When Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was cited for shoplifting crab legs from a Tallahassee supermarket last month, it elicited plenty of face-palms from Seminole fans. Winston wasn’t arrested for the incident; he merely received an adult civil citation and was required to complete some community service. But the defending Heisman trophy winner and national champion admitted that he has a spotlight on him as such a high-profile athlete and must use better judgment in the future.
While no one would disagree that what Winston did was wrong, the incident brought one of the most contentious issues in sports back into the national spotlight. Maybe $32.72 worth of shellfish is a little much for a college kid to feel entitled to, but why should NCAA athletes essentially working a full-time job for a multi-million dollar industry ever feel like they can’t afford food?
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany sat down last week to discuss the issue of athlete compensation on the Pac-12 Network’s program "Pac-12 Presents: Inside College Football." The program was aired Friday, May 23. Both maintain that student-athletes should remain just that, student-athletes and not professional athletes. However, they also support a proposed NCAA legislation that will allow schools to provide a "full cost of attendance" stipend beyond what a full-ride scholarship covers today.
This certainly isn’t the first time this issue has come up. University of Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman told Sports Illustrated in March of 2012 when the issue was being debated by the NCAA that there are plenty of necessary expenses in the average day of a student not covered by an NCAA scholarship. While the NCAA officially defines a full-ride as scholarship that covers "tuition and fees, room and board, and required course-related books," that leaves out a lot of things like laundry, clothing or traveling back and forth between campus and an athlete’s home over winter or summer breaks.
"Room and board" includes both housing and a meal plan for athletes. While these meal plans used to be fixed amount of food, the NCAA just approved the new rule that schools can provide unlimited meals and snacks to athletes. Nonetheless, non-dining expenses still add up for athletes.
Perlman estimated that at Nebraska, an NCAA scholarship would cover the $19,848 in tuition and fees, $8,196 for room and board and $1,020 for books and supplies, which adds up to a total of $29,064. However, that leaves out another $3,422 of estimated uncovered expenses.
"I think we should go farther than $2,000," Perlman said of a possible stipend. "I think the NCAA ought to allow us to give up to the cost of attendance, whatever it is. It depends on where you live, and how high-cost your institution is. For me, the line is we don't pay student-athletes to participate. We don't give them a wage. They're not employees. This is college. If they want to get a wage for doing it, they should go to the pros. But the cost of attendance, which is calculated by the institution for every student, creates that line."
Delany echoed Perlman’s concerns that while costs of living may vary between different colleges, compensation should never exceed the full cost of attending.
"There’s a different cost to go to school at Michigan State than maybe Stanford than maybe Duke or North Carolina," Delany said. "If it costs ‘X’ to go to Stanford, that’s what it costs, and we’re not going to be able to have artificial limits about that. I guess my bottom line is students should receive what it costs to go to college. Anything more than that constitutes pay for play."
The revenue inside of college sports is growing significantly. Participating conferences are signing massive media rights deals with major networks in addition to creating their own networks in the case of both the Big Ten and the Pac-12.
Scott says that this revenue is being used to fund all the different sports sanctioned by the conferences.
"That revenue is being used to support, between our two conferences, 17,000 student-athletes across 35 different sports," Scott said of the Pac-12 and Big Ten. "That’s something we’re very proud of and is really core to the mission of our schools. We offer broad-based opportunity for participation in intercollegiate athletics because it’s a fundamental part and a great part of the overall academic mission."
While the existing revenue clearly is used for a variety of valuable programs, the question is where the increasing revenue should go. Some would argue that it should all go to the athletes who generate the growing revenue, or essentially pay for play. However, Scott and Delany both maintain that it should go towards all sports, including non-revenue sports, to help better support all student-athletes.
For smaller Division I schools in less prestigious conferences that aren’t signing huge new media contracts, the proposed legislation would represent an increasing cost of supporting athletes without an increase in revenue, unless a new revenue-sharing method better redistributed some of the money made by the network of big name conferences for the smaller ones.
Despite some opposition from those smaller schools, the idea seems to have enough support to eventually go through. The NCAA Board of Directors will vote on it later this summer.
"There’s a lot of momentum for change," Delany said.
So while the stipend may not cover Winston’s shellfish fetish, it certainly will help athletes focus on their schoolwork and athletic careers instead of making ends meet financially in college. And while the rule would clearly maintains NCAA student-athletes as amateurs, a thumbs up on the legislature from the Board of Directors would certainly seem to indicate that there’s a lot of momentum behind the movement to pay college athletes as professionals.