By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
It came, perhaps, at the very moment the NCAA didn’t need it to come, a moment when the organization’s fate was beginning to teeter under pressures that were long brewing and, to be honest, long overdue.
It came out of Ohio State after the fruits of Logan Stieber’s long, hard drive to the 141-pound NCAA wrestling championship were reaped … those fruits being a medal, a handshake and adulation among his peers and wrestling fans.
What he didn’t get was what every college athlete needs – money.
That, of course, has always been OK, except shortly after he won the title it came out that his athletic director, Gene Smith, earned an $18,000 bonus from Stieber’s championship.
In fact, this man who earns $940,484 – don’t ask me why the $484 is there – per year gets an additional week’s pay as bonus anytime a Buckeye athlete win an individual national title in cross country, track, wrestling, swimming, diving, synchronized swimming, fencing, golf, gymnastics, tennis or rifle and pistol, according to his seven-year contract, which was obtained by Yahoo Sports.
Taking this closer to home, West Virginia University’s own Oliver Luck, whose salary is $550,000 per year, almost certainly earned a bonus – more modest, yes, but more than any of the athletes earned – off the school’s rifle team winning another national title.
Luck, like Smith, has bonuses for others’ performance, although his are not tied to individual championships but to team championships or accomplishments, Luck receiving a bonus that is 75 percent of what the coach gets,
It is limited to $130,000 or $150,000 – two different documents that have been made public have different figures – total … so if Luck had reached that figure by the time the rifle team won the title he would not have received the bonus, but considering the years the football and men’s basketball teams had, chances are he had not.
Luck’s bonus would have been above $5,000, for rifle coach Jon Hammond’s contract gives him $7,500 for the title.
Again, coach and athletic director benefit. Athletes do not, and that is why college sports is involved in a revolution … and WVU is right in the midst of it.
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Shawne Alston was a solid running back at WVU, rushing for 1,068 yards in a four-year career from 2009 to 2012. He became something of a goal-line specialist and powered his way to 19 touchdowns, 12 of them coming in 2011 including two against Clemson in the Orange Bowl while gaining 77 yards.
He wasn’t a star, but he was an important cog on a winning team, a good student who stayed out of trouble.
He also was in debt because of his collegiate career, even though he had what had been touted as a “full scholarship.”
He thought that was wrong and recently filed a class-action lawsuit against the NCAA and the five major conference saying they violated antitrust laws by agreeing to cap the value of an athletic scholarship at less than the actual cost of attending school.
Attorneys Steve Berman and Bruce Simon, who have been involved in cases challenging the NCAA’s ability to sell college athletes’ likeness to video-game makers, one of those filed by Alston, filed the proposed class-action lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco.
The lawsuit claims essentially that players work full-time jobs while they go to school as football players, something the NCAA has always denied, claiming they were not employees but amateur athletes.
The lawsuit received a huge boost and the NCAA took a major hit this past week when the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Northwestern athletes had the right to unionize because they are employees, a ruling that is being appealed by the NCAA but that threatens to change the face of college athletics.
As for Alston’s lawsuit, this is what it says:
“The NCAA and Power Conference Defendants have studied and acknowledged that a so-called ‘full ride’ scholarship does not cover the full cost of attending school,” the lawsuit said. “Athletes are often a few thousand dollars short for the typical expenses of a student. These costs include money for gas, food and other necessities. While players scrimp, coaches and universities most certainly do not. The average salary for major college football coaches is over $2 million, with some coaches earning over $7 million.”
Alston claims in the lawsuit that he had to take out a $5,500 loan to cover the difference between his scholarship and actual costs of attendance. It said if a free market existed in major-college football, cost of attendance, and possibly more, would be included in a scholarship.
The lawsuit asks that the NCAA and the five conferences discontinue the practice of not including the actual cost of attendance in scholarships. It also asks for members of the class to receive damages in the amount of the difference between the value of their scholarships and their actual costs of attendance.
The debate over whether to pay college athletes is almost as old as the games themselves. Back in the 1920s and 1930s players often received under-the-table money, sometimes playing at one school for four years, then at another under a different name.
There have been any number of scandals over players taking money or getting do-nothings jobs from boosters, all of which would never have happened had the players been paid.
However, the argument has always been that scholarships have a value, today over $100,000 per player with untold potential benefits beyond their college days, be it jobs in the NBA or NFL, careers as coaches or careers made possible through connections made while at the school.
It also has been argued that many schools would not be able to make such payments because the laws, as they now stand, would not just allow it to come to the revenue-raising sports like football and basketball but to all sports, including that NCAA-winning rifle team at WVU that little more than a decade ago it actually dropped because of finances.
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When there was a huge outcry across the state, charity events held to raise money, the school relented and brought the sport back … but did not fund it, instead getting a $100,000 yearly grant from the state and money raised by boosters to absorb costs.
All of these arguments have been rendered somewhat obsolete by the increased revenue into college athletics through television and playoffs.
This from The New York Times:
“The television contract for the new college football playoff system is worth $7.3 billion over 10 years, and the current deal to broadcast the men’s basketball tournament is worth $10.8 billion over 14 years.”
That doesn’t include attendance and sales of concessions and local media and jerseys … and remember, this also is an industry that receives millions a year in alumni donations.
Because of this, salaries for coaches have risen to $4 and $5 million a year, to up to $1 million per year for assistant coaches while athletic directors earn up to $1 million a year.
Perhaps the best way to think of this is that the concept that colleges deem it necessary to cap the scholarships going to student-athletes but not for coaches makes no sense whatsoever. A recent survey showed that across America the highest-paid state employee in 34 states is a football coach.
Who’s to say football coaches salaries couldn’t be capped at $1 million – believe it or not, they can live on that – and athletic directors at $300,000 so that the athletes could be paid.
One suspects, for example, if a school like WVU can find financing for $20 million for a baseball stadium it can find enough money to finance paying its players enough so that they don’t have to take out loans to cover their collegiate expenses.
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While this hangs over the college system, there also now are questions being raised about just how much student goes into being a student-athlete.
There was a powerful episode of “HBO Real Sports” this week that included admissions from graduates and academic advisors at North Carolina, Oklahoma, Memphis and other schools that football and basketball players were pushed into no-show, no-learn courses to keep them eligible.
One player said that during his junior year he used “Green Eggs and Ham” to teach himself to read.
At the same time, ESPN came out with a segment alleging North Carolina players were placed in “paper classes” in the African-American Studies department that didn’t require regular attendance and that gave a passing grade to anyone who could read at third-grade level.
Former Tar Heel football player Deunta Williams said his advisor directed him to the class.
“Their job isn’t necessarily to make Deunta Williams a better person. A smarter person. Their job ... is to make sure I’m eligible to play,” he said.
This kind of thing, if true and wide spread, certainly works against the NCAA’s arguments that its athletes are not there simply to play sports and that the relationship is that of employer and employee rather than educator and student.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.