Time to Help College Athletes

By Dennis Berry

I have always thought of myself as a reasonable, open-minded guy. I like to believe that I can back up my opinion on something in a conversation and at the same time, I am open to new information that may sway what I think. I think I have reached that point in the debate of paying college players.

It was not long ago I wrote an article on this site that was against paying college athletes. This of course was during the debate of whether college athletes deserved a salary while in school. While many were pointing out that college athletes do not get anything in return, I was trying to remind people that they get a free college education.

While I still believe that if a college athlete takes full advantage of the scholarship they earn, they are very fortunate. Not every college student is so lucky. Some spend years trying to climb out of student loan debt.

Recently ideas have come forward that are not necessarily meant to offer a "salary" to college athletes, but rather give them a piece of the money they help earn for the NCAA. There is little secret about the money that athletes, mainly football and men's basketball, bring in for the NCAA. The majority of that comes from television contracts.

It seems that college players are tired of not getting a piece of that money. Over the weekend it was reported that over 300 players signed a petition asking that the NCAA and colleges "set aside an unspecified amount of money from what it estimates is $775 million in recently acquired TV revenues." The money would be set aside for football and men's basketball players.

They want that money set up in an "educational lock box" so that they may use it when they need it. If they want to continue their education after using up all of their athletic eligibility, they can use that money for that. They also want to be able to receive the rest of the money that is theirs after graduating.

Another important item in the petition is about medical costs. The players want a guarantee that they will not have to pay for any sports-related medical bills. They also do not want players to lose scholarships because of a career ending injury.

On the heels of that petition coming out, NCAA President Mark Emmert came out with his own proposal to help college athletes. Emmert's proposal would allow conferences to increase grants to student athletes to a total of $2,000. Also in the proposal, Emmert wants scholarships to become a multi-year scholarship, instead on being renewed each year.

While Emmert's proposal will help college athletes, it seems it does not do enough at least according to the players. In their petition, players say that they pay an average of $3,222 fees not covered in their scholarship. Even with a increase to $2,000 extra, Emmert's proposal still is short.

So where does that leave this debate? While this is something that has been talked about for some time, it appears that we are far from it being settled. Even if Emmert's proposal is adopted, it is clear that it will not be enough to meet what the players want.

It is time that NCAA and colleges are fair to the college athletes who generate the money. They should be given more of a share to help cover "out of pocket" expenses. There is no reason that an athlete who helps generate money should have to worry about the costs not covered by their scholarship.

Another thing that college athletes should not have to be burdened with is medical expenses. They were hurt playing for the school. The school or the NCAA should see to it that their medical bills are taken care of.

Also it is unfair that an athlete that can no longer play for their school must lose a scholarship because of an injury. Scholarships should be made to be multi-year scholarships instead of on one year. A college student should not lose out on college because they were seriously injured.

I am not completely sold on the idea of this "lock box." I am in favor of letting players have money that is set aside from TV revenue to help cover costs while they are in college. There is something I do not like about players being allowed to take that money after graduating.

Some might say that it is a reward for graduating college. Well shouldn't the reward of earning a college degree be reward enough? Plus with the higher profile players who do not end up playing in their sport professionally have an added bonus of name recognition. Former college basketball players in Kentucky, Indiana, or North Carolina probably have little problem finding work in those states.

On the other hand, the money in the "lock box" could be a deterrent to keep players from breaking the rules. If players know they are already receiving this money, one would believe that players would be less likely to look for handouts. They will be less likely to break the rules if it means they lose that money.

There is plenty to work out for both sides to be happy. Right now the system is unfair to college athletes who are the reason for all this money coming in. It is time to reform it and make sure those athletes receive their fair share.

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