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Phillip Fulmer Agrees with Steve Spurrier: Time to Pay College Football Players

Last month, the Big 10 had embryonic discussions about paying college athletes. But the NCAA hates the word “pay,” because after all, these are “student-athletes.” So the NCAA used a word that is less likely to antagonize the subset of folks who think a scholarship for football players is enough: “stipend.”

Yesterday, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier brazenly talked about paying his football players – out of his own pocket (Spurrier made over $2 million last year).

One person who doesn’t seem keen on paying players is Penn State assistant coach Jay Paterno, who wrote an interesting blog post about just how valuable a football scholarship is. Paterno does a great job of breaking down the free education, but leaves out one important point – just how much loot is the football team bringing in to the university?

I talked with former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer (who won a National Championship in 1998) about the topic today.

“I absolutely support the concept of helping the athletes any way we can,” Fulmer told me. “[With] the influx of dollars from television and everything, there’s a lot of money that’s being generated, and if I were one of the players, I’d probably feel the same way.”

Here’s a pretty neat breakdown of the TV deal$ for each college football conference. (And somewhat related, here’s a blogger who got his Ph. D and in the process, changed his mind about paying college football players.) Remember when the New York Times wrote about Cam Newton’s effect on Auburn? The paper broke down how valuable Newton – who won the Heisman and brought the Tigers a title – was to the university, from licensed gear to tickets to recruiting. With maybe the exception of a powerhouse basketball program, no other sports team at any university can come close to matching the financial benefits of having a No. 1 ranked football team or superstar player.

College football has changed in the last 30 years. It’s big busine$$. Coaches are paid astronomical sums. Fulmer laughed about how much things have changed.

“A good numbers of years back, coaches were just not paid to the level that they’re paid now,” he said. “There wasn’t that much money brought in outside of attendance, and that’s not the case now. A number of years ago it was a scholarship and $15 – for us, it was called laundry money. They’re on scholarships … but I’ve seen many, many difficult situations for the kids financially. Guys can’t go on dates or can’t go to the movies, and they’re positions that are tough. They’re having to sacrifice a lot. Like their health. They’re only going to play so many years – [and] they should get as much out of it as they can.”

When Ohio State gets scholarship reductions and a 2-year bowl ban from the NCAA for all the shady stuff that’s being uncovered in Columbus (memorabilia, tattoos, cars, whatever), the trickle down effect to the non-revenue generating sports will be felt. Perhaps severely. Nobody’s saying all athletes will quit bending the archaic rules just because they’re getting paid, but isn’t it a good place to start?

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