Jim Boeheim, the highest-paid employee at Syracuse University, clumsily attempted to tackle the topic of paying college athletes – sorry, student athletes – last week at an Associated Press symposium. Boehim, who made $1.9 million last season, was asked about the view that college athletes, who generate billions of dollars for universities, should be compensated something more than just their scholarship.
“That’s really the most idiotic suggestion of all time,” said Boeheim, who turns 69-years old next month. Typical Boeheim – hit ’em with the hyperbole! Then, he made the mistake of actually bringing up numbers.
“People say that they should be getting compensated because there’s 30,000 people in the Dome. That money all goes to pay for basketball, pays for field hockey, pays for volleyball, pays for soccer. We make no money at Syracuse University in the athletic department. Zero. We’re lucky if we break even at the end of the year. The only reason we break even is because we’re subsidized in some way for scholarships and we use fund raisers. Our basketball program might make 12 or 14 million (dollars) but it all goes to pay for the other sports. The women’s basketball program has the same budget I have. Exact same budget. So who pays for that? We do. Who pays for men’s lacrosse? They pay for some of their own. Who pays for track and field? We do. So all that money that we make, it’s not coming to basketball. A lot of you said, ‘Well, coaches make a lot of money.’ Yeah coaches make a lot of money. It’s a big business. It’s a $16 million business for Syracuse University and college basketball.”
Talk about contradictions! [Capacity at the Carrier Dome is over 49,000.] Where to begin? How about here: Why do so many administrators (looking at you, Jim Delany), athletic directors, and even coaches (that means you, $5 million man Bob Stoops) attempt to change the subject away from the lingering, punishing question: How can we funnel some of the money from this billion dollar industry to the athletes who, you know, are the reason everyone else is getting paid?
“Jim and I have been friends for a long time … but nobody is saying, ‘Hey Boeheim, maybe you’re going to have to make a little less to preserve the other sports,'” ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas told me this week. “We set up this structure so college basketball and football pay for everything. This structure is the barrier for providing more to the players. It is intentional that it’s being made into an all-or-nothing thing.”
Take Jim Delany, the Big Ten commissioner. Instead of actually addressing the issue of paying players – a battle he knows he can’t win – he attempted to change the discussion: “Why is it our job to be minor leagues for professional sports? Forget about talking about the issue, if you want to fight us, just go play professionally!
Thankfully, not all coaches fall in line with Boeheim, a man who was profiled in 1996 by Sports Illustrated and was described as having the look of “the know-it-all captain of the debate team.” One day after Boeheim’s comments, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski – who cleared nearly $10 million in 2011 – spoke at a Country Club in North Carolina and hinted at the opposite: “There are things that we haven’t kept up with over the last couple of decades as far as adapting to the current. Like coming up with a new definition for amateurism. It’s kind of like General Motors and the car industry. You gave a lot at one time when it looked good, no one changed anything, and all of the sudden it’s not so good.”
“The NCAA is a byproduct of an obsolete time,” said Sonny Vaccaro, from Palm Springs, California this week. “Nowhere in their rulebook has it been designed to allow the athlete to have a say … they are the Wizard of Oz. You take the curtain away … they make up their own rules.” Vaccaro, best known for signing Michael Jordan to a Nike contract in 1984, has been described as a “one-man rebellion” in his battles against the NCAA.
The NCAA/General Motors analogy from Coach K flew in the face of Boeheim’s gallant crusade to keep money away from college athletes. The discussion has been ongoing for a few years now, and Kentucky coach John Calipari disagrees with Boeheim, too – two years ago, he proposed a grand plan to eliminate the NCAA altogether en route to shifting some of the money to the athletes.
You can sense Rome is crumbling. Shamateurism could be coming to an end before this decade is over.
“I think more [coaches] are on the side of, ‘we should do more for the players,” Bilas added. “Football coaches are control freaks. They want control over everything. Providing an athlete with more means less control. I think more basketball coaches would be of the mindset that we can and should do more for the players. We should be able to provide them with more.”
Jim Boeheim gets a 33 percent raise; yet he goes and tells the student athletes to apply for Pell Grants. He talks about how the NCAA couldn’t push through a $150 a month stipend. Never mind a study from Drexel University determined this:
Looking at the nation’s Top 10 programs in each sport, the compensation would be much greater. In football, the average player would have earned $418,768 in 2011-12 and $1,581,722 over a four-year career (average scholarship “value” is $23,325 per year). In college basketball, players at the Top 10 programs would have earned $901,763 in 2011-12 and $3,501204 over four years (average scholarship: $26,642).
Don’t want to “pay” the players? Fine. There are options. Bilas has proposed some form of the Olympic model. Jay Williams, a former Duke point guard and current college basketball analyst, suggests setting aside money in an escrow account, which goes to the player upon graduation. “I’d like to push the educational aspect to this,” he said this week. “For the kids who leave early for the NBA, they can return to school years later, get their degree, and collect that money.”
This is a malleable situation. Although many believe the subject will eventually break the NCAA, why can’t guys like Boeheim (and Duke’s David Cutcliffe) put aside their colossal egotism and sit down and listen to smart people talk about how the barriers can be removed and how this issue be resolved? Over the last 20 years, the NCAA has morphed into an $8 billion dollar industry. Changes must be made.
“Big time sports – especially football – is something the public wants, the alumni want, the endorser wants, everyone in the world wants,” Vaccaro said. “All that’s standing in the way is a solution to the problem. Figure it out. I hope that five years from now the athlete will have their own bill of rights … they have to have a say. There has to be a split. They’ve kept these kids under lock and key for too long. Just do the right thing here.”