During yesterday’s local media press conference, Syracuse Orange head coach Dino Babers touched on the ongoing NCAA basketball pay-for-play scandal. Babers said he’d never been around a situation where players were getting paid. But also picked a side in the ongoing conversation around player compensation:
"... I was the first person in my family to go to college. I went to college on a football scholarship. It said student-athlete on it. For me, getting the opportunity to go to college that I would not have been able to go to, that I would not have been able to afford to go to, and get an undergraduate degree and a Master's degree out of it, based on what I did on the football field and as a graduate assistant coach, I think is more than enough. OK? For compensation based off what I did for the game and how it changed my life. There's my answer."
Dino appears pretty passionate about the issue, and his response mimics that of many other coaches with his experience. It’s also a reasonable human response. If you received XX amount for services rendered, and then it’s proposed later that someone can make more for the same exactly service (in this case playing football), that’s probably not going to sit well with anyone.
But the problem is that times change. And the business of college athletics changes significantly in a span of nearly 40 years. When Babers attended the University of Hawaii, the finances of college sports were far different than they are now. Just look at cable deals. Or the Ed O’Bannon ruling that did claim some value for player likenesses.
The latest proof point for players being worth more to colleges than just the raw value of a degree? How about the very pay-for-play scandal Babers was referencing on Monday.
With the help of apparel companies, schools were actively bidding for the services of recruits. Some of those offers were revealed to be in excess of $100,000.
Now, why would assistant coaches and apparel executives be willing to enter themselves into potential (actual, at this point) legal danger to offer these sums of money if players weren’t actually worth something?
Similarly, when you look at the totals for recent apparel deals (some of which equaling more than $10 million per year for schools), where do you think the value comes from? Is it the team logo? Or is it the quality of players wearing it?
Of course, it’s obvious where I stand on the matter.
Babers has reasons to believe that degrees are enough, and they’re entirely understandable. Between his own personal experience, and the fact that he’s a coach at a private school with a limited supply of football resources, it makes sense he’d be against any expanded compensation package. It makes his job infinitely harder at Syracuse.
But his reasons shouldn’t prevent players from receiving additional compensation. It doesn’t have to be in the form of a check. It can be a larger stipend for room and board, guaranteed graduate tuition, endorsement opportunities -- all chances for players to help enrich their lives and financial situations whether they play professional sports or not.
The pay-for-play scandal has an opportunity to reshape college athletics as we know it, potentially taking down the NCAA’s current model and replacing it with what may be a better one. One that fairly compensates players for the value they provide universities for on-the-field performance.
For now, Babers’s stance is a common one among coaches, and plenty of fans agree with it as well. But when the dust settles on Department of Justice’s basketball case, the environment may change entirely. That moment could not just alter Dino’s stance, but drastically affect Syracuse’s own way forward in college athletics too.