Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: College athletes can eat ramen noodles, too

This week's Q&A-Mac is brought to you buy the Southeastern Conference: If we're going to pay our players, we should at least have it on record somewhere.

Q: The commissioners of the SEC, the Big Ten and other leagues are pushing a proposal that would make scholarships cover the "actual cost" of attending college -- springing for additional meals, laundry fees, medical expenses, etc. -- rather than just the standard tuition, room and board. One study says the annual difference between the two figures is nearly $3,000 per player. What do you think?

A: Nice idea in theory, but like most NCAA issues, it's riddled with problems. You do it for the star quarterback, you've got to do it for the fourth-string corner. That's going to add up quickly. And let's not forget all the other sports that don't make near the amount of money that football does. Besides, on a more basic level, I wouldn't be opposed to seeing athletes have to kick in for a small portion of their education. Maybe it would encourage a few more guys to go to class. Either way, I've long been against paying them any kind of extra stipend.

Q: Why? Don't college athletes generate tons of revenue for their schools?

A: Some do. Others are a money pit. They ride the buses, stay at the hotel rooms, play poker with the meal money, collect the scholarship -- and stink it up between the lines in front of paltry crowds. I know this because I was one of them.

Q: Yeah, but what about guys who are actually good and people will pay to watch?

A: I've been in these athletic facilities. I've seen the "personal ventilation systems" each football locker has at Virginia Tech. I've seen the lounges, the hot tubs, the 64-inch TVs, the pool tables. These privately funded palaces -- available to all the players -- already elevate these guys' living conditions well beyond what the typical student has. Believe it or not, there are plenty of perks already in place for athletes.

Q: What about guys who can't afford gas money?

A: Ride a bike. I don't mean to be callous, but there are thousands of college kids eating ramen noodles as they work toward degrees. Shoot, these days, there are thousands of college graduates eating ramen noodles because they have to make sacrifices. If a scholarship package worth tens of thousands of dollars isn't enough for you, maybe you should skip college and go get a job. Which brings me to one change I would support.

Q: What's that?

A: Severely restrict, if not eliminate, the amount of school-sponsored conditioning that can be held in the summer. Allow football players to get summer jobs, make some money and cover the incidental expenses they incur during the school year. Players are correct when they argue that playing football is like having a year-round job -- time-wise, it is -- but it's only that way because the NCAA allows it to be.

Q: Aren't jobs for athletes just another opportunity for boosters to slip them some corrupt cash?

A: That's a risk, sure, but you monitor it the best you can. And the players who do work could reap some real-world benefits, maybe even gaining experience in their chosen field of study.

Q: NASCAR driver Kyle Busch got a ticket in North Carolina this week for alledgedly going 128 mph in a 45-mph zone. Guess some of these guys really do take their work home with them, huh?

A: It's strange to me how little people seem to be bothered by this. Going 88 in a 45 would be supremely dangerous; 128 is unconscionable. I'm much more outraged about this incident than, say, whether some guy dips below the yellow line to make a last-lap pass. Not sure why NASCAR feels there's no need to intervene in this case, particularly when team owner Joe Gibbs has done nothing other than issue a few public statements with no real bite.

Q: What do you know about NASCAR? Have you hit a single pick this season?

A: Just one. But that becomes two tonight, when Carl Edwards takes the checkered flag in the Coca-Cola 600.

Q: How about the Indy 500?

A: There is no way I can pick anyone other than Will Power. One of the three greatest names in sports. The other two: drag racer John Force and the Brazilian midfielder for D.C. United known only as "Fred."

Q: Should Fred be given an additional $3,000 stipend because his name is so awesome?

A: Yes. But I bet he would not accept it. Every Fred I know likes being a workin' man.

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