Monthly Archives: July 2011

THE DRIVE with MARK PANICHELLI / SPORTS NEWS

College athletes deserve to be paid

Wilbon By Michael Wilbon
ESPN.com
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I used to argue vehemently against paying college athletes. Tuition, room, board and books were compensation enough. And even if, increasingly, it wasn't enough and virtually every kid who accepted a scholarship was in the red before Christmas of his freshman year, the notion of pay-for-play was at best a logistical nightmare. Where exactly would the money come from? How could you pay college football players but not baseball players or members of the women's field hockey team? And how in the world would you pay men in a way that wouldn't violate Title IX?

[+] EnlargeUConn Basketball
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesThe UConn basketball team's run to the NCAA championship generated millions for the NCAA and the university.

So you know what caused me to do a 180 on the issue? That $11 billion deal — OK, it's $10.8 billion to be exact — between the NCAA and CBS/Turner Sports for March Madness between 2011 and 2024. We're talking $11 billion for three weekends of television per year. On top of that, there's a new four-year deal with ESPN that pays the BCS $500 million. So, if those two deals were worth, say, a combined $10 billion instead of $11.3 billion, would the games not be televised? Would the quality of the broadcasts or the coverage or the staging of the events be somehow diminished? What if people in the business of money took $1.3 billion off the top, invested it, sheltered it and made it available to provide a stipend to college athletes, how could anybody stand on principal and argue against paying the people who make the events possible in the first place?

Let me declare up front I wouldn't be the slightest bit interested in distributing the funds equitably or even paying every college athlete. I'm interested in seeing the people who produce the revenue share a teeny, tiny slice of it. That's right, football and men's basketball players get paid; lacrosse, field hockey, softball, baseball, soccer players get nothing. You know what that's called? Capitalism. Not everything is equal, not everything is fair. The most distinguished professor at the University of Alabama won't make $5.9 million in his entire tenure in Tuscaloosa; Nick Saban will make that this year. So I don't want to hear that it's "unfair" to pay the quarterback of Alabama more than all the sociology students in the undergraduate college.

Using the inability to distribute the funds equally as an impediment is an excuse, a rather intellectually lazy one at that. Nothing about the way hundreds of millions of dollars is distributed is equitable or even fair. The BCS' new deal with ESPN was based, in part, on paying more money to schools/conferences with regard to what has been called "population centers." Of the $174 million distributed from five bowl games, 83.4 percent went to six conferences in 2011. In question right now is whether the BCS even conducts its business dealings in a manner consistent with principles expressed in federal anti-trust laws. So, the equitable-application excuse for not paying athletes doesn't hold water; at the very least there's a level of hypocrisy here that ought to make the opponents of paying athletes uncomfortable.

Don't get me wrong, paying players out of individual athletic department budgets is beyond impractical; it's probably not feasible. Because so many athletic departments run at a deficit, it's difficult to make the case that schools should pay regular salaries to athletes, even football players who produce more income than anybody. But it's another thing entirely for the students who play for revenue-producing teams (at UConn and the University of Tennessee, this would include the women's basketball teams) to be somehow compensated from the lucrative television/radio/Internet rights fees they make wholly possible.

It's commendable that the NCAA has paid millions into a fund for in-need athletes to cover clothing purchases, emergency travel and medical expenses. There's also a special assistance fund and a student-athlete opportunity fund. Why can't hundreds of millions of dollars be directed into those, and in turn make money much more accessible to athletes for the kinds of regular day-to-day expenses regular college students pay by working jobs that are off-limits to intercollegiate athletes?

[+] EnlargeLuck
David Madison/Getty ImagesPlayers like Andrew Luck, who are the face of their university, deserve to be compensated.

In the meantime, if they cannot be paid outright, surely the scholarship athletes should be able to engage in entrepreneurial pursuits that currently leads to costly NCAA investigations that have proven to be mostly a waste of time since, one, such activities historically haven't been checked and, two, the kids who commit the "infractions" aren't effectively punished. Their revelations, short of Heisman Trophy winners having to return their statues, wind up penalizing only the kids and coaches who remain on the team and in the vast majority of cases have done nothing to merit a penalty themselves.

If somebody is willing to give A.J. Green $750 or $1,000 or even $2,500 for his Georgia Bulldogs jersey, fine, good. If one of his teammates, a tackle, can fetch only $50 for his jersey, then it'll be a good marketing lesson for both of them. It's called supply and demand, and if both men are fortunate enough to reach the NFL it'll be a lesson worth learning because that dynamic will exist their entire careers. If a soccer player can't get a dime for his jersey, well, there's a realization in that, too.

The question from the opponents of paying college athletes inevitably comes back, "What would stop a star player from agreeing to shake hands at a local car dealership for $50,000?" The answer is, nothing. If a car dealer wants to strike that deal then good for the player in question. If a music student goes out in the summer and earns 50 grand, who objects? Who even knows? The student-musician is no less a college student because he struck a lucrative deal. Neither is the student-journalist who spends his nights writing freelance stories and picking up as much money along the way as he can.

If the student as athlete can find a way, he/she should be able to endorse products, to have paid-speaking gigs, to sell memorabilia, as Allen Sack, the author and professor at the college of business at the University of New Haven has suggested in recent years. The best college athletes in the two revenue-producing sports have always been worth much more than tuition, room, board and books. The best football and basketball players in the Big Ten have produced to the degree that a television network has become the model for every conference in America, a network worth at least tens of millions of dollars to the member institutions. Yet, no player can benefit from that work. The players have become employees of the universities and conferences as much as students — employees with no compensation, which not only violates common decency but perhaps even the law.

Michael Wilbon is a featured columnist for ESPN.com and ESPNChicago.com. He is the longtime co-host of "Pardon the Interruption" on ESPN and appears on the "NBA Sunday Countdown" pregame show on ABC in addition to ESPN. Wilbon joined ESPN.com after three decades with The Washington Post, where he earned a reputation as one of the nation's most respected sports journalists.

THE DRIVE with MARK PANICHELLI / SPORTS NEWS

Cedric Benson arrested in Texas

**Associated Press**

AUSTIN, Texas — Running back Cedric Benson was released from jail on Sunday following an arrest on an assault charge, the second year in a row he has gotten into trouble in his home state.

Benson

Benson

Benson was a free agent after leading the Cincinnati Bengals in rushing each of the last three seasons. He hoped to stay with the Bengals and worked out with players in Cincinnati during the NFL's lockout.

Travis County sheriff's spokesman Roger Wade said Benson was arrested in downtown Austin on a misdemeanor count of assault with bodily injury with family violence. Benson attorney Sam Bassett said in a statement the arrest followed "a conflict" between Benson and a male former roommate.

Wade said Benson posted a $10,000 bond and was released just before 2 p.m.

Bassett considers the "family violence" aspect of the charge erroneous "since the alleged male victim no longer is Mr. Benson's household member and was not a household member for the past few days." Conviction of assault with family violence would draw a stiffer penalty than simple assault.

The running back will be an unrestricted free agent when the lockout ends. Teams aren't allowed to have contact with players until then.

"In cases like this, we don't feel it's appropriate to comment before there's some kind of legal resolution," Bengals spokesman Jack Brennan said.

Last summer, Benson was arrested over an alleged bar fight in Austin. Police charged him with misdemeanor assault for allegedly punching a bar employee in the face. Benson has denied the charge, and the case is pending.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell met with Benson about the arrest last year and decided not to punish him. Benson could face a suspension for his latest arrest once the players and the league reach a collective bargaining agreement, clouding his future in the NFL.

Benson was Chicago's first-round pick out of the University of Texas in 2005. He had two alcohol-related arrests with the Bears, who let him go in 2008. He signed as a free agent with the Bengals and led them in rushing yardage each of the last three years — 747 yards in 2008, 1,251 yards in 2009 and 1,111 yards in 2010.

The 28-year-old running back was disappointed last season when the Bengals went away from their run-based offense that won them the AFC North title in 2009, then finished 4-12. After the Bengals changed offensive coordinators, Benson lobbied to stay in Cincinnati.

He was the second Bengals player arrested in the last week. Cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones was arrested last weekend in Cincinnati on misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct while intoxicated and resisting arrest. Court documents said Jones shouted profanities in a downtown bar and tried to pull away as officers arrested him. Jones has denied the allegations.

Jones' arrest also could draw a suspension from the NFL and might jeopardize his year of probation from a Nevada judge for his role in a 2007 Las Vegas strip club shooting that left three people injured.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

THE DRIVE with MARK PANICHELLI/ SPORTS NEWS

USA WOMEN ADVANCE TO WORLD CUP FINAL / DOWN FRANCE 3-1
 
MOENCHENGLADBACH, Germany — The United States is in the World Cup final for the first time since it last won the title in 1999, and once again, it was Abby Wambach coming up big in a 3-1 victory over France.

Wambach broke a tense tie in the 79th minute Wednesday with a monstrous header — what else? — off of a Lauren Cheney corner kick. Cheney delivered the ball perfectly to the far post, and the 5-foot-11 forward soared over the scrum and pushed the ball past French goalkeeper Berangere Sapowicz. Wambach let out a scream and did a sliding sprint into the corner, where she was mobbed by her teammates.

It was Wambach's third goal of the tournament and 12th of her career, tying fellow American Michelle Akers for third on the all-time World Cup scoring list.

Alex Morgan added an insurance goal in the 82nd, the first for the World Cup rookie. When the final whistle sounded, the Americans rushed onto the field. Wambach found U.S. coach Pia Sundhage and gave her a bearhug as the pro-American crowd of 25,676 serenaded the team with chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!"

"Abby, she's just the best," Sundhage said. "I'm very happy to have her in our team. Great."

Despite the loss, the World Cup was a resounding success for the French, who made their first appearance in the semifinals and qualified for next summer's London Olympics.

The French didn't stick around to watch the Americans celebrate — and the party is sure to be even bigger back home. A thrilling win over Brazil in the quarterfinals captivated fans back home, with Hollywood celebs, other pro athletes and folks who'd never watched a soccer game before jumping on the U.S. bandwagon. Ellen DeGeneres wished the team good luck on Twitter before the game, dozens in the Phoenix airport were glued to TVs and Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers tagged one of his Tweets with "worldcupfinalherewecome."

Though the Americans are two-time World Cup champions, they haven't made the final since Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain won it all in 1999.