HOUSTON — NCAA President Mark Emmert said Thursday that university leaders across the country are “adamant” about never allowing student to be paid for playing and disputed the suggestion that adding up to $2,000 to athletic scholarships is a move in that direction.
Emmert spoke Thursday to the Houston Economic Club, a week after the Division I Board of Directors approved a set of sweeping reforms. The move included an option for conferences to add up to $2,000 annually to athletic scholarships.
Critics viewed the stipend of spending money as the first step toward eventually paying students to compete. Emmert said the money is simply meant to close the gap between a scholarship – which only covers tuition, room and board and books – and the “full cost of attendance,” which includes other miscellaneous expenses incurred by athletes who travel during their seasons.
The $2,000 was a “compromise” among board members, Emmert said. Some thought the total amount should have been higher, but Emmert said the board wanted to settle on a reasonable amount it felt all schools would be able to afford.
“It could’ve been higher, it could’ve been lower,” he said. “But that was the number that everyone agreed was a good place to be.”
Emmert says the stipend bears no comparison to offering a salary to a student-athlete, essentially making him or her a paid employee of the university.
“We’re still supporting them as students, not as somebody we’re paying to play a game,” said Emmert, a former president at the University of Washington. “When you move from that model to a model where the students who play the games are paid, well now you don’t have student athletics anymore. We already have that. That’s the NFL and the NBA and Major League Baseball.
“Everyone in intercollegiate athletics among the leadership is completely adamant about that issue,” he said. “I know there’s a lot of debate out there for pay for play, but that’s not even open for discussion. It’s so antithetical to what college athletics is.”
Aside from the philosophical conflict, Emmert said another fundamental flaw with the “pay for play” idea is how to implement it.
“Who would set the pay?” he said. “Would it be the same for all players? Would it be the same for all sports? Does the volleyball team get paid? Do women athletes get paid? Does a starting quarterback get paid more than the third-string offensive lineman? Is the pay the same for every school across the country?
“We are the only nation that has intercollegiate athletics,” Emmert said. “It’s a uniquely American tradition. Turning them into professional athletes is not the solution to the challenges we face right now.”
Emmert took over the NCAA in November 2010, and the agency has confronted a rash of major scandals over the past year, most notably involving the football programs at Ohio State and Miami.
More than a dozen Buckeyes have been suspended for a series of violations, most of them involving improper benefits linked to a tattoo parlor. Jim Tressel was forced to resigned as coach, and the school offered to vacate its 12-1 record from 2010.
Ohio State is awaiting word from the NCAA regarding its final sanctions, and Emmert would not say when those might be announced.
“It’d be inappropriate for me to speculate,” he said.
Emmert says the NCAA is still gathering information in the Miami case, where more than 70 players allegedly received extra benefits provided by former booster and convicted Ponzi scheme architect Nevin Shapiro. Major sanctions are expected when the investigation, spurred by a Yahoo Sports expose, is completed.
“The Miami case is not there yet,” Emmert said. “We’re still working with the university to get as many facts as we can. The University of Miami has been very cooperative, and we’re pleased about that.”
Emmert also took over the agency amid the first waves of conference realignment. He said schools should reserve the right to choose their leagues, but he’s concerned with how the shifts will affect the student-athletes.
While Texas A&M’s move from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference won’t add much mileage to Aggies’ road trips, the Big East is talking about adding Boise State, Navy and Air Force for football only and SMU, Houston and Central Florida for all sports.
And that could create some very disruptive long-distance travel, Emmert said.
“If you’re flying them halfway across the country to play a mid-week volleyball game and they’ve got to be back in class the next day at 9 o’clock, what’s the reality of that?” Emmert said. “What are the realities of the cost of flying teams all over the country, and does that eliminate any economic advantage of being a part of that conference?”
Emmert also questions what’s motivating some schools to make their moves.
“Are they making the decisions because they’ve got good information because of what’s really going on?” he said, “or are they doing it out of fear and reactiveness and concern about what may happen somewhere else rather than what’s really going on?
“As long as the process is thoughtful, deliberative and keeps focus on student-athletes, how they’re being affected, then they can do what they want to do,” he said. “My job is to look at intercollegiate athletics as a whole and remind them that they need to be attentive to those things.”