headlines across the top.

Cook, Garvin arrested

You’d think the cops had just arrested a pair of “cereal” thieves, pun totally intended.

That was what the headline read, and it was a bigger, bolder, better displayed headline than the one about the West Virginia primary election that proclaimed:

Texas inmate pulls 72,400 votes

And you wonder what is happening to our business?

This is not meant to excuse the fact that a pair of veteran Mountaineer football players ought to have better judgment than what they are charged with doing, even though the real crime would be having a party without Doritos.

The fact of the matter is what Cook and Garvin are charged with doing is being blown up to unimaginable proportions almost a month after the misdemeanor was committed and two weeks after the arrest warrants were issued.

The true crime is that these two football players — and thousands of other college athletes — find themselves in a position where they don’t have enough money to grab a Snickers bar when they may find the urge.

That is what this is really about, an issue the NCAA has been wrestling with for some time, an issue the NCAA is about to deal with.

In December it seemed they were ready to allow a $2,000 stipend to be granted to all scholarship athletes for expenses beyond tuition, books and meals … expenses like pretzels, Doritos and Gatorade, if so desired.

There was a lot of opposition to this from schools not as rich as the elite athletic schools and it was put on hold, but with NCAA President Mark Emmert behind it, it seems only a matter of time until it becomes a reality.

“It would be very inaccurate to describe this as a setback for the $2,000, but rather (it’s) a clear attempt to get it right,” Emmert said after the NCAA’s latest convention. “I think it is obviously an important element of student well-being. There are certainly legitimate differences of opinion about it, and it has been very thoroughly debated and discussed. And I have some confidence that the vast majority of the membership is supportive.”

West Virginia is behind such a stipend, even though it would add a large increase to the cost surrounded with the athletic program … but not nearly as great a cost as if they were stuck with paying them their true value … a value that often is measured in the BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes that many football coaches — both head coach and assistant – can afford to drive.

“I think everyone believes it’s inevitable,” WVU athletic director Oliver Luck said earlier this week. “We’re basically redefining the scholarship, which hasn’t been redefined since the 1960s.”

The plans are to change from one-year scholarship deals that are renewable each school year to a multi-year scholarship agreement and to add that $2,000 stipend for all scholarship athletes.

“It clearly will have a financial impact, but to be honest, it’s in the best interest of the student-athlete, in particular as we find a lot of kids are coming here from farther and farther away now,” he said.

“Look at our football roster and our basketball roster. A lot has changed in 30 years since I was a student-athlete here.

“Maybe one or two people had to fly to Pittsburgh to join the football team for practice. Everyone had a pretty easy drive. That’s changed. “We’ve got a lot of kids from Florida and we’re getting more and more from Texas. Flying around like they have to is not inexpensive, and I think we can help with that.”

To say nothing about making those midnight parties more enjoyable, too.

Email Bob Hertzel at Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.

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