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Pay for Play: Will Athletes Get Paid for Profit Generated at Schools?

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Oregon Men's Basketball sophomore Dominic Artis sat on the bench for the first nine games of the Oregon Ducks' season.

Artis wasn't sidelined because of injury, but because he and teammate Ben Carter violated NCAA rules by selling team-issued Nike shoes. Both players were given mandatory suspensions and both were required to donate the money they received to charity.

Schools like the University of Oregon in NCAA Division-I Athletics are allowed to give scholarships to student-athletes that include tuition, room and board, transportation and stipend for other miscellaneous expenses. In return, the NCAA forbids players from receiving additional money from third parties outside of the university from the use of their likeness as an NCAA athlete (e.g. paid speaking engagements or corporate endorsements).

The concept of "pay for play" in college athletics has recently been put under a national spotlight, with special attention towards the polarizing Ed O'Bannon lawsuit. But at the IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum in December, NCAA President Mark Emmert stated that a "pay for play" model in college athletics would not be allowed any time soon.

Max Forer, who played offensive line for the Oregon Ducks from 2006 until 2011 and is now a graduate student at the University of Oregon School of Law, is aware of the strict regulations for NCAA student-athletes.

"It's very difficult to keep an athlete an amateur," said Forer. "Especially if they have nothing to show for the experience besides a college degree."

While Forer says infractions are uncommon, Artis and Carter aren't the only student-athletes who have been punished for seeking additional money through illegal benefits. Johnny Manziel, who won the 2012 Heisman Trophy, sat out the first half of the Texas A&M opener this season after allegedly selling his autographs. In 2010, Reggie Bush even forfeited his 2005 Heisman Trophy surrounding allegations that he had received improper benefits while at USC.

Katie Harbert, Coordinator of Student Athlete Development at the University of Oregon, says that there is very little else that can be done within NCAA compliance to financially help student-athletes that are unsatisfied with their scholarships.

"Either their family is supporting them, or they're really living minimally," said Harbert.

A study by the U.S. Department of Education from 2010 offered insight on where scholarships fell short. According to the study, the only two revenue-generating sports (football, men's basketball) at the University of Florida generated a combined $46.25 million (or, $372,160 in profit per player) in media profits during the 2010 season.

The same study indicated the cost for an out-of-state student to attend the institution was $45,452 per year. Yet a full scholarship was worth only $41,012 per year, providing an automatic deficit of $4,530 for student-athletes per year.

No significant legislation has officially passed for the NCAA to change its policy. Meanwhile, many student-athletes still struggle to foot the bills that come with the full cost of education.

Jim Delany, commissioner of the Big Ten collegiate athletic conference in the Midwest, recently said the difference between scholarships that are currently given and what he would propose would be between $2,000 and $5,000 for each student-athlete.

Forer agrees that adding a small amount of what is given to a student-athlete would likely prevent many athletes from committing NCAA violations.

The Oregon Ducks football team is allowed 85 scholarships. Forer didn't make the cut until his fifth year, and his family was responsible for paying one hundred percent of tuition for his first four years at the University of Oregon.

The schedules of student-athletes are so full, however, that it would be near impossible to find the time for a job to earn money.

Assembly member Cheryl R. Brown, who sponsored state bill AB-475, proposed a bill that would require California public universities with media and licensing revenue in excess of $20 million per year to guarantee more five-year scholarships. Every institution that met qualifications would also be required to give each student-athlete an additional $3,600 stipend as well.

But Missouri State Assistant Athletic Director for Communications Rick Kindhart said athletic departments in his Missouri Valley Conference wouldn't have the same resources that larger conferences have to remain competitive in an unbalanced system.

"Regardless of your ability to generate revenue, things need to be consistent across the board," said Kindhart.

Mark Pietrok, Acting Director of Athletics at the private Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore., agrees. He says his school offers no compensation to his student-athletes besides need-based aid, despite the $52,000 cost of tuition. While 21 percent of the total undergraduate population plays varsity athletics at his institution, Pietrok said the school does not award any athletic scholarships.

Yet Pietrok said that even without financial compensation, the passion displayed by his athletes would rival any at a larger university.

"The students develop an affinity for the institution through their participation in athletics," said Pietrok.

When Michael Fuller was hired as the Vice President for Enrollment & Student Development at Northwest Christian University (NCU) in Eugene, Ore. in 2005, he was asked to oversee an enrollment initiative to expand the athletic department. With nine new teams in the last eight years, Fuller says that 37 percent of his undergraduate population is now involved with varsity athletics.

NCU allows a budget between $1,000 and $10,000 in scholarship per year for each player. At Northwest Christian, however, the average student-athlete scholarship is only four percent higher than the average scholarship given to the average incoming freshman.

"When we poll our coaches, every coach says they could use more scholarship dollars," said Fuller. "But very few feel they're losing players in the recruiting process due to money."

Fuller expects that with rising tuition across the nation, the idea of pay for play in college athletics will continue to be a pressing issue.

"I feel like a reform will end up happening at some point," said Harbert. "I just hope it's tied to required financial education."

Meanwhile, at a recent meeting for the Division 1A college athletics, 120 members of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics agreed that they are working on restructuring the current NCAA system. While their solution does not involve financial compensation, it could be the next step towards a protection solution for student-athletes.

That way, they said, the sanctity of amateurism in college athletics can still be protected.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post referred to an incorrect financial figure from the 2012 Fiesta Bowl. The post has been updated to correct this.

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