Just three years ago, Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour was looking at the athletics budget and trying to account for an additional $1.75 million annually, the number associated with Penn State’s cost of attendance stipend.
The federal figure would come in at $4,700 annually for every undergraduate student-athlete, making it part of their scholarship package and thus becoming the first crack at student-athletes getting paid. However, cost of attendance is a fixed figure that was once thought to be laundry money, help for incidentals and to pay for a couple trips home per school year. It’s certainly not a salary.
After attempts to unionize at Northwestern all while college athletics continues to thrive with robust operating budgets, could scholarship athletes be one step closer to potentially getting paid some sort of compensation or endorsement money in addition to their scholarship and cost of attendance stipend?
“Not unlike cost of attendance, there’s an evolution to this,” Barbour said last week during Penn State’s Coaches Caravan when asked about endorsements. “Four years ago or five years ago, student-athletes weren’t receiving cost of attendance, which I certainly at two different institutions have advocated for. So I think there’s an evolution and that might be the next step.”
But, Penn State and every other NCAA institution is far from getting to that point where their athletes could be cut a check for the services provided to the university or even seeing them get paid through endorsement deals. For starters, who would get paid and how much would they potentially receive? Also, where would non-revenue or Olympic sports fall in all of this?
At a place like Penn State where wrestling won seven NCAA titles in eight years — yet operates with the NCAA allocation of 9.9 scholarships — what would compensation look like for them? Or, what’s the difference in payment between an NCAA champion wrestler and the third-string defensive tackle? One program brings in significantly more money than the other, yet one athlete achieved more success than the other. Would that matter?
That’s just one of the many issues with potentially paying the scholarship athletes. Add in endorsements, something that Penn State saw firsthand as Saquon Barkley declared for the NFL draft and within weeks signed an endorsement deal with Nike, and it raises the question of how much more money Barkley could’ve potentially made had he been allowed to be compensated in some way during his three years in college.
“I have a personal opinion on a surface-level understanding,” James Franklin said last week during the Coaches Caravan, adding that he wants to examine the topic more thoroughly. “But I’d rather do a deep dive before I answer. …I don’t want to throw out something that I haven’t thought through.”
Whether athletes would be taxed and how they would be taxed is something Jim Harbaugh hasn’t shied away from talking about. Michigan’s athletic department hauled in $2.25 million off the Amazon Prime reality series this spring. They also took that second educational trip abroad in as many years thanks to deep pockets of a few donors. If Michigan were to do the Amazon Prime series again though, expect Harbaugh to have some additional questions.
“And we’re exploring that right now,” Harbaugh told MLive.com last week when asked about compensation. “I’m looking at if we do an Amazon TV show again, is there a way we can get $1,000 in stock in Amazon possibly? Or deferred compensation?”
If college athletics removes the amateur label, then would schools try and regulate where the money comes from? That’s another question Barbour pondered aloud.
“Are we going to restrict who they can or they can’t [receive endorsements from]? Are we going to restrict their association with a particular institution?” she said. “It just creates other questions. It doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do.”