While Gene Smith supports covering all college costs and promising four-year scholarships, he doesn’t think student-athletes should be paid.
“I am not a proponent of creating an employer-employee relationship, which changes the whole dynamic,” the Ohio State vice president and athletic director said in a July 7 interview with The Lantern. “At the end of the day, you get fired if you don’t perform if you’re an employee, and we don’t want that.”
Smith said he hopes the NCAA never makes it to the point of paying student-athletes beyond the cost of attendance, and added that if it did, it could lead to less lucrative sports being cut.
“I hope that we don’t get to that point,” he said. “If we do, then the men’s volleyball teams of the world, and the gymnastics teams, and all those teams — sayonara.”
But rather than a salary, Smith said he is strongly in favor of covering the cost of attendance beyond just tuition for student-athletes, something the Big Ten is pushing for as well.
He also said there are athletes who might not have saved up for college but who later find themselves in a position to attend school because of their athleticism.
“They may have aspired to just go work in the Ford plant, and all of a sudden they become this great athlete and they’re coming from families where the families didn’t develop a war chest to support them to go to school,” he said. “So those miscellaneous expenses aren’t paid for.”
Smith added the scholarship plan in place today is “old and inadequate” and needs to be changed.
In a June 24 press release, the Big Ten presidents and chancellors said they want to increase their efforts toward schools covering “the full cost of a college education, as defined by the federal government.”
Like Smith, the Big Ten statement acknowledged paying football and basketball players –– the sports that bring in by far the most money –– would hurt other, smaller programs.
The release also touched on an intent to guarantee four-year scholarships whether the player continues to compete throughout his or her time at the university. The same would still apply if the student-athlete chose to turn pro before completing their degree.
Smith said OSU already guarantees scholarships through degree completion. He added that it should be required across the board.
“What the Big Ten is talking about, and what’s being talked about nationally, is that should be mandated for all schools to do that,” he said.
Smith said he was at former OSU basketball player Mike Conley Jr.’s wedding recently when he started talking to Greg Oden, another former OSU basketball player who has moved into an NBA career, about what he plans to do next.
“He’s unsure, but there’s a possibility he might come back and even though he’s a multi-millionaire, we’ll probably end up paying for his degree,” Smith said.
While Smith and the Big Ten are pushing to cover the full cost of attendance and to guarantee scholarships, player compensation has been a hot debate around the entire NCAA recently after athletes at Northwestern University made attempts to unionize.
A National Labor Relations Board ruled in March that football players at the university can qualify as employees and can therefore unionize. The players haven’t taken any steps to do so yet, however, and Northwestern filed a brief with the NLRB earlier this month detailing its opposition to its players unionizing.
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