Chat with NCAA VP Bob Williams
Welcome to SportsNation! On Tuesday, we'll be chatting with the NCAA VP of Communications Bob Williams as this week we discuss the issue of paying college student-athletes.
Williams has served the NCAA since 2005, having just taken over his latest role in December. Prior to becoming the VP of communications, Williams was the managing director of public and media relations for the NCAA.
The NCAA was Williams' first job following a 25-year career in the U.S. Air Force, where he managed public affairs in a variety of capacities and retired as a colonel. His last position in the Air Force was director of public affairs for Air Combat Command, leading a team of 54 communication professionals to develop global communications strategies.
Send your questions now and join Williams Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. ET!
Buzzmaster (1:21 PM)
NCAA VP of Communications Bob Williams will be here at 1:30 p.m. ET to take your questions!
Buzzmaster (1:31 PM)
Bob is here!
Brenton (clover, sc)
please be honest. what are your thoughts on college athletes being paid, and is there any discussions in the hierarchy of the ncaa about possibly coming up with a system. if it helps, i think its ridiculous for athletes to ask for money, they get a free education. also i think it stupid for the ncaa to punish kids for selling their hard earned awards or what not. thanks a bunch
Bob Williams (1:33 PM)
Well, Brenton, there really are no plans on paying student-athletes. The main reason why is because they are just that, student-athletes and not employees of the institutions. There are discussions about what is appropriate about the financial help that we can give to them. We have talked about the Full Cost of Attendance, and that's about coming up with the 3,000-4,000 dollar difference between the scholarship and the actual cost of going to a school. The full cost is room and board, books and fees, transportations. There are discussions about the appropriate level of covering the costs of going to an institution.
Why is athletics the only field in which a student is forbidden from making money or receiving any sort of benefit beyond a scholarship? Students of every other professional discipline can receive payment for their skills while still in college, but if an athlete does it, their career can come to an end. Why can't something as modest as Steve Spurrier's "300 dollars a game" proposal be made a reality?
Bob Williams (1:35 PM)
Well, Colton, I think you've really kind of highlighted the difference. Student-athletes who participate are not in a professional endeavor. The way in which intercollegiate athletics is organized is it's an amateur endeavor, which means that those who participate are not professionals and are not paid.
Bob Williams (1:35 PM)
The way to look at it, when you refer to other professional disciplines, those individuals are essentially training, if you will, by and large, the vast majority, to be a professional in a field. In athletics, many of them won't be a professsional in that sport.
Cheesehead Sports Nut (Chicago, IL)
Instead of directly paying college athletes while they are in college why not put any money the colleges get from selling each player's specific jersey into an escrow fund. If the player complies with all NCAA rules while they are in school they get a percentage of the revenue from their jersey sales when they leave. I understand that would not help a ton of players besides the big names on the basketball and football teams but at least it puts a carrot out there for players that are the most susceptible to bribes to comply with all NCAA rules right?
Bob Williams (1:38 PM)
That idea has been tossed around on occasion by primarily members of the media and others. I think you have to remember whose jersey it really is. The school name, the colors, that's really the school's and the instituion's property. It's hard to say that the student-athlete "owns" that jersey or it's his jersey. But that intellectual property is owned by the institution. There are very few student-athletes who really generate income for their universities based on the sale of a jersey. You'd have to balance that, if you're a scholarship athlete, with what the school is giving you. If it's a private school, that could amount to a couple hundred thousand dollars.
Bob, I think one of the things I hear most when discussions of college athletics comes up is that the schools, the coaches, even the NCAA, benefit monetarily somehow from college athletics. However, the players do not. What does the NCAA say to these kinds of discussions, when people and fans talk about everyone but the athletes making money off of college sports?
Bob Williams (1:41 PM)
Well, Pete, I think that you have to take a step back and look at the entire situation. To say that student-athletes don't gain anything by participating is a gross mischaracterization. If you are a scholarship athlete, it's something that pays you back lifelong dividends. Obviously, there are individuals that make a living in college athletics. They are professionals. That's what they do. The participants are not professionals. They are amateurs. I think also there is a big misperception out there in generating revenue and what happens to it. Here at the NCAA, 96% of the revenue that we generate is either giving back to the universities or in other ways. It's not like the student-athlete doesn't gain at all by it. The student-athlete is the benefactor of 96 cents of every dollar we generate.
Bob Williams (1:43 PM)
There is a lot of focus on the revenue that's generated primarily by basketball and football, but you have to keep in mind that there are hundreds of thousands of athletes that participant in nonrevenue generating sports. In order for those students to participate, the money needs to come from somewhere. Just like in other parts of the university where certain schools generate more revenue than others that help those other areas of study. So, by buying a football ticket you are giving money to the soccer team, the track team, etc. Otherwise, those opportunities wouldn't be available.
Has any of these recent scandals involving members of the NCAA opened up any internal talks on the subject of paying student-athletes?
Bob Williams (1:44 PM)
I don't really agree with the premise that if you are able to pay a student-athlete a stipend that there wouldn't be any other issues out there from a financial standpoint. If you look at some of the more high profile cases out there, many of them involve things that aren't related to payment. I think that you really have to look at this from the standpoint of making it clear that there are certain rules and expectations of student-athletes and ensuring that everyone involved adheres to those rules. I don't think that simply paying a student-athlete will have an impact.
Bob, what's been more heated in your career: working in the U.S. Air Force or taking questions on paying student-athletes while with the NCAA, which I'm assuming you've gotten at other times than just here in this chat?
Bob Williams (1:45 PM)
Well Kyle, you've asked a great question and I sometimes ask myself the same thing. Suffice it to say that I say that those who follow college athletics tend to be more emotional than those that followed the military.
What are your thoughts on Jay Bilas' "Olympic model" where student athletes are free to capitalize on their notoriety outside of the institution. Olympic athletes have accepted sponsorships for years without compromising the concept of amateurism or the integrity of their sports. Why couldn't college athletes do the same?
Bob Williams (1:48 PM)
Matt, clearly that's a model that worked for the Olympics. I think the situation is vastly different for college sports. Essentially, in college sports, we're looking at very few sports and very few individuals who would even be able to do that. In college sports, you have to worry about competitive equity, not one school or one program having an advantage over another on what they're allowed to do. I think the situation is different. If you say to someone, we're going to offer you a four-year scholarship that will cover your room and board, fees, tuition, etc. and the main thing you do in return is you don't take any outside money, most are going to say that's a pretty good deal. Although the Olympic model may have worked, but the thing you need to keep in mind is by and large, those athletes are not college students. They are persuing other interests. It is different.
how does the NCAA regulate how much schools value their scholarships? Is it possible that some schools could be overvaluing what they give to students currently?
Bob Williams (1:50 PM)
Well, Carl, what we do is we rely on the formula and the facts and figures reported by the goverment. There is an acceptable and transparent list of costs by the university and that doesn't change if you're an athlete or a music student. We rely on the date reported by the federal government.
Chris (Fullerton, CA)
What are the rules right now for scholarship student athletes having a job and if its limited how do you deal with a kid coming from the inner city and living in a place like Westwood where evrything is expensive?
Bob Williams (1:52 PM)
Student-athletes can hold jobs. The employment has to be legtimiate employment. You have to do work to get a paycheck. It's not like they can't have jobs, but their payment has to be for the work they do and align with whatever a potential employed would pay a non student-athlete. In terms of those students who come from economic tough backgrounds, we have a fund, the Student-Athlete Opportunity fund. There is about $45 million in that fund and it's dispersed to student-athletes who have disadvantages: buy a plane ticket home, buy a computer. Those funds are available and all an athlete has to do is request those funds through their conference.
Bob, this whole paying student-athletes has to just be a headache to think about, doesn't it? There are so many different angles to think about - who do you pay, how much, do certain athletes get more than others, etc. - that if there were a system put in place that there is no way you'd ever be able to please everyone?
Bob Williams (1:54 PM)
Well, Kevin, I think you've hit the nail on the head. It's not as easy as everyone thinks. You can't pay some student-athletes and not others. You can't entertain a model where you pay more than others. There's the Title IX factor, and you'd have to pay the male and female student athletes the same rate. Then how do you pay for it. I would imagine that no matter what model we came up with, someone wouldn't like it and someone would try to sue us.
Bob Williams (1:57 PM)
I really appreciate the questions. It was really a thoughtful exchange. We are looking at ways how we might be able to close the gap between what our current scholarship covers and the full cost of attendance. That's a debate going on now within our membership and hopefully we'll be able to address it in some form. The important thing to keep in mind is the student-athletes are just that, they're not professionals and they're not employees. There's nothing wrong with that. If someone wants to make money off of their sports, there are avenues to do that. But with college athletics, it has education as the primary focus. In both basketball and football, less than 2% of those who participate ever go to the professional leagues. The real focus needs to be on them in the classroom and that's what we're focused on.