College upheaval is not totally terrible

Name, Image and Likeness deals are downright crazy. The transfer portal is an unmitigated disaster. College sports as we’ve known them have a very wobbly foundation.

This is not totally terrible.

My great friend Greg Burke, in his farewell interview with the SBJ published Monday, expressed dismay that a lot of the ongoing revolution in the structure of college athletics is being driven by media and public opinion. There never will be a more noble, altruistic Division I athletics administrator than the just-departed Northwestern State Demons athletic director, but on this point, I humbly and respectfully disagree.

Bigly.

For the love of good ole American values, we should be thankful the day has finally dawned. This upheaval has required public outcry, and media focus, and most of all, the pressure of potential class action litigation and protests by student-athletes to begin rectifying decades of imbalance.

Key point – NIL isn’t an NCAA program. The colleges, happy with the status quo, didn’t design it. Congress did that. It’s federal law, prompted by the massive revenue stream generated by major college athletes providing only a small percentage directly benefitting them. What’s right about that?

There were tremors last March, the ripple effect of the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit, which in the past decade began to erode the status quo. It sparked fear among the power brokers that at last year’s Final Four in Indy, where the NCAA has its headquarters, players could walk out to the opening tip, then sit down on the court and stay there for a bit. The point – that a bigger share of profits from March Madness and other major college sports should benefit, indirectly and directly, those actually playing the games.

Not those coaching them. Not those scheduling or staging them. The college students playing them – in every one of the 24 sports the NCAA sponsors.

Yes, all of those basketball players and most of the football players at Big School U. are on full scholarships, getting academic guidance, meals, housing, tuition and books — and beginning seven years ago, “cost of attendance” stipends at schools that could afford them.

At smaller Division I programs like our area colleges, players on some teams get stipends, while other sports don’t. Where decisions are necessary, top priority goes to the athletes in the money-making sports, football and basketball, not necessarily in that order. Easier to give 30 stipends (men and women) for hoops than dozens more for football, if a choice must be made.

However it’s done, and to what degree institution by institution, it’s good. But it pales compared to the absurd coaching salaries in the upper echelon, even down in the grass roots along the country roads flanking the 358 Division I athletic departments.

Billy Napier was collecting $2 million coaching football at UL Lafayette last fall. Meanwhile, an average of 11,000 fans came disguised as empty seats at 31,000-capacity Cajun Field. Not an acceptable ROI, especially during the best season in school history.

Scholarships ARE a big deal. Just ask anyone paying off a college loan. That group includes many more student-athletes than you’d think, because the vast majority are NOT on full scholarship. For example, college baseball teams have 11.7 scholarships to give to a max of 32 players allowed to receive them. I can do that math. Not to say other financial aid programs don’t reduce the cost of college, but most of the athletes at Tech, NSU, Grambling or ULM are not on full rides, so most have family, financial aid or student loans helping them cover expenses.

Since last summer, when NIL deals became legal (and the NCAA belatedly waved the surrender flag), in the top half of Division I, some (not most) of the athletes have benefitted.

The impact dwindles from the Power 5 leagues to the Group of 5 conferences (where Tech and ULM are), and is a notch above a mirage for FCS schools like NSU and Grambling. The pending announcement of an NIL deal for all Grambling scholarship athletes is wonderful, but it isn’t about to give each Tiger an extra $10-20k per year. More likely, reportedly funded by an East Coast trust fund, it will be a tiered system that is not one-size-fits-all. The biggest payouts won’t be very big, but far better than nothing at all.

It’s a start. Just like the transfer portal (reminder: pro sports survived free agency). Adjustments will be made, because Nick Saban says they must.

But thanks to media pressure, public grumbling, and most of all, the fear of nothing less than a labor force rebellion, Division I college sports are finally becoming more fair to the young people playing them.

NOTE — ONE WORD, “required”, should run in italics. It is marked in red in the fifth paragraph that begins “For the love of…”