Change is coming to college sports and Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke is ready, volleyball coach Dave Shondell is conflicted, football coach Darrell Hazell is researching and basketball coach Matt Painter is wondering:
Can you REALLY trust college students to do the right thing with an extra $3,000 or so for the full cost of a scholarship?
“You want to see what's best for the game and the student athletes,” Painter says.
“Some people will say, '(Athletes) need more money. But what's the money going toward? If money is going to education or their future or getting put to good use, that's great. If the money is going to … well … think about what we did with money when we were 20 years old.”
A pause. A chuckle.
“It's true,” he says. “What did you do with money when you were 20?”
Welcome to the drama, intrigue and uncertainty of 21st Century college sports. That the current NCAA model is about to be trashed is as sure as the U.S. is in the World Cup quarterfinals. What the new model will look like is anybody guess, but Burke, a former Boilermaker swimmer and one the nation's most tenured athletic directors (22 years and counting) says it's time to make it happen.
“I'm hopeful the NCAA will make some changes this year,” he says. “It won't happen overnight. It will take a while to put this governance system into play, but I will be very disappointed if, in the first year, we don't have some very tangible things to make people sit back and go, 'Oh, that's what it means.'
“I hope it's more about restoring the student and the athlete, and not just the professionalization or the semi-professionalization of athletes.”
While the Ed O'Bannon trial crawls along (the main issue -- should college athletes share in the profits from TV appearances, and the sale of jerseys and other sports paraphernalia?), college sports continues its rapid transformation, from prospects of player unionization (see Northwestern) to conference expansion, to a college football playoff, and more.
That includes autonomy, which will enable the 65 schools that comprise the five major conferences -- the Big Ten, the ACC, the SEC, the Pac-12 and the Big 12 -- to make rules without the support of 286 other schools that compete in NCAA Division I.
That's a no-brainer, Burke says.
“We have 351 members in Division. I, and it's like trying to get the Republicans and Democrats to agree. I'm not saying either side is right or wrong, but they're too far apart. On some of these issues, third parties are putting a wedge in this, and appropriately so, so you have to deal with it.
“There are some things that need to be done. Autonomy doesn't mean just open the books. That's the way it's being portrayed. Maybe we can add some sanity back in the market place, where we can restore the collegiate model a bit, so we don't have some of the things that are going on that I think are a distraction. Quite frankly, it's not the college athletics I came into or the college athletics we should have in the future.”
This week the Big Ten went into proactive mode when all 14 conference school presidents issued a signed statement that endorsed guaranteed four-year scholarships regardless of injury or if a player leaves early for a pro career (the scholarship would be honored after playing days are over because “we want our students to graduate”), improved and consistent medical insurance for student-athletes, and providing the elusive full cost of going to school (basically an extra $3,000 to $4,000 to pay for things such as food, laundry and other expenses).
The Big Ten statement said it will stress “the value of establishing a 21st Century system to meet the educational needs of current and future student-athletes,” and that “we must address the conflicts that have led us to a moment where the conversation about college sports is about compensation rather than academics.”
In other words, no pay for play, and no wrecking an amateur system that, in a lot of ways, works.
“There is $2.7 billion in financial aid at the Division I, II and III levels that is at risk,” Burke says. “Do you want to take all those merit-based scholarships away? I don't. We have to fix some things. Some of it is our own doing.”
The Big Ten statement followed the Pac-12, which a few weeks earlier released its own recommendations for change. That included a proposal to make freshmen ineligible in football and basketball, especially if the NBA continues to draft players after one college season, plus loosening transfer restrictions. Players currently must redshirt after transferring.
Burke has some thoughts.
“We have to recognize that there is a gap in the cost of attendance, but it's not pay to play. I want to make sure the medical care that we gave (basketball player) Jay Simpson (whose playing career ended last season because of a heart condition) is the standard for schools across the country.
“I want to make sure, if you give a four-year grant in aid, there is a consequence to transfer. You're asking the school to make a four-year commitment. We shouldn't have 540 kids transfer in basketball (as they have this year across the country). Something is amiss there.
“If you have an auto contract and you don't like the car, you can't return it to the dealer and not pay the contract. We have to teach there is a consequence. You can leave, that's your prerogative, but absent some extenuating circumstances, such as a coaching change or that sort of thing, you have to sit a year and lose a year of eligibility.
“Some people won't agree with me on that. But if you want a longer commitment from the school's standpoint, there has to be a more serious commitment on the athlete's part.”
As far as freshmen ineligibility in football and basketball, Burke says, “You have to look at that. If you look at the eligibility data, as I have, and the graduation rate data, as I have, and if you're really being truthful with the student athlete, maybe you have to seriously consider it.
“I think the data would support a year of readiness, then a full four years of eligibility after it. It's not because we're picking on those two sports, but because in those sports, athletes are coming into the (college academic) system at a much lower preparation level than the other sports. That has to get talked about. The transfers have to get talked about.
“I want to make sure the sports medicine issue gets appropriately addressed on every campus. I'm worried about time demands. The 20-hour rule has too many loop holes. Maybe we have too many coaches working too many hours with too few kids.
"We have to look at all those things and have the courage to make some real changes. I sense there's a desire to do it, but until people raise their hand and sign on the dotted line, well, this athletic director is ready to make some changes. I think we're on a bad trajectory right now and it's the kid who will be hurt. That bothers me. We have to get serious about it.”
Shondell, the volleyball coach, finds the proposed changes bittersweet. He figures to reap the major conference benefits while his brother, Steve, the Ball State volleyball coach, will face mid-major have-not frustration. Most of those schools lack the money to match what the big-five conferences will offer.
“I don't like it,” Shondell says. “Right now things are good at Purdue. At Ball State and in the Mid-American Conference, they won't be able to pay kids (the full cost of a scholarship). How can they pay that when they struggle to pay their bills now?
“We can do it at Purdue. We can do it in the Big Ten. They can't elsewhere.
“And if you make freshmen ineligible in football and basketball, then you've got to add scholarships (to maintain the 85 eligible scholarship players limit for football, and 13 for basketball). Can Kent State do that? Can IPFW do that? Now you're widening the gap. Now you're talking about cutting sports. These things have to be discussed.”
If all this leaves you overwhelmed, you're not alone. Hazell has enough to worry about with rebuilding the football program to keep up with everything.
“I'm still researching it. Until I have all the information, I'm going to hold my judgement.
“Players get a lot all ready. There are some things that can be fixed. I'll continue to evaluate that situation.”
Painter offers one final do-players-deserve-money thought:
“I do understand when they talk about extremes -- what Oklahoma got from (tailback) Adrian Peterson, what Texas A&M got from (quarterback) Johnny Manziel, what Purdue got from (basketball player) Robbie Hummel or (quarterback) Drew Brees.
“Those people are special. Schools make a lot of money off those people. But for the 99.8 percent of the rest of us, including me (Painter spent most of his Purdue basketball career as a reserve), I feel very fortunate to get that opportunity and get that scholarship. It really spring-boarded me to every opportunity in my career. I'm fortunate for that.
“Things need to be revisited and looked at. There's nothing wrong with it being scrutinized. Hopefully we can come up with a good solution that's best for all.”