Billy Donovan and Tom Izzo bring pay-for-play discussion to the forefront
Never before has the topic of amateurism in college sports coursed so pervasively throughout the sports-watching community. It’s not just writers and intellectuals weighing in, but also fans and players, all of whom seem to believe the system is somehow unfair, or headed for change, or at the very least won’t survive the impending Ed O’Bannon lawsuit without some type of meaningful update.
Coaches are sharing their thoughts too, and in the past week, two of college basketball’s most prominent head men have spoken up about the changing athletic climate revenue-producing Division I athletes inhabit today. Florida coach Billy Donovan understands the apparent paradox baked into amateurism’s core philosophy. When athletic departments are guzzling at the fire hose of football and television-related revenue, and student-athletes receive nothing more than the thousands covering their room, board and tuition, a disconnect is not only obvious for outsiders. It’s difficult to reconcile even for the student-athletes, who for years accepted college sports’ wage-fixing mechanism as an ironclad part of the collegiate athletic experience.
“There is a feel by a lot of families that here you have these huge athletic departments, you have arenas, stadiums filled up and these kids are told, you can’t go out and you can’t take a free meal, you can’t take anything,” Donovan said. “A lot of times for those kids, I think it’s very difficult to swallow that.”
That quote comes from The Gainesville Sun, who recorded Donovan’s words while he spoke at the Capital City Area Gator Club last week.
At a different public speaking event in Birmingham on Monday – note to high-profile college basketball coaches who have agreed to speak in a public forum, it’s best to assume every word coming our of your mouth will not only be recorded and transcribed, but disseminated across the Internet and published in tomorrow’s paper – Michigan State’s Tom Izzo gave his opinion on a more specific issue related to player compensation in college sports: the $2,000 stipend NCAA president Mark Emmert proposed, but failed to garner the amount of votes required for passage. “I think something should be done, but I think it should be done for the right reasons,” Izzo said. “I like the theory of some type of stipend and if they graduate it, they get it. I don’t want it to be where some of the local stores, like Best Buy, gives a kid more money.”
Izzo also spoke about the transfer epidemic in college basketball, including the seeming disconnect wherein coaches are allowed to switch schools without penalty, but student-athletes must receive “permission to contact” before even reaching out to the schools they may be interested in transferring to – the range of which comes at the discretion of coaches, who typically limit potential destinations to a small list rarely inclusive of shared conference membership. Read the rest of Izzo’s thoughts from AL.com reporter Jon Solomon’s Monday article.
These comments are interesting in and of themselves, two of the game’s best coaches acknowledging the philosophical and practical hitched laced into college sports’ modern governing model. They also coincide with comments from Emmert, who while speaking at a forum at Marquette’s law school Monday (and expressly shooting down the idea of a “pay-for-play” professional-type model) said the NCAA could revisit the idea of a $2,000 stipend for student-athletes as early as spring 2014. When the stipend proposal was voted down in December, members expressed concerns about a potential escalation in costs – about how it would widen the gap between the so-called “haves,” who could afford paying their student-athletes an extra $2,000 for weekend meals and travel expenses, and the “have-nots,” who feared the inability to provide student-athletes the same reward would further diminish their ability to compete and recruit against wealthier schools. Others feared the disbandment of non-revenue producing sports. When 160 schools voted against implementation in December, they merely tabled the idea, much less eliminated it from future consideration, demanding more details before future reevaluation. Based on Emmert’s comments, meaningful discussions could resurface as early as next spring, but will that be too late? Will the organization settle with O’Bannon’s group of plaintiffs before then, to spare the possibility of a complete implosion while accepting modifications instead? Will college sports have changed so drastically before Emmert can readdress the issue? Maybe the most pressing question: Will Emmert still have his job six or eight months from now?
The summer was overrun by discussion – most notably involving conference commissioners at their leagues’ respective football media days – about seismic change to the NCAA’s organizational structure. The creation of a “Division IV” was a popularized notion, an idea centering around the separation of big conference schools into their own league, governed by rules better equipped to address the monetary and institutional realities of major conference athletics. Basically, bigger schools want to have the freedom to clear ideas like stipends for student-athletes without worrying about the possibility of small-conference programs voting them down. The timeline for change is unclear, but NCAA leaders are expected to discuss every possibility at the organization’s convention in January. Mass institutional construction, including everything from Division 4 to stipends, could be the next step.
This is where the climate Izzo and Donovan speak of has led us: to the brink of significant change. The system is so flawed, and so outdated, so as to be untenable – coaches like Donovan and Izzo are simply describing what’s been made painstakingly obvious as the problems intrinsic to college sport’s current governing model have become impossible to ignore. Izzo and Donovan recognize the disturbing realities, the nebulous future on the horizon, and are elevating the discussion, as only two esteemed championship-winning coaches can.