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NCAA stipend proposal raises amateur athletics questions

The Boise State Broncos flag is run onto the field in Boise, Idaho. Boise State University President Bob Kustra is against a plan that would offer a $2,000 stipend to student athletes.

Kai Ryssdal: The NCAA has been meeting this week in Indianapolis. As tends to happen at annual conventions, there's a good amount of bylaw re-writing going on at the organization. But two proposed new rules in particular are proving especially contentious. One would require athletic scholarships be granted for more that just one year at a time, as they are now. The other would offer $2,000 stipends to student athletes -- in addition to room, board and tuition -- in effect paying them to play.

The proposed stipend's not universally popular among college presidents. More than 100 of them have formally objected, including Bob Kustra. He's the president of Boise State University. Welcome to the program.

Bob Kustra: Nice to be here.

Ryssdal: Why are you opposed to these recommendations?

Kustra: Well Kai, I think we have to start with the proposition of just what a does a full-scholarship athlete get today. It's really a great program. One Southeast Conference school actually estimated how many dollars are behind one of their basketball players and they came up with $300,000. So we're not talking about just tuition and textbooks here. The scholarship athlete on any Division I campus is really a privileged person by virtue of having weight and conditioning coaching available, a training table and academic support -- including individual tutoring. Now, not all Division I programs are created equal, but my point is that this extra $2,000 is really what takes you over the threshold from being an amateur athlete to being a professional athlete and could lead down the road...

Ryssdal: OK. Wait a sec. With all respect -- $2,000 takes it from being an amateur athlete to a professional athlete when the revenues that schools get from these athletes is in the millions and millions of dollars. I mean, that doesn't seem quite to jibe.

Kustra: Well I say it crosses the threshold because once it $2,000, Kai, I don't know where you stop. I think from there then you open up the fact, you realize the fact that you're now paying students to play. And once you pay students to play, why does it have to stay at $2,000?

Ryssdal: But it does seem though that in the face of college athletics, the way it is today, big-time college sports -- by which we do mean men's basketball and football mostly -- the term student athlete has become an oxymoron and these kids are revenue generators. And while not technically, certainly de facto employees of the school and bringing in immense amounts of money.

Kustra: Well, I cannot disagree with that. But what I would say to the NCAA and Mark Emmert in that case is, why don't you call this what it is? Why don't you open up the whole discussion? Why don't we take a look at Division I football and men's basketball and really ask ourselves how you can continue justifying these sports as amateur athletics. And if you want to do something about that, then come up with a complete and entire plan. Don't nitpick your way through it by adding a $2,000 increase here and a $2,000 increase later in wherever it's going to go. You've crossed the threshold to professionalism of the student athlete, so let's go there. Let's talk about it. In a sense, I think the NCAA wants to have it both ways. I think it wants to deal with the margins, but I don't think it wants to deal with the really big question that you just asked and I cannot deny that there is a problem out there when it comes to football and men's basketball. The hundreds of millions of dollars is changing hands among coaches, media companies, universities. Why not take another look?

Ryssdal: I want to make sure I understand you here, Mr. Kustra. You want to have this discussion? You want to talk about this?

Kustra: I think the NCAA should talk about it in a larger fashion than just taking the $2,000 issue and dealing with that. Open it up. Let's discuss it. Some people may decide we want to go there. Others may decide we don't won't want to go there. My point is: What are you going to turn the whole system upside down for two sports that have gotten, you might say, out of hand.

Ryssdal: Out of hand. Bob Kustra is the president of Boise State University in Idaho. Mr. Kustra, thanks so much for your time.

Kustra: Kai, it's nice to be with you. Appreciate you having me.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
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I was shocked by Kai's naivete on this issue. Penn State has one of the most "profitable" athletic programs due to it's football program. Football revenue is ~$96M year which funds the most of the Athletic department which has budget of ~$116M. As with many schools, the athletic department operates as an autonomous entity, but is "self" funded. But, PSU is an exception in that the athletic department is self-funded. If we were paying 5 or 10M per year for a football coach, that self-funding status might be lost.

In any event, Kai thinks $100M is a lot of money. But, relative to Penn State's annual budget of $4.3B ($4300M), the Nittany Lion athletic department budget is less than 3%. Accordingly, when considering college sports, you have to be careful to not let the "tail wag the dog".

BTW - I liked the response from the President of Boise State. I hope the Penn State Board of Trustees were listening to the show.

The student athletes at the top flight college sports programs get so much more than just free tuition. They get trained by the best coaches money can buy. An athlete getting taught by a Bobby Bowden or a Nick Sabin is like a computer science major getting personal training by Bill Gates. An athlete playing in a multimillion dollar stadium is like an art major having her work showcased in the Louvre. The athletes also get free national advertising every time they play on tv - how many other students get their resume prepared for them in HD by ESPN?

I heard this story on the way home and I thought wow the president really got testy with Kai. Why don't the presidents of these universities come up with a way in which eveyone at the university can benefit from the huge revenue football and men's bball produce. Like keeping tuition down rather than raise it 10% or so every year. The students who are not athletes and faculty should be able to get a piece of the pie too.

Kai says that the kids are "revenue generators" but contrary to popular opinion, these programs don't always pay for themselves. From an article by the Cal Alumni Association: "Cal Athletics, as an auxiliary of the University, is technically supposed to be self-funding. It’s not. For the last two decades, the University administration has been kicking in an extra few million dollars per year. Another roughly $2 million per year comes directly from student fees. This may come as a surprise to many fans. “We did a survey of the American public in 2005, and basically three out of four Americans believe that big-time sports generate profits for the entire university to use,” says Amy Perko, the executive director of the Knight Commission, which studies intercollegiate athletics and academics. “That’s a myth, and once you break down the tremendous costs of these programs, the public as well as faculty are shocked to find out that’s not the case.”
From http://alumni.berkeley.edu/news/california-magazine/spring-2010-searchli...

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