The answer was so obvious, N.C. State football player Rob Crisp felt secure in speaking for everyone.
“No one’s going to turn down extra money,” said Crisp, a senior offensive lineman from Burlington. “I’m all for help, if the NCAA or our school wants to help us.”
Unprecedented financial help is coming after two historic events, in 24-hour span 10 days ago, put college athletes in line to get a cut of the revenue from the billions of dollars generated primarily by major football and men’s basketball programs in the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
The catalysts for the upcoming change: The decision by the wealthiest college athletic programs on Aug. 7 to take more autonomy from the NCAA, clearing the way to pay stipends to players; and the NCAA’s loss the next day in a landmark antitrust case filed by former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon in U.S. District Court in California.
The details of the changes still need to be worked out. How will the athletes get paid? How many of them will get paid? Where will the money come from?
N.C. State athletics director Debbie Yow, a proponent for change to the current NCAA model, put it best when she said last week: “So far it seems that everyone has the same questions, and we don’t have any answers yet.”
Up to this point, the NCAA has operated as an amateur model. Athletes are compensated with a scholarship – a chance at an education – but do not directly share the revenue they help generate.
Athletics directors and coaches have seen their contracts soar in the past five years with the additional revenue being generated by the boom in television contracts.
The NCAA’s contract with CBS to air the men’s basketball tournament is worth a reported $10.8 billion over 14 years. The so-called “Power 5” conferences – the ACC, SEC, Pacific-12, Big Ten and Big 12 – have lined up an estimated total of $16.3 billion during the next 15 years for the television broadcast rights to their football games.
‘Almost beyond repair’
To some, it has become clear that the NCAA has outgrown its amateur roots.
“What we have to understand, and we have to accept, the NCAA is not amateur athletics anymore,” N.C. Central men’s basketball coach LeVelle Moton said.
Former North Carolina football player Ryan Taylor takes it one step further.
“There’s so much money involved, the whole system is broken,” said Taylor, who is in his fourth NFL season with the Green Bay Packers. “It’s almost beyond repair.”
Even as its bottom line has grown, the NCAA has been reluctant to acknowledge the shifting landscape or initiate change. The O’Bannon case has helped push for a way to fix the old model.
Both the O’Bannon case and the autonomy of the five big conferences have addressed a starting point for athletes to get paid.
In her 99-page ruling in the O’Bannon case on Aug. 8, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken wrote that the NCAA can no longer prohibit schools from paying the “full cost of attendance.” The five conferences made that cost a top priority at their annual meetings in January.
Hoping for some help
Paying an athlete the full cost of attendance essentially amounts to an annual stipend, in addition to the costs that a scholarship covers: tuition, books, room, board.
College administrators refer to the full cost of attendance as the gap between the scholarship and what it actually costs to attend school, including gas money, parking, trips home or even laundry. The financial aid office at each school, independent of the athletic department, calculates the cost of attendance.
At N.C. State, there’s one number for both in-state and out-of-state students: $3,828 for the 2014-15 academic year. At UNC, the cost is $4,382 for in-state students and $6,118 for out-of-state students.
The stipend for the full cost of attendance is a long way from a full pay-for-play model, but “it would do a lot and mean a lot for a lot of guys,” said University of North Carolina junior football player Landon Turner.
N.C. State’s Crisp said a stipend would be nice to help players pay for their family to attend games. Turner said just having some disposable income, without having to rely on his family for support, would also be a help.
Working out the guidelines for cost of attendance will be a challenge, N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson said, but one worth taking on.
“I’m in favor of supporting the students,” Woodson said. “We’ve got to make sure that we understand what the playing rules are and how it’s calculated so that we won’t get ourselves in a position of having dramatic differences that play into recruiting.”
There’s also the matter of which athletes will be entitled to full-cost benefits. Wilken’s ruling only specifically mentions football and men’s basketball.
At N.C. State, it would cost $375,144 annually to pay full-cost benefits for just those two sports. If you add all 18 varsity sports, the annual payout would go up to almost $1.1 million.
Yow was unable to predict how many athletes would end up getting full-cost benefits but said the “cost of attendance is something that I think we can manage and should manage.”
UNC’s across-the-board costs would be significantly more than N.C. State’s since it supports 28 varsity sports. Its cost of attendance is also higher.
Before the autonomy vote, Wake Forest President Nathan Hatch said the federal Title IX laws could be a potential factor if only football and men’s basketball players get a cut of the revenue. He expects some female athletes will need to be paid, too.
Finding the money
Where the money will come from is the primary question for administrators, who can receive proposals for paying athletes from the conferences as early as October.
The impetus for the O’Bannon case came when the former UCLA star saw a version of himself on a popular video game. He knew that under NCAA rules, he was unable to be compensated for use of his image.
In her ruling, Wilken wrote that football and men’s basketball players should be entitled to at least $5,000 in a fund for every year of their eligibility – to be collected after they leave college. But the video game no longer exists, and the television revenue falls under a separate antitrust lawsuit, filed by sports labor attorney Jeffrey Kessler on behalf of a group of former and current athletes, in a New Jersey federal court in March.
Woodson said it’s too early to determine where the money for both full-cost benefits or the use-of-image funds outlined in the O’Bannon case will come from and how much each school will need.
The major universities are working with large athletic budgets. For example, UNC’s reported athletic revenue in 2013 was $82.7 million.
As the revenues have grown, more of the money has gone to coaches’ salaries, though there’s little talk of any cuts to fund pay for players. Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski’s pay peaked at $9.6 million in 2011; Alabama football coach Nick Saban just got a raise to $6.5 million.
The three ACC Triangle football coaches all made more than $1.7 million this past season, with N.C. State basketball coach Mark Gottfried and UNC basketball coach Roy Williams both near the $2 million mark.
The real increase has been in assistants’ pay. Clemson football assistant Chad Morris will be paid $1.2 million to coach the Tigers’ offense. Louisiana State defensive coordinator John Chavis will make $1.3 million in 2014.
The Wolfpack Club at N.C. State and the Rams’ Club at UNC already are responsible for funding scholarships. Those groups, which depend on alumni donations, would likely be counted on to help with any new financial initiatives.
Woodson said his main concern was the possible effect of the new costs on the overall health of the athletic department.
“The last thing that we want, and I think it’s true for most universities, is to lose (some) sports because of this,” Woodson said.
Other schools could suffer
Moton, the basketball coach at N.C. Central, can appreciate the challenge of balancing the books. Because they are in one of the conferences outside of the Power 5, Moton’s NCCU players would likely get a full cost-of-attendance stipend.
Moton is torn on the issue, as a former player who remembers his jersey being sold, and as a coach who’s trying to compete against the more financially powerful schools.
“We are the guys that will suffer, the low majors,” Moton said. “The rich are going to continue to get richer, and the poor are going to continue to get poorer.
“But I think the athletes deserve something, without a doubt.”
Taylor, who graduated from UNC in 2010, doesn’t think the full-cost benefits are enough. He thinks athletes should be able to market themselves in ways similar to the Olympic model.
Taylor said the primary need for athletes is improved medical coverage after they leave school. He pointed out that schools aren’t required to help athletes with injuries after their eligibility is up.
“If you leave school with a stack of medical bills, you’re playing catch-up for the rest of your life,” Taylor said. “I don’t know all the answers, but you can’t say you’re for helping the athlete if you’re not willing to medically protect them.”
The big 5 conferences will have the ability to improve medical benefits. With the recent events and structural changes, there’s at least momentum for athletes to get more benefits.
Duke senior Anthony Boone, a senior quarterback from near Charlotte (Weddington High), will miss out on any changes. But he believes they will be a good start in helping athletes.
“There definitely should be more of a reward besides the wins on Saturdays,” Boone said.