Blakeney against cost-of-attendance stipend
By DAVID MITCHELL
On the other side of the country in Oakland, Calif., the 12th day of the Ed O'Bannon vs. NCAA antitrust lawsuit took place on Tuesday afternoon. The lawsuit concerns the use of college athletes' images for commercial purposes.
At the downtown Columbus Marriott, Troy University athletic director John Hartwell and football coach Larry Blakeney, in town for the annual Trojan Tour, spoke about the same issues facing college football:
Paying athletes, the rights of athletes to capitalize off of their own image and the autonomy of the big five conferences -- the Southeastern, Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12.
The latter is a product of the former. Faced with major lawsuits and the possible unionization of student-athletes, the NCAA has been forced to consider a change in its governance, allowing schools from the five major conferences more autonomy to address issues involving players.
Smaller schools around the country have denounced this as a means for the bigger schools to price them out of the market for the country's best recruits.
Blakeney was forthright about his expectations if a
full-cost-of-attendance stipend -- one which provides additional thousands of dollars to each student-athlete to cover additional costs of attendance not currently accounted for -- were to be implemented.
"They're going to take advantage," he said of the major conference schools. "Period. Book it and remember I said it. They'll take advantage of it. They've got deep pockets and they'll abuse it and they'll ruin college football, probably."
Asked his opinion on the current direction of college football, Blakeney admitted that he was "a little worried about it."
"I don't know all the answers, but I think there are ways to equalize it," he said.
While he didn't support the cost-of-attendance stipend, he did say he thought players should be paid. He suggested a stipend based on academic performance, paid to student-athletes per hour passed with a C or above.
"If you come here and do right, you can get paid," he said. "If you come here and screw up, you won't. Simple as that. That's my theory."
For it or against it, though, Hartwell said he thought a cost-of-attendance stipend was inevitable, and that the major conference schools would continue to separate from the mid-majors to a degree. His hope, though, is that change would squelch some of the debate over the commercialization of players' images.
"If there are some additional funds that could be provided for the student-athletes, then hopefully that could do away with some that," he said, adding that he thought the stipend was necessary in today's world of college athletics. "Nowadays, being an athlete is a full-time job from training to practice to whatever. Will that create a little bit of a financial burden for us? Yes, because if you spread that across our student-athletes right now, that's probably about half-a-million dollars per year, and that's significant to our budget."
He noted, however, that the new College Football Playoff will provide an additional revenue stream of about $1.1 million per year to mid-major schools. Plus, about another $800,000 per school will be available to the highest-rated small-school conference. Last season, that would have been the Sun Belt, Troy's conference.
That additional money would be a sufficient source to pay athletes should the cost-of-attendance stipend be implemented.
Hartwell said that, at the end of the day, he expects to see a separation in governance between the 129 Football Bowl Subdivision schools and the rest of the NCAA. A school like Lehigh, he said, doesn't have the same issues as schools like Alabama, Georgia or Auburn, and therefore shouldn't be governed the same way.
Time will tell whether the competitive advantage among those 129 schools will continue to shift in favor of the big five conferences.
"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to go to Athens or Auburn or Tuscaloosa to see they have way more resources than we do at Troy," he said. "Now, there will have to be parameters on any stipend that is put into place. And we'll still expect our coaches and our teams to go up against those schools and compete and win."