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Monday, July 18, 2011
Pay-for-play: Where the Big East stands

By Andrea Adelson

When it comes to the topic of giving more scholarship dollars to student-athletes, Big East coaches, athletic directors and administrators do not have a consensus position.

Doug Marrone believes current scholarship dollars are enough for student-athletes. Rutgers coach Greg Schiano believes increasing scholarships to cover room and board would be a step in the right direction. Officials at USF and Pittsburgh believe the topic is worth further discussion.

As for the league itself, commissioner John Marinatto said at the Big East spring meetings in May it was hard to take a position on increasing scholarship dollars because no model had been presented. League athletic directors had a brainstorming session to discuss whether this is something the league could endorse, but they need to talk about the idea further.

"I haven’t heard any models to be quite honest so I don’t even know if there’s a viable model or non-viable model yet because nobody’s got into 'this is the model,'" Marinatto said. "It’s just a concept. Is there an economics model that allows us to provide a student-athlete with additional resources beyond actual room and attendance and tuition, particularly in the revenue generating sports of football and basketball? I haven’t seen a model if there is a model."

Therein lies part of the problem: How would this affect all student-athletes? Would this model be just for football and basketball or for every player on campus? Jurich is in support of pay for play, but only if this applies to everyone.

“I'm all for it if it's across the board for all sports, and that all conferences can institute it successfully," Jurich said. "I feel it maintains the integrity of college athletics -- that it's a level playing field across the board for all schools. I have zero interest in it if it's not for every sport. We have worked so hard through the years in gender equity that I feel it's important for all sports to be included in such a process.”

Indeed, making sure this is something that can be successfully instituted is a big question for other league athletic directors.

"Evaluating scholarship levels for student-athletes is definitely a conversation worth having," USF athletic director Doug Woolard said. "At USF, we are constantly trying to find ways to better support our student-athletes as they work towards graduating and earning success on the playing fields. There are certainly a lot of different aspects that would need to be taken into consideration before acting on any proposal, but if having the conversation leads to positive change for the student-athletes, then we would be more than willing to be involved."

Added Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson: "When you get into the discussion as to whether to pay student-athletes, the subject is complicated. Providing additional income in order to make their collegiate experience a more comfortable one is something, I believe, everyone would be on board with. However, there has to be a great deal of discussion on the topic before moving forward.  The question as to where the supplemental income would be provided from is first and foremost. Additionally, each athletic department is in a different financial situation and the fair distribution of those funds lead to quite a few points of contention.”

Both Pederson and Jurich bring up excellent points. Is this something each conference across the board can enact? If we are talking about increasing scholarship amounts by, say, $3,000 for each student-athlete, the costs would rise well above $500,000 at most universities. With athletic departments already running deficits, who is going to pay those additional costs? Would the burden fall to conferences?

The Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 just got gigantic boosts from new TV deals. Can a league like the Big East afford to dole out a total of $4 million to football member schools to help cover the costs? Once you add in the basketball members, that number grows even bigger. The Big East is set to get a new TV deal in the next 18 months, but even then would there be enough in a new deal to help defray the additional costs of a scholarship?

There are so many unanswered questions, and so many different voices in the Big East, you can see why there is no consensus.