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Monday, July 18, 2011
Taking care of the 'performers' in the SEC

By Chris Low

There’s mounting support in college athletics to supplement the money scholarship athletes already receive.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive, already one of the most powerful figures in collegiate sports, endorses that idea.

Mike Slive
SEC commissioner Mike Slive is a proponent of paying for an athlete's full cost of attendance.
To be clear, Slive doesn’t endorse the idea of paying players based on the amount of money their sport is bringing in to that university, and for that matter, he doesn’t endorse the idea, period, of paying college athletes.

But he does like the idea of paying for an athlete’s full cost of attendance, which over and above tuition, room and board, books and university fees would also pay for reasonable personal expenses as well as travel expenses when an athlete returns home to see family.

One of the obvious snags in this whole concept is that conferences such as the SEC and Big Ten with deep pockets could financially afford to fork out the extra money and do so for all athletes -- football players, tennis players, everybody.

But what about the smaller schools that don’t rake in the mega-television dollars?

“Often times, when I think of the foundation and basis of a lot of NCAA legislation, a lot of it tries to ensure a level playing field,” Slive told The Birmingham News just prior to the SEC spring meetings in June. “It’s an unattainable concept, but that’s often the foundation.

“If you say the foundation ought to be student-athlete welfare, it’s a different place for which to start thinking about full cost of attendance. Using that as the starting point, I think it’s time for the national conversation to begin in a very serious way about the full cost of attendance.”

It’s more than just a conversation in the SEC, especially with the millions of dollars that are being generated in football.

In fact, the coaches are speaking up more than ever before.

South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier, who’s entering his 18th season as a head coach in the SEC, threw out a proposal in June that would entail head coaches taking some of their salary and spreading it out among the players to help them with personal expenses.

Spurrier even passed around a sheet at the SEC spring meetings asking those coaches who supported the proposal to sign it, and he got six others to do so.

“Hopefully, there’s a way to get our guys who play football a little piece of the pie,” Spurrier said. “They’re the performers. They bring in all the money.”

Spurrier’s idea, which even he admitted would probably never fly, was to give each scholarship player $300 for every game. That way, the player could take his girlfriend out for dinner on Sunday night or maybe help his parents with travel to and from games.

One thing to keep in mind is that college football players don’t have time to work, certainly not during the season and really no time when you consider all the offseason training (voluntary and mandatory) that is required to perform at a high level.

Obviously, they’re forbidden under NCAA rules to make any extra money by selling their game jerseys or any other team memorabilia, but we don’t have to look far to find a player who’s been forced to miss games for doing just that.

Former Georgia star receiver A.J. Green missed the first four games last season after selling one of his jerseys to make money for a spring break trip, and the Bulldogs wound up losing three of the four games he missed.

Coaches across the SEC feel like players wouldn’t be as tempted to break rules if they were receiving some extra money each month to help with expenses.

The reality, though, is that sweetening the pot for college athletes and going to full cost of attendance is never going to put the clamps on all cheating.

Not in the SEC or anywhere else, for that matter.

Here’s the other thing: Players are well aware of what big business SEC football has become and the astronomical figures CBS and ESPN are shelling out to televise their games. They see the replicas of their game jerseys being worn by fans all across campus every Saturday. They see what many of the schools are charging just for the right to buy season tickets.

As the dollar figures continue to soar, rest assured that you’re going to hear more and more football players in the SEC openly voicing their beliefs that they deserve a lot more than just a grant-in-aid.

Spurrier agrees. He says the scholarship model has become obsolete.

“Fifty years ago, there wasn’t any money, and the players got full scholarships,” he said. “Today, they’re still getting full scholarships, and the money’s in the millions.

“We need to give more to our players.”