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May 19, 2011

Tom's take: Wary of the pay

MADISON - For whatever reason during my formative years the cynical gene decided to up and leave me. Call me nave, innocent or completely off base, I don't care. I just have never been a true cynic and I tend to shy away from cynical behavior and thoughts because most of the time it's too damning and I generally try to stay upbeat.

This sounds counterintuitive, especially coming from an aspiring journalist, because a lot of the time as a journalist you need to be the person asking the tough questions when things just aren't lining up. It's the only way to keep pace in a rather quick moving profession and society.

Knowing that, I'm going to dust off the old cynic shoes and traipse around the college athletic landscape with my inner skeptic.

Today's gripe has everything to do with the idea floating throughout the Big Ten spring meetings that involves paying athletes for basic living expenses. That scares me.

Yes, on the surface the idea of shelling out some extra cash for clothes, food or transportation, especially with all the runners and pay-for-play scandals reverberating throughout the college sports landscape (namely football and basketball), seems like a win-win.

But let's just imagine the Big Ten, or any other conference in college athletics starts doling out the additional $2,000-$5,000 per player as proposed. Say that becomes a feasible method of doing away with all the off-the-field allegations and problems (because let's be honest, though the Big Ten probably would never say it, the entire reasoning behind this idea is to prevent any shady under doings from happening in the future) while still bringing in the same high-end recruits that the league already does.

It's all fine and good until the rest of the conferences start getting into the mix. That, in my opinion, is where worries begin creeping in.

Yes, the idea on the surface looks pure and grand. But what happens once the Big Ten, or any other league for that matter, takes the initiative and gets the ball rolling by implementing this policy. Since it's something being proposed independently and without much to do with the overarching governing body that is the NCAA (as proven by the Big Ten's, and other conferences, ability to discuss the matter individually), other conferences are going to jump in and start offering more.

It's the classic 'only the strong survive' motive.

They'll see all the top recruits flocking to the Big Ten, or given conference, and want to provide them with more justification to join the member institutions of their particular league. Suddenly that $2,000-$5,000 the original conference proposed becomes $3,000-$6,000, $4,000-$8,000 or $5,000-$10,000 because they are trying to meet the full cost of attendance.

Why stop there?

If you're a conference commissioner and if you want to be the preeminent conference in all of college sports, namely football and basketball, with the amount of money being made through TV deals, contracts and bowl revenue, you could essentially turn this relatively harmless idea into an arms race that will do nothing but end horribly.

By paying players more than their scholarship money, you immediately open an entire supply of Pandora's box that begins with covering full cost of attendance and ends with the elite players in the revenue sports pining for more because they ultimately bring in more revenue to the university.

You move away from walking on solid ground in favor of chancing your way across the Grand Canyon on a completely frozen rope coated in Vaseline simply because there aren't any fair ways to do this.

It may seem like a valiant effort but once you fall off it all ends in the same sloppy mess.

If this is the backhanded way of alleviating any ridiculous or shady issues plaguing the games then I am definitely disappointed in the brain trust running the operation known as the Big Ten or any other conference seriously considering the idea.

I understand today's college athlete spends a ton of time honoring their commitment as a player on a given athletic squad. I understand it's tough, if not impossible, to find part time work as a student-athlete especially when taking into account all the confusing and hypocritical rules and regulations that make any source of income seem like a violation. I get that.

I also get that this move wasn't proposed to completely curtail the ridiculous allegations surrounding the superstars such as Reggie Bush, O.J. Mayo or Cam Newton, because for the most part those cases are still going to happen no matter what.

But overall, especially when you consider the impact this would have on some of the smaller conferences that struggle to make big revenue on their sports, it's just going to make things worse by supposedly trying to make things better.

Opening the floodgates for a nationwide arms race for the best athletes based purely on financial opportunities presented to them, particularly among BCS conferences, is not the way to do it.

It will just make an already abject disaster that much more of an issue, particularly when you look at the greed that fuels what should be the last frontier of amateur sports.

How's that for my cynical side?

Wisconsin NEWS


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