Maybe Steve Spurrier was looking at his bank balance when he got his grand idea. Or maybe he just got the first check of a new deal that will pay him at least $2.8 million this year alone.
Whatever, Spurrier must have been feeling a bit guilty over his embarrassment of riches. Is there any other reason to decide after all these years that it’s time to toss out a few crumbs for the players who have made him and his fellow college coaches rich?
Go ahead and call Spurrier’s idea to give players $300 a game out of his own pocket laughable. A lot of people already have, though surely none of them toil on the offensive line for Spurrier’s South Carolina team.
But who are they to judge when it may make the Ol’ Ball Coach sleep better at night?
The odds that Spurrier will ever have to actually reach into his own pocket to help his players make their car payments are slim, of course. Proposals to pay college players more than tuition and room and board have been summarily dismissed over the years by the very people who make their living off what has historically been free labor.
So Spurrier had little to worry about financially when he suggested that there should be a little something extra for players whose only reward now for filling up stadiums and generating television deals worth untold millions is the vague promise of a piece of sheepskin after they put in the necessary four years of service.
Though several of his fellow Southeastern Conference coaches signed onto the concept, it has no chance of passing muster with those who actually run college football.
These are the same people who go apoplectic when players sell their jerseys for gas money or a few discounted tattoos. The last thing they want anyone to discover is that the only thing amateur about college football is the men who actually play the game.
Just how Spurrier arrived at the $300 figure isn’t quite clear, though give him some credit for offering to dip into his own salary to pay the $21,000 a game it would cost him. What is clear is that he can afford it, especially with the $550,000 raise he got this year for leading the Gamecocks to a nine-win season.
“I just wish there was a way to give our players a piece of the pie,” he said. “It’s so huge right now. As you know, 50 years ago there wasn’t any kind of money and the players got full scholarships. Now, they’re still getting full scholarships and the money is in the millions.”
How much money there is in college football was made clear in the recent spate of television deals signed by conferences around the country. The new Pac-12 contract pays its member schools each $20 million a year, while the Big 12 has a $1.17 billion football deal with Fox that takes effect next year.
Unfortunately, there is no trickle down effect in play. While their coaches make millions, players don’t get a dime.
Spurrier isn’t the first to suggest that should change. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany brought up the issue at his league’s recent spring meetings, and other conferences have indicated they would be receptive to the idea.
The more formal proposals, though, are simply for increased scholarship money to help pay for things not covered by room and board. And those would be difficult to implement, especially if athletes in sports that don’t produce the revenue football does aren’t included in the calculations.
Spurrier went a step further by attaching a number to his idea, and offering to pay for it out of his own pocket. The gesture may not be quite as noble as it seems since there is no chance it will ever become reality, but at least it gets people talking.
“In the actual workings, I think it’s flawed,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “But I’m for starting that dialogue. It opens the door.”
Maybe it’s time to open that door all the way. Stop pretending college football is anything but the big-time business it really is and start paying the employees whose hard work and sweat generate the revenue to begin with.
Give every player, say, $1,000 a month to do with as they please. Allow them to have some spending money without having to get it secretly under the table from boosters or would-be agents. Players would be happy, and their millionaire coaches wouldn’t feel so guilty.
Best of all, they could drop the charade that money doesn’t rule in college football.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org, or follow him at http://twitter.com/timdahlberg