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Jim Boeheim screed rails against philosophy of paying college players

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

Jim Boeheim knows the college game through and through. He was a player before becoming a coach. (USATSI)
Jim Boeheim knows the college game through and through. He was a player before becoming a coach. (USATSI)

The leader of the Orange is not a fan of giving the green to his players.

Below we have the latest in a long history of passionate pontifications from Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who seldom shies from the bully pulpit. In frank terms: Boeheim is against paying college athletes. This topic has become the de facto talking point in college sports over the past two years, and it's likely to remain that way until remarkable change comes to the system.

Boeheim spoke at a New York State Associated Press symposium Wednesday, and was asked about this unceasing issue of compensating the current college athlete. Via Syracuse.com, here's a hearty portion of the rant, which I've trimmed down by about half.

"That's really the most idiotic suggestion of all time. ... I think you have to understand something. It's really very clear. This is really clear. ... Our players get a $50,000 education. Some of them use Syracuse to develop their game, get the publicity they need, become a first-round pick and make money from basketball. Some of them like me get the scholarship, get the grades, get their education, get the chance to play basketball and then get to start life without any debt.
One point that's crucial here that people don't know. Every one of my kids that has a need-based need gets a full scholarship. If he has need he gets a Pell Grant. They get a $6,000 or $7,000 Pell Grant, plus a scholarship. People say that they should be getting compensated because there's 30,000 people in the Dome. That money all goes to pay for basketball, pays for field hockey, pays for volleyball, pays for soccer. We make no money at Syracuse University in the athletic department. Zero. We're lucky if we break even at the end of the year. The only reason we break even is because we're subsidized in some way for scholarships and we use fund raisers. Our basketball program might make 12 or 14 million (dollars) but it all goes to pay for the other sports.
The women's basketball program has the same budget I have. Exact same budget. So who pays for that? We do. Who pays for men's lacrosse? They pay for some of their own. Who pays for track and field? We do. So all that money that we make, it's not coming to basketball.
"A lot of you said, 'Well, coaches make a lot of money.' Yeah coaches make a lot of money. It's a big business. It's a $16 million business for Syracuse University and college basketball. Am I going to be compensated? Yeah, sure I am. When I started the first five years I made zero to coach full-time. The next five years I made $10,000 to coach full-time. As a head coach, the first year I made $25,000. So I didn't, obviously, those first 11 years I didn't get in this to make money.
...
To answer your question, I don't believe players should be paid. I think they're getting a tremendous opportunity. If they're really good, they get to develop. They get the opportunity to play in the NBA. They make a lot of money or they play in Europe and make a good amount of money. And if they're not quite that good then they get free college education. And the kids that have need get a Pell Grant.
We tried last year to push through $150 a month stipend. We tried to push that through. The problem with the NCAA is 350 schools voted, 250 of them have no big-time programs. So we get the same vote as the few schools that have big budgets. We wanted to help our athletes. We can afford to pay them $150. Each one of those kids. Some of those schools at the bottom can't. They voted the legislation down. This has caused a little bit of a problem within the NCAA between the big schools and the small schools. The big schools are paying the bills. The small schools can veto the legislation that the big schools want. It's a bad system. It's a broken system that needs to be fixed. It will be fixed. It will be changed some day.

Boeheim's answer and explanation is smart and covers a variety of issues that have been quintuple-knotted into the fabric of the NCAA's system. He also makes mention of the myriad pro-ball opportunities that exist outside of the United States, the fact he's had players earn a living playing basketball all over the world.

And in the final graf, his point regarding small schools pushing back on stipends is valid. And it's also why a lot of people believe the structure in place within Division I is destined to rip apart over the next decade or so. A lot of what Boeheim makes a case for is largely why the NCAA has been able to go 107 years without handing over a dime to its student-athlete workforce.

But there is one thing Boeheim didn't address: the ever-referenced Olympic model. Plenty of people -- coaches, media, the casual fan of the game -- can agree with Boeheim that most schools simply can't afford to pay its players due to the strain other scholarship sports bring upon athletic departments. But the Olympic model allows the free market outside of the universities to endear its athletes to compensation from entities/sponsors that see fit. Such a rule wouldn't bring economic strain on schools.

Who knows where this pay-the-players crusade, specifically, is taking us. But the conversation continues, and when one of the most famous coaches in all of college athletics chimes in, we only move that much closer to finding out how the business of college sports will be altered in the 21st century.

And after all of this, I wonder what Boeheim has to say about a possible union between college players and a powerful law firm looking to protect their interests.

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