Is Jay Paterno the sole voice of reason still talking?
Paterno, a Penn State assistant football coach and the son of coaching icon Joe Paterno, burst on to the commentary scene a month ago with an essay that linked college athletics with higher education. It was actually filled with mainstream, traditional observations about college sports, but the overall media discussion about amateurism has gotten so aggressive that Paterno’s positions now may be regarded as somewhat contrarian.
More recently, he participated in a panel discussion on The Daily about compensating student-athletes. The flavor du jour among pundits is that student-athletes should be compensated, but not with institutional funds. So, this question was put to the group:
The Daily: “What if we just allowed a complete free market? What if T. Boone Pickens, who has given hundreds of millions of dollars to his alma mater, Oklahoma State (hence Boone Pickens Stadium), could spread some of that cash around to players?”
Jay Paterno: “That’s when you get into a very dangerous situation. Who is really calling the shots in terms of your program now? The head coach may want these five guys, but T. Boone Pickens walks in and says, ‘I don’t give a damn. I’m going to buy this quarterback, and he’s a five-star on Rivals.’ Even though the head coach evaluated him and … what you get yourself is a team owner. And the team owner isn’t going to really give a damn if you graduate your kids. He’s going to want to be sitting in University of Phoenix Stadium when they’re playing for the national championship. He’s not going to care if you graduate 30 percent of your guys or 80 percent of your guys.”
Sounds right to me.
The notion of outside compensation is seductive, but it is surely more complicated than many sportswriters seem to believe. Writing Tuesday in SI.com, Michael Rosenberg offered this: “(The) NCAA Manual devotes 16 pages to amateurism. We can cut it down to one, with one principle: Athletes may not be paid directly with university funds. That’s it. One rule. There is your ‘amateurism.’ This way, universities can spend their booster donations, TV money and sponsorship dollars subsidizing facilities, staff, operating costs and athletic scholarships. College athletics will continue to thrive across dozens of sports. But those who can cash in on their fame and success will be able to do it. If a wealthy South Carolina alum wants to give $50,000 a year to every Gamecock, he can do it.”
What if that alum is a known gambler? What if he owns the local strip club and wants the kid to promote wet T-shirt night? What if a kid strikes a deal with adidas at a Nike school? How about a local gym where steroids are known to be readily accessible? Would that be an acceptable endorsement?
The Bylaw Blog’s John Infante, participating in the same panel discussion with Paterno, seemed to recognize the pitfalls of such an approach, even if he did endorse a pay-for-play model: “I would allow college athletes to earn outside income related to athletics, but with a lot of restrictions. I would still prohibit loans or payments from boosters or agents, so it would have to be legitimate commercial endorsements.”
He even added the possibility of correlating pay to $1,000 times a student-athlete’s grade-point average. My take: Paying your kid for good grades is a bad idea; the same goes for student-athletes.
Let’s go back to Jay Paterno, my lone voice of reason in a summer full of hubbub: “Ultimately what we have to keep in focus is, whether we want to or not, and whether it sounds idealistic or not, the whole idea of college football is that we are part of the university. Where you lose the argument about these guys getting used or not being paid is that you don’t take into account the value of the education. A kid like (Stanford’s) Andrew Luck, he’s getting a $70,000 per year education and the NCAA has limited his football time to 600 hours a year. You do the math, that’s over $100 an hour. Pretty good deal.”
So it is.