Candid Coaches: Would you support an Olympic-style model for student-athletes?

Graphic by Mike Meredith

CBS Sports college basketball writers Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander surveyed more than 100 coaches for our annual Candid Coaches series. They polled everyone from head coaches at elite programs to assistants at some of the smallest Division I schools. In exchange for complete anonymity, the coaches provided unfiltered honesty about a number of topics in the sport. Over the next couple of weeks, we'll be posting the results on nine questions they were asked.

Athletic departments, thanks to lucrative media-rights deals and various other revenue streams, have never generated more money than they generate today. So it should be no surprise that college coaches, in all sports, have never made more money than they're making right now -- with Duke's Mike Krzyzewski on the basketball side, and Alabama's Nick Saban on the football side, each reportedly earning more than $8 million annually. Simply put, folks are getting super-duper rich. And yet the student-athletes who are largely responsible for creating the product that generates all of this money still aren't allowed to make their fair-market value. They can accept a scholarship and, in some cases, a cost-of-attendance stipend. But, basically, that's it. Thus, an intense debate has emerged in college athletics -- one centered on whether student-athletes should get more or just be appreciative of what they already get. So, with this in mind, we decided to ask more than 100 college coaches the following question:

Would you support an Olympic-style model that allows student-athletes to profit off of their name, image and likeness?

  • Yes: 77 percent
  • No: 23 percent

Quotes that stood out

  • "I would support players having a chance to live in a more comfortable manner. I would like to see something that would help student-athletes at all levels of schools better their financial situation -- and if it's decided that model is the best, then I will support it. I just know student-athletes at every level of Division I sports are fighting to make the ends of each month meet."
  • "I'm for it because it's the right thing to do. And I think we'll get some version of it relatively soon."
  • "Why would we restrict someone from making money off of their likeness? If there is a market to make some extra money, student-athletes should be allowed to do it. For some, it could mean staying in school longer and completing their education. That's consistent with the NCAA's mission."
  • "The unspoken-about aspect of paying student-athletes is how Title IX comes into play. Allowing all student-athletes, regardless of sport/gender, to profit of their name/image/likeness is a way to infuse money into student-athletes' pockets without bankrupting athletic departments that aren't fiscally solvent. I envision this happening in the next 5-to-10 years as student-athletes continue to have a louder voice in the creation and changing of NCAA rules. The one big gray area I foresee is boosters who own businesses guaranteeing X-amount of dollars in advertising income to prospective recruits that they'll be given to attend specific schools."
  • "It would be nuts for me to be making the money I make and then turn around and tell you I don't think the players deserve more. And the Olympic model is the obvious way to do it. It's not perfect. It'll create some issues. But it would do more good than bad. It would make our sport better. So I'd vote for it."

The takeaway

I was pleasantly surprised to see the coaches vote so overwhelmingly, and enthusiastically, in favor of college athletics adopting an Olympic-style model because, if you read or listen to me at all, you know I've been banging the drum on this issue for years. Still, I didn't expect more than three-fourths of coaches polled to agree with me. I would've predicted something closer to a 50-50 split.

So this is progress, I think.

As I've explained many times -- including in this column from February 2018 -- the most sensible approach to making college athletics more fair for student-athletes, and to eliminating recruiting scandals from college sports, is for the NCAA to adopt an Olympic-style model that allows student-athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness. And I don't mean just football and basketball players. I mean, all student-athletes -- yes, the football and basketball players, but also the volleyball players, soccer players, golfers and anybody else. If an internationally known shoe company, some local car dealership, or anything in between, believes your endorsement is worth something, you should be allowed to accept whatever it is they're offering.

"But where does it stop?" asked one coach who voted "no" because of the advantages it would create for the biggest schools with the biggest boosters and corporate backing. "How much is FedEx paying James Wiseman for a billboard then? How much is a car dealership in Auburn paying Danjel Purifoy then? I think kids deserve it. But there needs to be a cap to keep the playing field somewhat even."

Among the "no" responses, this was a common theme. Coaches believe incorporating an Olympic-style model would "legalize cheating" and create advantages for certain schools. And, long as we're being honest, I can admit they're 100 percent correct. It definitely would. Nike would offer endorsement deals in exchange for elite prospects enrolling, or staying, at Kentucky or Duke, Adidas would offer endorsement deals in exchange for elite prospects enrolling, or staying, at Kansas. And, yes, FedEx would put James Wiseman on a billboard quicker than FedEx can deliver a package from Memphis to Melbourne. So Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, Memphis and schools like them would absolutely have incredible recruiting advantages over schools unlike them.

But guess what? They already do!

So if your argument against an Olympic-style model is that the schools that care the most about a certain sport, and commit the most resources to a certain sport, would bring in the best prospects annually, my question is this: Have you seen the recruiting rankings lately?

That's already how most, if not all, college sports work.

And it's why I've long believed the NCAA adopting an Olympic-style model wouldn't change the order of things much at all. The same schools that get the best recruits now would likely get the best recruits then. The same schools that win the championships now would likely win the championships then. And, in the process, every student-athlete in every sport would get whatever it is somebody thinks they're worth -- whether it's a lot, a little or nothing more than what they already get. And the best part is that it would also effectively eliminate cheating from recruiting because, follow me here, if it's legal for student-athletes to accept whatever somebody deems they're worth, there is no table for which deals to be done under. Everything could happen above board and in the light. So we'd never again have to wonder why a prospect signed with School A instead of School B; we'd know exactly why because it would be documented. And it should be noted that an Olympic-style model might actually give smaller schools a better chance than they currently have at enrolling elite student-athletes because, with an Olympic-style model, if a smaller school had a booster willing to throw real money around, the deal a borderline top-100 prospect could get from that school might be better than the deal the borderline top-100 prospect could get from a traditional power. So, perhaps, he or she might just accept the best deal available regardless or tradition or league affiliation.

Bottom line, this needs to happen.

The biggest thing working against it is that the money companies and boosters are now donating to universities would, in some cases, instead go directly to student-athletes -- which means universities would lose control of some revenue, and God knows they hate the idea of that. But the NCAA adopting an Olympic-style model is undeniably popular with most fans and has been for years. And the results of this poll suggest college basketball coaches are, on the whole, in favor of it too. So now it's just a matter of convincing the power-brokers to also get on board. It won't be easy, obviously. But, hopefully, it's not impossible.

More Candid Coaches

CBS Sports Insider

Gary Parrish is an award-winning college basketball columnist and television analyst for CBS Sports who also hosts the highest-rated afternoon drive radio show in Memphis, where he lives with his wife... Full Bio

Our Latest Stories