The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday June 1st

Put the money on the table

I am tired of ignoring the elephant in the room.

I’ve spent four years covering varsity sports at UNC. I’ve written on about 17 of UNC’s 28 teams.

For most of that time, I’ve bought into the high and mighty ideal that collegiate athletics is a place of purity in sport. That the NCAA Tournament is arguably the greatest sporting event not called the Olympics. That the phrase “student-athlete” is so ordered for a reason.

I like ideals like that. So do all of us. But something about those ideals changed sometime in the last two years the more I saw that great fat elephant of a dollar sign in the discussion.

Take North Carolina, which has a $70 million athletic department budget and barely breaks even. Take schools in the SEC and the Big 12, which bring in more than $100 million in revenue. You know what we usually call anything with a gross product of $100 million? Corporation.

And college athletes are supposed to be amateurs? Give me a break. UNC’s men’s basketball team alone misses weeks of class in both semesters for away games. They wear Nike-sponsored uniforms. They have to speak to a room full of ornery media and answer tough questions. They are asked to be professional in every sense of the word.

The NCAA still maintains that it is an amateur sports organization. But the 126 schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision combined for $5 billion of revenue in 2008.

You want amateur basketball or football, watch the Football Championship Subdivision or high school.

Men’s basketball and football are businesses. They’re minor leagues for the NBA and the NFL.

The standard line of defense to that claim is that precious few college athletes ever make it to the big leagues.

But how many players in the Arena Football League or the Canadian Football League will ever play on Sundays? How many players in the NBA Development League will ever wear an NBA jersey? The rate isn’t that different.

So why not give the athletes who support the rest of the sports a little extra? The amateur model didn’t work and is already gone (see: Reggie Bush, John Wall, etc.).

So separate the revenue sports. Don’t judge men’s basketball and football by the same standard, and pay the athletes. Not much, just $50,000 to $60,000 per year tops. Just enough to put the dirty money on the table. No more boosters buying cars. Let it be above board.

Some colleges wouldn’t be able to afford that. But can anyone tell me that anyone on Butler’s team would have gone somewhere else for an extra 50 grand? Would it really skew the competitive playing field any more than it is already?

Forget, for a moment, the problems of how any college will pay for 100-plus athletes. Think instead of the potential benefits.

First and foremost, you cut down on corruption and ridiculous legislation from the NCAA. It could actually allow the NCAA to get after what’s really wrong with college sport instead of investigations into illegally purchased Pokey Stix.

It could relieve Title IX tensions and allow for true broad-based athletic programs. We could have a level of purity in collegiate athletics again.

One of my favorite quotes is from television: “We’re going to raise the level of debate in this country, and let that be our legacy.”

It took me four years, but I finally got around to the elephant. This University includes many of the smartest people in the nation. Anyone wanna debate?

Contact Powell Latimer at

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