Commentary: NCAA stipends are unnecessary — a free education is enough

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SEATTLE — But we start by putting our spotlight on an argument gaining momentum to pay college athletes an annual stipend.

I rarely sound like an old curmudgeon traditionalist. But tonight, I will.

A stipend has no place in collegiate sports – a scholarship is more than enough.

I understand the argument, that the NCAA, its conferences and universities are making a fortune from television contracts and publicity from their big-revenue sports. While their coaches might make millions, their players don’t see a dime.

But they’re getting an education for free – four years of tuition, board and books that averages between $75,000 and $200,000 when it’s all said and done.

Is 200,000 per student-athlete enough? I’d say it is.

If you tell me it’s unfair that Johnny Manziel can’t get a part-time job to have a little extra dough in his pocket, I’ll tell you about thousands of starving students who can and do work part-time just to pay a portion of their tuition, a tuition Manziel doesn’t have to pay.

Tell me college athletes are being exploited and I’ll remind you that while they’re getting an education for free, thousands across America are having their chance at higher education threatened by rising interest rates on their student loans.

Student-athletes are called student-athletes and not athlete-students for a reason: because they’re students first.

If a university makes money because of their athletic success, fine. Those same student-athletes can one day make millions too – either athletically or in the corporate world thanks to the education the university provided for free.

Even the supporters of a stipend see the potential consequences: start paying student-athletes and the bigger conferences that can afford it will have an even greater advantage over the ones that can’t. The split between the “haves” and “have nots” could force yet another secession between the big five conferences and all the rest.

Yet my argument is a moral one and one based on the top priority for attending college in the first place: to earn a degree, not to springboard to a professional league.

Which brings me to a suggestion: if paying student-athletes is inevitable, then do it as a reward for their success in the classroom rather than success on the field.

Pay them that stipend, contingent on making the honor roll or dean’s list or for staying all four years.

If that extra bit of pocket change is so valuable to a student-athlete, then force them to get the most out of the education they’re getting for free.

For an organization that prides itself on doing what’s right for student-athletes, the NCAA needs to hold their ground and get this one right.

Tell me those athletes deserve getting a piece of the pie and I’ll tell you, they already are.

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