On Sunday I posted Urban Meyer’s thoughts about whether college athletes should be paid, thoughts that he uttered while sharing the head table with former OSU stars and current ESPN personalities Kirk Herbstreit, Robert Smith and Joey Galloway while taking part in the “College GameDay” discussion on the Buckeye Cruise for Cancer.
Meyer was asked the question after a spirited debate on the subject between Herbstreit, Smith and Galloway took up almost a quarter of the one-hour show. Many fans seemed to get behind Herbstreit’s opinion that student-athletes should not be paid, for the record.
Either way, it was an interesting discussion, and one I’ll post here. As I’ve previously discussed with Ohio State director of athletics Gene Smith, it appears the time for cost-of-attendance stipends is nearing in college sports, just to give some background.
The question was first answered by Galloway, who said, “It’s that movement toward being professional that I disagree with. I don’t actually know what it would solve. I understand that a player would have money, but at the end of the day, to me, it won’t stop players from accepting a gift from people. We all come in under different financial situations when we come to school. I’ve never seen that play into the idea of what I’m going to accept something for free. It comes down to decision-making, whether I choose to or not, not whether I need a pizza. I haven’t seen many guys who couldn’t get a pizza when I was in school, but I did see players accept money. I just don’t think it has anything to do with the argument that’s being made for paying players, and I just disagree with it because again, it’s that step that moves us toward being a professional athlete.”
From there, Herbstreit chimed in.
“The money continues to go up because of the network dollars that are being put into it. For them not to get some kind of stipend, it’s hard for me to really agree with that. When my dad played back in 1960, they had something called laundry money. It was like $60 a month. I don’t know what that would be in 2014.
“I think they need some spending money, but I am borderline – this might get Robert going – I am borderline embarrassed of where the athlete has evolved to. The Ed O’Bannon case where he’s suing in the NCAA – Joey and I are video game guys. The fact that we’re in the video game was the coolest thing ever, just the fact that our character was in the game. I think 95 percent of the guys are that way. They think it’s great that they’re in the video game, and now we’re going to sue the NCAA, we’re going to sue Electronic Arts because who gave you the right to use my likeness in a video game?
“It’s just bizarre to me that I don’t think we’re doing a good enough job of selling the student-athlete experience,” Herbstreit continued. “When you’re at Ohio State, it’s not just playing football and going to school. There are so many opportunities that you have that you don’t understand when you’re an 18- to 22-year-old kid and you’re going to these events and you meet people who are in the business community. Urban just committed an entire offseason to introduce athletes to business leaders in Columbus. You’re not going to get that if any of your sons or daughters went to Ohio State. I don’t know what an education costs if you’re there for four or five years, and you throw everything in, travel, all the stuff that you’re afforded.
“I just feel like people assume everybody is a Joey Galloway or a Robert Smith and they make it in the first round and make millions of dollars. 95 percent are me. They don’t play a down in the NFL and use this degree that I got from Ohio State to try to make something out of myself, and I just think we focus too much on the, ‘Wow, the athlete is being taken advantage of,’ when he’s not being taken advantage of. Maybe Braxton Miller is being taken advantage of, but everybody else on that roster is not being taken advantage of, so I just disagree completely with this notion of paying student-athletes. I just disagree with it.”
Finally, it was Smith’s turn to address the audience.
“It will be interesting to see the case with Kain Colter and Northwestern and players trying to unionize,” Smith said. “I agree in spirit with most of that, but I think there’s a glaring hypocrisy in allowing somebody’s likeness to be used but not allowing somebody to profit directly off of their likeness. For all the talk about the stipend, I think that would be great. That’s probably where they’re moving. They’re talking about legislating the bigger schools a little bit differently than the small schools. But if you want to create a system where the players can sign some autographs and make some money, now look, everybody is not going to make money off of that. Nobody is saying everybody on your team is going to have equal value there. Some people have a problem with that, but that’s what happens in every pro locker room.
“I know Joey doesn’t like that talk at all, but the people that argue against that, they say we don’t want a system where they set up deals with the boosters at these big schools and they’re going to be able to get the top players. Well, it’s the same schools that end up with the top players anyway. Whether it’s $500,000 that goes in a year – that’s an example – to a bunch of players that can sign autographs, or it’s just 50 million going into building a facility …”
Herbstreit then quickly jumped in.
“Can you imagine a locker room where the left guard, who is battling his ass off, who is never going to get drafted, who made 12 cents in his autograph show, and the quarterback made 15,000, and you’re not going to have resentment with an 18- to 22-year-old kid? It’s one thing to do that in the NFL, but in college football, team still matters. The team is what this whole thing is about. There are people in these locker rooms that don’t get credit for anything anyway, and the quarterback and the running back get all the credit and all the money, not to mention LSU and Alabama and Auburn, ‘Why would you go to that school? We’ll pay you $25,000.’ I just think that’s opening up chaos. I think that would be crazy.”
Galloway then took over to discuss the fairness component to things.
“I think that argument goes beyond money,” Galloway said. “I think that any team that any one of us has played on, you get treated as an individual. If you look at the conversation we’ve had today (on this panel), it’s about Braxton Miller, it’s about Carlos Hyde, and it’s about Shazier and Roby. Coach was the only one that named about five offensive linemen. I think the world of college football and the guys that make the plays, the guys that you see the most of, they get more, you see their pictures more. I don’t know how many No. 5 jerseys I signed here. I didn’t see many offensive linemen jerseys. I think there’s always going to be some of that resentment when you look at it. I do agree it’s about team and I think it’s about team at all levels, but there’s always going to be a difference. There’s always going to be something that Braxton Miller gets to do that the other guy, the second-string tackle didn’t get to do. That’s the nature of sports.
“Welcome to the real world,” Smith said quickly.
“I agree with you. It’s absolutely the real world,” Galloway replied. “I agree with that. So I don’t know that that is the reason to not allow someone to use their likeness. I see your point, but the stipend is what bothers me. It’s not so much Robert Smith being able to go out and be Robert Smith and being able to sell Robert Smith somewhere, it’s Urban Meyer and the Ohio State University writing a check to each student-athlete. That’s different to me. That again, we’re paying you for your services in cash, and to me, that’s different.”
Smith then took over to discuss more possible ways to make things work.
“The thing that bothers me about the situation where a player will go out and sign and get money, is the school that ends up getting damaged by that in the first place, and it’s the rest of the team that ends up paying for these players doing that because they feel there’s this level of unfairness,” Smith said. “If can you take away some of that by allowing them to do some of the signings, maybe the school sanctions it or whatever, that might be one way to do that.
“We can talk all we want about what we think about tradition. This is in front of the courts now, and the legal definitions of what an employee is and how much you can do certain things with their likeness, wherever O’Bannon goes. We can talk about that all we want, but the law may see it differently, and we’re going to find out a lot here.”
From there, Herbstreit had that last comment of the show.
“Urban Meyer and Nick Saban and Les Miles and now Jimbo Fisher and Bob Stoops and any coach that is winning, the biggest challenge that every single one of them faces, in my opinion, is what we’re talking about, is the entitlement of a freshman and the younger player and how these guys have to work so hard to recruit that five-star who has an announcement and five different hats and he does the head fake and he pulls a little bear out and does whatever he’s going to do,” Herbstreit said, lampooning college announcement ceremonies.
“They have such a sense of entitlement, and this fantasy world that they live in, they show up in college like they’re a first-round draft pick. He inherits that, and then he has to get in their back and reprogram how they think and get them to buy into ‘we’ and wining the Big Ten championship or winning the SEC championship or whatever, and I’m telling you, Pete Carroll and the Seatle Seahawks were a great example of fourth- and fifth- and sixth-rounders and free agents guys buying into the team concept and winning.
“I still think you look at what Auburn did this year, they didn’t have a lot of great players, but they were a great team. They started to believe in their process and what they were doing, and that’s what Urban has been able to do the last couple of years. But it’s not easy, guys. If he’s not sleeping at night, if these other coaches aren’t sleeping at night, it’s because they’re worrying about, how do I get these players to play as a group and not care about being a first-round pick, not care about the Heisman, all these individual things that are out there, get them to buy into team? The guy that does that is the guy that goes to the national championship and the guy that wins it all.”