Notre Dame and Alabama players have been full-time employees of their respective football programs for the last five months — and for most the workload has not let up since they first arrived on campus the summer before their freshman years. In return, they receive a college education, meals, clothing and a list of other perks.
Brian Kelly and Nick Saban meet Sunday morning prior to Monday's national championship match-up.
General consensus among college coaches and administrators is starting to tip toward that compensation not being enough. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, Alabama coach Nick Saban and Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick all said Sunday they were in favor of instituting a stipend to help college athletes cover cost-of-living expenses outside the scope of their financial aid packages.
“These young men put in so much time with being a student and then their responsibilities playing the sport, that they don't have an opportunity to make any money at all,” Kelly said. “We're not talking about paying players. We're talking about let them be college students, and a stipend to me makes total sense.”
The arguments on either side of adding to the benefits package of amateur athletes have long been established. These are young men that generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue each year, yet can’t afford to buy their own replica jersey from the bookstore. These are young men who live a privileged life on college campuses and collect enough per diem and grant money to send designer baby clothing home to their families.
Kelly said he worked as a campus security officer and dishwasher when he played club football at Assumption College. His players today don’t have the time to hold down part-time jobs, which he says leaves some of them without money to buy a pizza or go to the movies.
“I think especially where we've sort of gotten to from a business perspective relative to the financial end of things that there isn't really any good reason that the student athletes who create that should not share in that to some degree,” Saban said Sunday morning when asked what his plan to help players would be. “I think there's a lot better people to determine how and what that really should be, but I do think we should move in that direction to help student athletes.”
Swarbrick is one of those people. The Irish athletic director is part of an ad hoc committee that was reconstituted in December to examine if and how student-athletes should receive additional money. Swarbrick said he works with university presidents, administrators, financial aid professionals and other athletic directors to try to find a solution.
The if, he says, is much simpler to solve than the how. The group agrees that a stipend is appropriate, but the logistics of handing out a $2,000 check — the number floated in previous NCAA discussions — are tangled in a nightmarish web of Pell grants, tax forms and other financial aid technicalities.
Swarbrick said he asked his staff to research how a cash stipend would affect the funding for a group of 10 student-athletes with various financial aid plans. The results revealed that some of the athletes would actually lose money because other grants would disappear with the extra income.
“The complexity of it is very real,” he said. “It’s not about intent; it’s about execution.”
One common argument against the stipend is that it would give some schools who could afford to pay the full amount to all of their scholarship athletes a recruiting advantage. Swarbrick dismissed that idea as a red herring, saying that the advantage already exists.
“There are all sorts of distinctions among schools and what they offer student athletes,” he said. “The scholarship at Stanford is worth one amount and a scholarship somewhere else is worth something else. How you travel is a certain way with one school and is different than another.”
There is no universal financial aid forms for different schools, which makes the myriad of obstacles to a logical solution all the more difficult. A final plan isn’t likely to come soon, but Swarbrick said he is optimistic that his committee will find an answer.