Grading the NCAA

Carla Peay | 11/16/2009, 1:15 p.m.

Class was in session on Wed., Nov. 11 at the University of Maryland as hundreds attended the fourth annual Shirley Povich Symposium. Povich was a sports columnist for the Washington Post for 75 years and died in 1998. This year€s topic was Intercollegiate Athletics: Pro/Con the Joys and Challenges of College Sports.
The panelists were Michael Wilbon of the Washington Post and ESPN, Scott Van Pelt of ESPN, Maryland Athletic Director Debbie Yow, William E. Kirwan, Chancellor of the University System of Maryland, Maryland men€s basketball coach Gary Williams, and Redskins tackle Stephon Heyer, a Maryland graduate.

Television host Maury Povich, Shirley Povich€s son, and broadcast journalist Connie Chung, who is married to Povich, served as hosts and moderators, assisted by George Solomon, former sports editor of the Washington Post and Kevin Blackistone, who serves at the Shirley Povich Chair in Sports Journalism at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.

The first hotly debated topic was whether or not student athletes should be paid.

€Kids put a lot of time and effort into sports. When I needed money, it often wasn€t there,€ Heyer said.

Even though a large percentage of athletes are on scholarship, the money is for housing and tuition, not incidentals.

€The students might not be paid, but they are paid enough though their scholarships,€ Yow said.

At most schools, only men€s football and basketball are revenue producing sports. Wilbon said that for this reason, athletes in these two sports should be paid.

€If kids are spending something like 44 and half hours a week on sports, that€s more than a full time job. I played intramurals and I was too tired to study,€ Wilbon said. €Even with the scholarship, there are practical things they [student-athletes] can€t do. Most can€t have a job.€

Heyer added that even the colleges that do allow student athletes to work, between classes and sports related activities, there is no time for a job. One idea discussed was the formation of an escrow account to provide money for basic living expenses and incidentals that is commensurate with the cost of living.

Also discussed was the overall structure of the NCAA, which pours millions into sports. It€s a model Kirwan called €unsustainable.€

€Tuition is going up, revenue is going down. We have to find a way to spend less. It€s not just college presidents who say this, but athletic directors as well,€ Kirwan said.

At most major colleges, football and basketball coaches earn multi-million dollar salaries. A poll of college presidents revealed that 85 percent think college coaches make too much money.

€There is a lot of pressure on the two revenue producing sports. That€s why the coaches make millions,€ Yow said.

Van Pelt illustrated the point that the popularity of sports has to be taken into account when he asked the audience to name a recent Nobel Prize winner from the University of Florida; a question no one could answer. Then he asked the audience to name the head football and basketball coaches, which nearly everyone knew.

€I understand and respect that spending is out of control. But it€s the cost of doing business. Schools have to spend to make their programs relevant,€ Van Pelt said.

In addition to paying athletes, controlling spending for athletic programs and coaches salaries, other topics discussed included a establishing a football playoff over the current BCS system, forming a union for athletes, and establishing regional coaching board to deal with schools that violate NCAA rules.

€There needs to be a new model for the NCAA,€ Williams said. Wilbon and Van Pelt both agreed, but expressed doubts that the NCAA would make significant changes.

€The NCAA is weak. They are like Barney Fife. They€re happy to get a guy going 56 mph, but they€re scared of the guy doing 85 in a Ferrari. Until you have some sort of even-handed application, the problems will continue,€ Wilbon said.

Van Pelt said the NCAA €prints money€, particularly due to March Madness and the BCS.

€If you€re going to pick up a rock, you€d better be prepared for what you€re going to see,€ Van Pelt said. €The NCAA isn€t prepared to do that.€