The richest college football programs almost certainly will be allowed to spend more money on athletes once their national governing body rewrites rules in the coming months, according to a panel of sports administrators and marketers.
Paying players — from small stipends that supplement their scholarships, to savings accounts reimbursing them for use of their images — has played a big role in the call for rules changes in the last year.
It’s unlikely specific pay proposals will be resolved until the Indianapolis-based National Collegiate Athletic Association decides whether to create a new division for elite programs, adopt rules that allow smaller programs to opt-in if they can afford it, or some other governing structure, University of Notre Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick, a former Indianapolis sports attorney, said Tuesday.
“NCAA reform is going to come first,” Swarbrick said at the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit hosted in New York. “But I think on the heels of that, redefining core elements of the model will be the next thing on the agenda. This is the central issue in college athletics right now.”
NCAA President Mark Emmert two years ago proposed giving athletes a $2,000 stipend to help pay for living expenses not covered by scholarships. Some schools are now saying it should be as high as $4,000.
While the richer programs could afford the $500,000 to $1 million annual cost, many small programs couldn’t and voted it down. Emmert plans a summit of Division I schools in January to discuss athletic governance with hopes for making major changes within a year.
Swarbrick said athletic departments with different business models are all trying to play by the same rules and that approach isn’t working.
“On one end, there are schools that are fully integrated into the university, and on the other, it’s almost like licensing the university name,” he said. “In any business association, once members don’t have a common business model, you have enormous tension.”
Mike Aresco, commissioner of the American Athletic Conference, said he’s concerned his conference may get left out if a new division of elite programs is formed. The American Athletic was formed from remnants of the Big East after that conference’s smaller basketball members broke away.
“We are not the SEC or Big Ten,” he said. “We have to make sure that if there is another division, people are permitted to be in that division that share the goals, financial resources and are committed to being at that level. We don’t want exclusion.”
Ben Sutton, president of IMG College, said that once the NCAA resolves its governance issues, the pay-for-play discussion will go far beyond football.
“If you pay players, you are not going to pick out the star quarterback and pay him,” Sutton said. “You are going to pay the field hockey player, too. There is no way the government won’t get involved if you don’t pay across the board.”
Aresco said a pay-model could evolve into star players asking for more than their teammates and eventually dip into high school sports.
“It’s a slippery slope,” he said. “You are getting into workers comp, lawyers, etc. I think the collegiate model has served the country very well. I don’t think we’d be a better country without women’s sports, Title IX, Olympic sports. A wide variety of students benefit from this.”