Pay for play? Here’s one coach’s take

Mike Clark, Bridgewater head coach, has plenty of Division III and Division I experience. He’s chaired the Division III football rules committee. He played at Cincinnati and was an assistant coach at Virginia Tech. So his take on one of the hot topics of the day in college athletics comes from experience on both sides.

Michael Clark
I am using this as a forum to get an opinion and information out relative to the “pay these players” ideas that have hit a lot of the national media outlets. Mind you I am not a Division I “hater” having played and coached for 14 years at that level. I am well aware of the differences in Saturday afternoon at Bridgewater vs. Blacksburg (I have coached at both) in the fall. BCS football does make millions of dollars for their respective programs, I believe there is some hidden guilt in the million-dollar coaches club, but the notion that Division I football players are unable to eat hamburgers or go on dates because of stretched finances needs to be looked at a bit closer.

It is a fact that both men’s football and basketball because of the demographic they deal with will deal with a higher level of needy students than men’s lacrosse or women’s soccer at the division I level. However, one issue that is never added to the discussion is that a need-based student who qualifies for Federal Pell Grant money receives that money in addition to being on a full scholarship. That scholarship includes tuition/fees/room-board/books and at BCS schools more “swag” (warm-ups, shirts, shoes, gear) that you could wear, give away, or sell (see Ohio State) in your time there. These grants could be as low as $555 per year (family of four with one child in college, income under $50,000) or up to $5,550 per year (family of four with one child in college, income under $20,000). To me a budgeted young man can go out a time or two on this stipend. Actually, it is our tax dollar that helps these kids with the incidentals involved in their college experience.

In addition, the NCAA itself provides need based opportunity grants to needy student athletes at any level to help them with some of the hidden, sudden, and necessary expenses involved with college. These grants involve paperwork, and it is usually the NCAA institutions at the higher levels that have administrative staff to focus on these that pull in the lion’s share of this money. Any student (scholarship or not) would be able to take out a Federal Stafford Loan up to $5,500.00 (interest deferred if you are poor) which could be used to cover total cost of education.

Think back about 6 years ago where legislation was passed allowing scholarship student athletes to work while being on scholarship. This was the financial problem solver then, but ask any ACC or SEC coach if they have kids working part-time during the school year and be prepared to get that “how stupid are you … yeah, right,” stare.

If a school abides by the mandatory time limits that the NCAA dictates on the activity of scholarship athletes, that job in itself pays anywhere from $26 to $52 per hour (out of state), according to a Penn State study. I have a nephew who co-ops as a fourth-year mechanical engineering student at Ohio State who wishes he earned that much.

Education is an investment in you and the college experience should be a springboard where some personal equity in it (even if that includes a loan) is not a bad thing. I do not deny any accountant could go to Virginia Tech and figure out that the football program makes millions and these players are a critical part of that. However, those millions support almost every other program that also involves a lot of scholarship athletes whose sports will never have revenue-generating potential. Think of the Title IX implications if cash starts going out. From a federal point of view there is no value difference in the quarterback or a setter in women’s volleyball.

As a college freshman in 1975 I was in the last class that every month with my full scholarship got a $25.00 “laundry money” check as it was called then to cover incidental expense. On that Friday in the offseason we also gave blood for $15.00 and the next two weekends were set. I was a middle income full-scholarship athlete (there are a lot of them out there) and I do not remember using the money for laundry. To think that cash to athletes will prevent another Ohio State or solve cheating issues which unfortunately will always be around is naïve. There is a little glass in everybody’s house at all levels of college football and money to players at the BCS level is a Pandora’s Box.

Although it is debatable at times, we need to keep the education component hooked in college athletics. I see kids at my level who are just as passionate and committed as those at the BCS level. They were not big or fast enough at the high school level to get the opportunity to play, get educated, and set you up for life with your college experience debt-free. There really is very little entitlement at the Division III level which is one of our strengths. To get them to spend for this opportunity we have to sell the college experience as a game-changing investment for life. This is also true at the BCS level and its added value should be sufficient in addition to the scholarships without the cash.

One thought on “Pay for play? Here’s one coach’s take

  1. As a former public school and college coach and as a university administrator for forty years, the last twenty-five as president of two different universities, I applaud your take on pay for play in college sports at any level! Having experienced both DII and DIII levels, but having many friends coaching or playing at the DI level, I am well aware of the liberties that have been taken to recruit and retain student athletes. I totally agree that the added value of the educational and social experience of college athletics should be sufficient enough reward and preparation for life that any reasonable parent or student athlete should expect.

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