College athletics may be the last legal slave trade in the World.
Student athletes are not allowed by NCAA regulations to receive special benefits from the institutions they represent or from anyone other than their parents or guardians.
Special benefits include, but are not limited to any item (*e.g., cash, shirt, dinner) that has tangible value.
(*2009 Eligibility Summary for Student Athletes)
The regulation is understandable from the standpoint that allowing certain benefits would be tantamount to compensation for services rendered. Once it becomes an issue of compensation packages then recruiting becomes a human resource function (with the best players going to highest bidder) and there will no longer be amateur athletes, at least for the major sports, at the collegiate level.
Moreover, as it would be very difficult for the NCAA to regulate or determine what monetary benefits might be appropriate a zero tolerance policy is employed which disallows even the helpful hand of charity from being extended to some in dire need.
The NCAA did finally grant a waiver in the case of Ray Ray McElrathbey, the former Clemson University running back who fought for and gained custody of his younger brother Fahmarr. Unfortunately, the two virtually had to starve under the NCAA’s regulations until the waiver-which only came about after much public outcry and media coverage-was granted allowing charitable contributions to come in to support the two.
Other, indeed many, student athletes hail from less than affluent families and cannot afford simple necessities, let alone other expenses incurred by most college students-particularly those living away from home for the first time. Yet, most of them will not have national media attention gathering stories so don’t look for a lot of exception waivers.
Opponents of pay-for-play plans argue that the athletes are provided an education, student housing and all the books they need for their studies-more than enough-and far more than other students, who ‘pay’ for their education and living expenses.
Moreover, they reason that any pay-for-play would negate the amateur status and essentially professionalize the sport. The Pigskin Czar agrees with that point but frankly it is debatable and the zero tolerance policy opens the door to few options for the student athlete and by extension the University.
First the student athlete can, and in the vast majority of cases does, struggle to make it through his or her college years very meagerly. You could say that many people live modestly during their college years and that is certainly true.
I shared apartments or rental houses with up to six other people when I was going to school in Atlanta and most of my meals came compliments of one of the minimum wage restaurant related jobs I held in those years.
Yet, therein lies the difference. I was able to work at my discretion-as are all non student athletes-and could figure out a way to support myself without interfering with my training and practice schedule or running afoul of the NCAA.
I recently shared an airplane ride with a member of the 1992 National Champion, Alabama Crimson Tide who told me of his roommate that was dirt poor in those days.
Other than his meal card for lunches on campus or official team meals he was unable to obtain food for most of the year, let alone other "luxuries" like decent clothing.
Briefly during the off-season(s) he was able to accept some part-time very low wage work but hardly enough to keep himself warm and well fed year around. Moreover, any jobs could/would be subject to a litany of restrictions by the NCAA to "make sure" they were not preferential.
An assistant coach once bought this kid a burger and it was considered an NCAA rules violation—I don’t know if the NCAA was actually involved or if the Athletic Department just warned the coach to avoid a violation. Either way, what coach wouldn’t want to feed a hungry player in his charge?
This leads to the second option, people cheat; coaches, fellow athletes, alumni, boosters, "friends of the program" take care of these kids, or so the perception goes.
(This is not an expose or an investigative report so I’m not making any specific allegations nor do I have any firsthand knowledge of any such infractions, I’m just making a general point that a problem or at least a huge opportunity for one exist.)
The same gentlemen, from the aforementioned plane ride, told me that he would try to help his roommate when he could but in most cases it is also considered a violation for a player, also considered a "representative" of the institution, to provide "benefits" to other players. So other than sharing some Doritos in the dorm room it’s considered cheating to put a little food in a teammates belly?
Third option; play them-selves into a position to bolt for the NFL, NBA, MLB or whatever professional league and signora!
Consider the impact on NCAA Basketball with players leaving for the NBA after one year or opting not to go to college at all—there can be little doubt that it has had a degrading effect on the quality of play for college basketball—and though it is not as big an issue for CFB it’s an issue and option, at least for those good enough to go to the next level.
So the first question facing your new Pigskin Czar is this:
How do we preserve the amateur status/nature of the student athlete while providing sustenance and covering without creating an unfair recruiting advantage to any university?