The Big 12 and the pay-for-play debate

July, 18, 2011
7/18/11
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The season of scandal, highlighted by controversies at Auburn, Oregon and Ohio State, all BCS participants, has given way to summer conversations about changing the way college sports operate.

Maybe that's changing the rules.

Maybe it's changing the circumstances.

Should players be paid? Or at least get more assistance from the schools that profit from their efforts?

The Big 12, which has remained relatively scandal-free throughout the past year, has at least one big advocate for giving players a boost.

[+] EnlargeTommy Tuberville
AP Photo/Todd J. Van EmstTexas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville realizes it would be difficult to subsidize scholarships but would support changes to the current system.
"It definitely needs to happen," Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said. "Something needs to be done."

Tuberville doesn't support an outright "pay-for-play" scenario, but says changes in college athletics and the world within which it exists, necessitate something being done.

"The first priority should be the athletes, because they’re the ones that do the competing and do the hard work," Tuberville said. "I think the money is out there. I just think it’s gotta start from the top and work down."

Teams that go to the BCS cash an extra large paycheck, a portion of which goes back to the conferences.

"Each school gets a cut at the end of the year of TV money and bowl money. But then the conference gets a cut of that. Why isn’t there a cut there for the players?" he said. "Say, 'OK go split this up in the conference, all your players.' I’m talking NCAA basketball tournament, everything. There should be some kind of cut for the players. It’s just getting too expensive to live and it’s getting to the point where we’ve got to show the athletes that we want to take care of them, and I’m all for that."

Extended summers -- for all sports -- means players can't take the time off and work part-time jobs like Tuberville did as a player at Southern Arkansas in the 1970s.

"They have two full-time jobs: going to school, and athletics now in any sport is full-time," Tuberville said. "They just don't have enough time."

Details are difficult, but if a plan could be hatched, Tuberville would have support from his coaching brethren, Big 12 and elsewhere.

"I'm for anything we can do within the rules to help our kids," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "I do realize coming up with a plan to subsidize a scholarship with some form of payment for student-athletes is a very challenging task for athletics directors and presidents around the country, but if there is a plan they can come up with, I'd certainly support it."

Said Tuberville: "You can talk to coaches all you want, and 99 percent of them are going to be 'Hey, I’d love to do more for the players.'"

The problem, though, is rather obvious.

"We have no say-so about it. And I think the administrators would like to do it, but there’s just not been a plan presented that can be done," Tuberville said.

Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe is open to discussions, and expressed plans to do so earlier this offseason.

"This is a topic that BCS commissioners discussed at recent meetings and one that we agreed to review with our respective member institutions at spring conference meetings, which I intend to do at the upcoming annual Big 12 meetings," Beebe said in May.

But little came of those conversations. It hasn't been enough to build any real momentum toward giving players more assistance.

"There needs to be a dialogue set up for this. There’s more and more money being invested in college sports from a TV standpoint, from ESPN to ABC to NBC and I think it’s really time that we all just sat down and looked at a plan. The NCAA needs to be involved," Tuberville said.

For him, it circles back to student-athletes, whose well-being should be driving college athletics, not money, which seems to be the case lately. Tuberville would like to see $500 to $1,000 per year added to students' scholarship kits, but with considerations taken into account for students who already receive $2,000 - $4,000 on top of their athletic scholarships from federal Pell grants given to students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

The goal, Tuberville says, wouldn't be reducing the scandals we've seen lately. But simply making life easier for the 500 to 600 people on campus that the NCAA exists to serve. "You’re always still going to have those problems, I don’t care how much money you give them," he said.

"We spend all our time on all these rules, trying to catch people that are cheating, and we need to spend more time on the welfare of the student-athlete and how can we be better at helping these kids make it to where they have an opportunity to live a little better life, not have to worry about scraping pennies during the summer, because they can’t get a part-time job," he said.

Problems will arise. No one, Tuberville included, denies this. But the conversations about making it a reality haven't gone far enough, and Tuberville hopes to see that change.

"We need to start on it now," he said. "Everybody wants to say, 'There’s no way to do it.' Well, there may not be, but at least we can talk about it. At least we can give it some thought."

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