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Pay Students To Play? Two Critics Say "Nay"

Tuesday, 16 Jan 2007 | 1:27 PM ET
NCAA
NCAA

Despite sacred names like Notre Dame, college sports programs are not necessarily pure. Should the undergrad athletes who generate big value for their schools enjoy a share of the hard cash? Two experts voice sympathy for the players – but don’t see salaries as the answer.

Andrew Zimbalist, sports economist at Smith College, calls the current collegiate system “very hypocritical.” He told “Morning Call” that deals like that won by Nick Saban – who left the NFL’s Miami Dolphins earlier this month for an eight-year, $32 million contract to coach Alabama U’s vaunted Crimson Tide – are “improper.”

But Zimbalist feels paying the young players directly may only muck up the moral waters. He suggests spreading the wealth implicitly, via better health care and other assistance programs for the often-stressed students.

Marc Ganis, president of consultancy group Sportscorp, sees the financial playing-field being leveled in another direction: downward, via possible revenue caps. And he told CNBC’s Dylan Ratigan that Congress is likely to hold hearings “this year” to study school sports programs’ tax exemptions. But Ganis predicted that the NCAA will ask any government panels for the privilege of cleaning its own house, to preempt legislation.

But while Ganis and Zimbalist say no to the idea of paying student athletes--many of the athletes have said over the years--they'd like to get paid. And some states have even "played" with the idea of giving student-athletes stipends for their college careers. So--with colleges raking in tons of money from their regular season and bowl games (the Ohio State University football program netted more than $28 million last year) the issue will continue to be one for discussion.