INDIANAPOLIS - NCAA President Mark Emmert doesn’t believe colleges should pay athletes, and he wants university leaders to help him.
On Monday, Emmert announced he would hold a two-day retreat with about 50 school presidents or chancellors to discuss the future of Division I sports. The meeting is scheduled for Aug. 9-10.
Among topics on tshe agenda are how to maintain the governing body’s policy on amateurism, a definition that allows schools to restrict how athletes are compensated for playing sports. That’s not all Emmert wants to talk about.
“How do we look at issues around the integrity of the collegiate model? Is there a sense that we need stronger investigative tools? Is there a sense that we need a more understood and more comprehensive penalty structure?” Emmert said in a statement. “How do we look at the embedding of athletics in a way that sends clear messages to institutions before student-athletes even arrive on campus that there is an expectation of academic success?”
But it’s the pay-for-play issue that will certainly get the most attention.
It has been debated publicly for decades, and has gained fresh traction in the wake of high-profile infractions cases including that of reigning Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton and former Heisman winner Reggie Bush.
The ramifications have been felt at some of the nation’s most prominent programs.
At Ohio State, school officials are dealing with the departure of football coach Jim Tressel and star quarterback Terrelle Pryor amid an NCAA investigation into players trading memorabilia for cash and discounted tattoos. Ohio State is scheduled to appear in front of the infractions committee Aug. 12, two days after Emmert’s retreat ends.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany brought up the issue paying athletes at recent spring meetings, though a formal proposal for NCAA membership consideration could still be several years away. Athletic scholarships currently cover tuition, fees, room, board and books. Not covered are transportation, clothing, laundry, entertainment and incidentals.
Purdue basketball coach Matt Painter does not believe the solution is simply giving athletes cash.
“Just handing them money so they can get new Timberlands or whatever, I don’t think that’s right,” Painter said. “I don’t want to lose the amateurism. They are getting their education paid for, and a lot of people say that’s what the NBA is for. If you want to get paid, go to the NBA.”
That’s Emmert’s position, too.
In May, when the NCAA conducted a mock infractions hearing for reporters, he questioned whether paying athletes was even economically viable. Title IX legislation, Emmert noted, would mean women’s athletes would have to be paid on par with men’s.
Emmert also questioned whether a school would pay a starting quarterback more than a kicker or a backup quarterback, then ended by saying this: “There is a model for that: It’s called professional sports, and I love them. But that’s not what college sports is about.”
While many have argued publicly for compensating players for the large amounts of money that schools, conferences and the NCAA are making - particularly in football and men’s basketball - some coaches agree with Emmert.
Former Bowling Green and Indiana coach Dan Dakich, now a radio host in Indianapolis, told his audience recently that if athletes didn’t have enough money to eat out, the coaching staff was not doing it’s job.
Painter suggested the same thing.
“If you do need some assistance, you have your Pell Grants, and there’s up to $4,000 in the Pell Grant,” Painter said. “That’s not just for a basketball player, that’s for any student. Then you have an emergency fund through the NCAA that they can use if they need to go home and somebody’s sick and they don’t have any money. They can get some money there, too.”
To Emmert, the pay-for-play topic is just one part of the retreat.
He wants university leaders to discuss how the governing body can continue its push to hold athletes to better academic standards, what can be done to help improve the behavior of athletes, protecting the integrity of college sports and the fiscal sustainability of athletic departments that routinely spend tens of millions of dollars to fund sports.
The feedback, Emmert said, will help him determine where to focus his efforts in Division I sports.
“This retreat in August is a chance for me to share with my presidential colleagues what I have heard regarding the issues and some of my thoughts on how we might address them,” he said. “Second, I want to hear from the presidents themselves on what they see the future direction should be.”