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July 23, 2013The two-day ACC Kickoff media event in Greensboro allowed the media to once again come together to ask the ACC's finest a bevy of questions on any number of topics.
Syracuse and Pittsburgh officially join the ACC party this year, Notre Dame will soon join in a unique role that many thought the ACC would never go for and the long-term effect of concussions was brought up as it pertains to the future of today's student-athletes.
But maybe the most consistent topic that has always been around and will continue to gain momentum in the wake of new courtroom battles is the idea of giving college athletes a bigger slice of the ever-growing NCAA revenue pie.
The questioning began during ACC Commissioner John Swofford's opening address to kick off the event and specifically as it relates to the SEC's shaking and moving in recent weeks.
The SEC held its preseason media festivities
last week where SEC Commissioner Mike Slive further cracked open the discussion and made it known that their league is aggressively pursuing a different mindset about how their athletes might be compensated.
All 14 SEC coaches voted in favor of giving their football players somewhere in the ballpark of a $300 per month stipend that extends beyond covering the normal costs of tuition, books and housing, allowing for schools to cover the full cost of attendance.
Despite the SEC's stance, the NCAA isn't quite ready to let them move forward without first passing legislation that would dramatically shift the landscape of college athletics.
"Moving forward, there are important questions that need to be answered," Slive said. "For example, what changes need to be made to the NCAA structure to provide significant roles for the stakeholders, the presidents, chancellors, athletic directors, institutional administrators, conference administrators and coaches? What is the proper role, function and composition and size of the NCAA board of directors?
"Do we need all of the services provided by the NCAA's national office, its many committees and task forces, or are some of these services better provided elsewhere? And how do we streamline the NCAA committee and legislative processes to provide leaders and visionaries who will ensure the NCAA's future?"
Swofford isn't necessarily sitting on the opposite side of the fence from Slive but did make it know that he isn't in favor of plunging ahead and putting athletes on the collegiate payroll.
At the same time, he did admit that a meaningful discussion about changing the way the system works for players should and probably will happen.
How far into the future those types of changes might be made remains to be seen but for those that have griped about this issue for years, it's a welcome sign that times might be changing.
"That approach, no. The whole idea of trying to enhance the financial well-being of student-athletes on scholarship is on our radar," said Swofford. "We've been talking about this nationally for several years now without finding something that works, that agrees with enough people that works. And I think part of that is because it's more complicated than first meets the eye.
"Some of it is the difference in financial capability that programs have in the NCAA, and the tremendous range of financial capability that programs have. Some of it is process. I'm not sure in the early goings of those discussions, not enough people were engaged in that process. When you're trying to gain something of that magnitude, you've got to have 'buy in,' and one of the ways to have 'buy in' is include people in the process. That wasn't handled the way it could have been."
Again, Swofford reiterated that while he's in charge athletes representing universities won't become full-on professionals. But he's not looking to hang them out to dry either.
The biggest hang-up's in compensating student-athletes is determining how much to pay, who to give it to and what should be taken into consideration when doling about money to the players.
"I'm not for paying players. I don't think that's what college athletics is about. But I am for looking diligently at ways to enhance the scholarship itself, whether it's need-based, a stipend, or some other way to approach it," said Swofford. "Whether it's going to the 'full cost of attendance' stipend. But you've got to be able to find something that enough people can accept and digest to move it forward. And so far we have not been able to do that.
"If we're going to enhance the financial well-being of students, it's hard from a legal standpoint to look at it in terms of sport. Should it be based just on need? Some people are supportive of enhancing the scholarship if it's based on need."
UNC defensive end Kareem Martin addressed the subject during his interview session with the media and probably speaks for a large segment of student-athletes who would welcome changes with open arms.
"You know, it's tough as an athlete because it's almost a full-time job. You have to juggle class and you're sports so it's definitely tough as opposed to a regular student who might only have to worry about their classes," said Martin. "It's hard to find a job as an athlete because of the hours you have to put in your sport and academics, you have to sleep at some point in time. For some guys that may not qualify for a Pell Grant, if their parents decided not to give them any money they might not have any money in their pocket except for a meal check which is used for food, outside of a scholarship. So I feel like in some situations some players should be granted a stipend because of the opportunities that we don't get to have like regular students such as jobs and things like that."
From an athlete's point-of-view, it's hard to turn on the television and hear about the mult-billion dollar TV contracts being discussed and not feel a little left out of the action.
While Martin acknowledged that a scholarship has immense value, he's not sure student-athletes shouldn't be held in a different light than the rest of the student-body population.
"I feel you pay for your schooling but we do more than just go to school. It's like working at your job for free. You wouldn't want to work for free, right? So I feel like a stipend is something that eventually will be brought into college football," said Martin. "Even though we aren't professional athletes we also aren't just high school players playing a sport that aren't raising any money. I think the amount of revenue that's being generated for each institution players should get a stipend from it.
"I think because of television contracts and how big college football has gotten monetarily that the conversation is being brought up even more. Probably twenty years ago, money was always being made through merchandising, but the TV contracts have definitely elevated that conversation and the impact of bowl games--institutions are getting money from different places--that the conversation is becoming more prevalent and it's looking better for the players that they should get it based off what they're doing for their schools."
No matter what the NCAA and the conferences ultimately decide is the best way to make sure players are fairly compensated going forward, Martin says that whoever makes the first move will set a trend that other conferences will have to keep pace with-or be left to pick-up what's left of the talent pool.
"Definitely. When you see that schools are making millions of dollars of you playing, ticket sales and merchandise, you definitely think 'why are we as players not getting a stipend at least'. But I guess people think a scholarship is enough you know?" said Martin. "It's definitely encouraging. I won't be effected by it but hopefully guys that come in the future will be able to receive those stipends. I know once one conference gets on the ball every other conference is going to follow suit just for recruiting purposes. I think it's exciting for future players coming into school because it will be less of a struggle that some student-athletes go through."
The NCAA is currently embroiled in a lawsuit brought on by former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon. The lawsuit has already been a contributing factor in the NCAA's decision to not re-new a licensing agreement with video game studio EA Sports for their annual NCAA Football franchise and could force their hand on a number of other issues that will play out in due time.
Commissioner Swofford elected to briefly comment on the lawsuit without going into his specific opinion on it since it is an ongoing process.
"I really find it impossible to answer that question at this point in time. It's in litigation. Nobody knows where that will ultimately end up. That's more for the NCAA to speak to at this point in time. Obviously it could have tremendous implications, but nobody knows where it's going to end up," said Swofford. "It's something we're going to have to watch. If it does change the world as we know it, then we've got to have enough sense to respond to it in a way that is positive and is good for college athletics."