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Mark Emmert on paying athletes: ‘If you’re going to come to us, you’re going to be a student’

Sep 17, 2013, 11:13 AM EDT

Mark Emmert AP

There may not be a more contentious debate in all of college athletics than whether or not the players that generate so many billions of dollars in revenue should receive a larger cut of those profits.

Conferences are signing billion-dollar deals for the rights to broadcast their games. The NCAA tournament is responsible for generating roughly three-quarters of the organization’s annual revenue. Every “scandal” involving college athletics that breaks further proves that these athletes have value; that there are people willing to spend their hard-earned money on these athletes.

Maybe it’s the $500 handshakes that football players were getting at Oklahoma State. Or maybe it’s the money that agents were willing to spend on players like Alabama lineman DJ Fluker or Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore to ensure that they would become a client when they graduated. Or maybe it’s the thousands of dollars that Johnny Manziel was able to pocket simply by signing his name on a bunch of helmets.

Whatever the case may be, it’s becoming more and more difficult to justify the idea that the best athletes in revenue sports are getting a fair deal being limited to a college scholarship.

But according to NCAA president Mark Emmert, it’s unlikely that will change any time soon.

”One thing that sets the fundamental tone is there’s very few members and, virtually no university president, that thinks it’s a good idea to convert student-athletes into paid employees. Literally into professionals,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said Monday at Marquette University as part of the school’s ‘On the Issues’ forum. ”Then you have something very different from collegiate athletics. One of the guiding principles (of the NCAA) has been that this is about students who play sports.”

Emmert also questioned why an athlete that wants to be a professional would bother going to college.

”It’s a dynamic tension that we really need to work on because it’s at heart of part of what talking about here,” he said. “Why would we want to force someone to go to school when they really don’t want to be there? But if you’re going to come to us, you’re going to be a student.”

Why would an athlete want to play in college?

Well, quite simply, because the best way for a prodigy to make their way to the NBA is through the NCAA. Going straight to the D-League doesn’t get these kids the kind of exposure that college basketball does. The same can be said for Europe.

The bottom-line is that this a pitch that Emmert is going to have to continue to sell, because there are so many administrators like him that cash six and seven figure checks thanks to amateurism keeping the money flowing. The NCAA doesn’t pay taxes and puts severe limits on the amount that the people generating the revenue can bring in (a scholarship isn’t enough, but it is reimbursement). If that changes, if there is less money to go around, the cuts have to come from somewhere.

And I’d be willing to bet that Emmert, and the people that made Emmert the (handsomely-paid) face of their organization don’t want to see their bottom-line affected.

  1. annapterp - Sep 17, 2013 at 11:55 AM

    Nobody said they would be “students” Emmert. They still have to go to and pass classes. But the billions the NCAA is making off these “star” student-athletes needs to be addressed. How its done is the question. Just stop talking out of both sides of your mouth as the NCAA does regularly.

  2. street0123 - Sep 17, 2013 at 12:26 PM

    Student athletes can get money outside of their Tuition, Room & Board if they qualify for the PELL Grant. The NCAA should use some of their revenues to increase funding for the PELL Grant program. The NCAA could then work with the PELL Grant administration to ease the qualifying standards and reduce the restrictions on spending. This would provide every college athlete with financial need additional spending money. I also think the NCAA should establish an athletic insurance fund that all student athletes would participate in so that the cost of the program is reduced and not priced on a school by school or individual basis.

    There I fixed it.

  3. tom48212 - Sep 17, 2013 at 1:52 PM

    You can’t tell me that all colleges make enough money from their sports programs to fund them so why should college student tuition be forced to pay for athletes? Any college that cannot support their sports programs thru TV revenues and elsewhere should eliminate whatever it needs to so as it is not taking anything away from what students have to pay for their own educations.

  4. irishdodger - Sep 17, 2013 at 1:56 PM


    That’s better than the media’s push to pay players. To me, it’s people who have money feeling guilty about the “poor” student-athlete. Much like our inefficient, “If it feels good, do it” govt; folks in favor of paying amateurs don’t think of all the unintended consequences. The slippery slope would make this a disaster. I have no problem setting aside revenue that specific players (like a Tebow or a Manziel) generate w/ their name/likeness in a trust for post-graduation. Everything else would be used to entice players to sign w/ the richest schools. Then the unions would get involved & try to push for collective bargaining. And finally, you just transfer the current under the table, nefarious dealings to the high school level.

  5. johnlorant - Sep 17, 2013 at 2:06 PM

    It’s easy, Mr. Emmet: just raise athletic football scholarships substantially; “Amateurism” is thereby preserved.

  6. gratefulneal - Sep 17, 2013 at 4:12 PM

    No “pay” for student athletes !!!! IF they get a scholarship – fine, but limited to housing/books/tuition. These guys are making their “careers” off the backs of schools (who in turn are raking in huge ad revenue) – but the school’s revenue SHOULD be for the benefit of the entire student body (better sports teams attracts students).

    Student athletes NEVER should be paid to play – if they are good enough, they will get paid when and if they go pro.

  7. mogogo1 - Sep 17, 2013 at 4:16 PM

    Safe bet they won’t be paid while Emmert is president. But, given his days are extremely numbered, that isn’t saying much.

  8. johninpa - Sep 17, 2013 at 4:55 PM

    Looking at hockey and baseball, there is a well organized minor league system for developing athletes, from fresh out of high school until they have developed the skill to make the next level, or they realize they don’t have the talent. These kids are paid, and can make money from their talent in the form of endorsements, etc. I don’t understand why the NFL hasn’t taken this approach, and why the NBA hasn’t done a better job with their d-league. It would take the issue completely out of the NCAA’s hands, and they could get back to tackling the important issues relating to college athletics (if they really care).

  9. William Huffman - Sep 17, 2013 at 6:06 PM

    Reblogged this on William L Huffman and commented:
    This is a slippery slope Emmert is taking. The NCAA has profited billions of dollars off the backs of their “student-athletes” for decades now. If the O’bannon lawsuit goes against the NCAA it will change the landscape of sports as we know it.

  10. abacus2013 - Sep 17, 2013 at 7:42 PM

    Shut up and pay the athletes. Most coaches do not want them to go to class anyway. If they cannot study then they should be paid.

  11. cashmantest - Sep 18, 2013 at 1:15 PM

    If that is Mark Emmert stance, then he needs to make it consistent. Scholarships should be guaranteed for five years, and only classroom performance should be factored in revoking a scholarship. Right now, athletic scholarships are renewed on a yearly basis, and are revoked based on player field performance or position. Many players find their scholarships revoked because the staff needed a scholarship for a 5 star athlete that decided he wanted to commit to xzy university. Other times, it’s because the player either doesn’t fit the system, or isn’t developing as anticipated. None of these reasons are valid if as Mark Emmert stated, athletes are students first. Only the players performance in the classroom, should result in a loss of a scholarship.

  12. dretwann - Sep 19, 2013 at 12:00 PM

    Don’t pay the students athletes by NCAA revenue. I don’t think that will work. However, removing the barriers that prevent those same athletes from cashjng in on their names outside of their school and NCAA would be acceptable. What harm is done to the NCAA, schools and/or non-athlete students if Manziel gets 100K for signing this or that or appearing in promotions unrelated to NCAA or the school? I can’t see one. Right now NCAA doesn’t want them to earn anything from the NCAA or outside. That is pure selfishness and indefensible.

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