KU’s Self: Athletes should be paid

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Payment for student-athletes is one of those nuanced topics people seem to be unnervingly certain about. Many hew to the principle of amateurism espoused by the NCAA charter, and declare that a free education is all any player can ask for. Others point out that the NCAA and its member institutions are undeniably profiting from the free labor of student-athletes, to the tune of millions of dollars, and note that any other student on campus is free to get a job at any time to help pay the bills.

While we await the results of Ed O’Bannon’s lawsuit, it behooves us to listen to all sides of the issue, and to keep an open mind. If one of the nation’s top college basketball coaches can change his mind based on new evidence, it’s safe to say there really is no easy way to think about the problem.

The coach in question is Bill Self, architect of the Kansas Jayhawks’ 2008 national title run, and current caretaker of one of the sports blue-blood programs. The Lawrence Journal-World recently learned that Self has altered his  opinion on the matter of pay-for-play, as realignment wreaks havoc on the geographic footprint of each major conference.

“I used to be totally against paying players, paying athletes. I’ve changed,” Self said Friday in a phone conversation with the Journal-World to discuss particulars of his upcoming “Courtside View” panel discussion set for 7-8:30 p.m., Nov. 1 at Lawrence’s Crown Toyota Pavilion.

“I think if presidents are willing to take these athletes and send them across America, miss more school because they have conference realignment, and with the big business of the BCS Championship playoff in football plus the amount of money we generate through television in basketball, I can’t imagine why there aren’t different angles and avenues in which we could compensate the people that are exactly the ones bringing the money to the schools — the student-athletes,” Self said, taking one long breath.

Self’s panel discussion will include Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News, Fran Fraschilla and Jay Bilas of ESPN and Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star. Plenty of heavy topics will be under discussion, in addition to the hot-button topic of pay-for-play.

My own stance on the topic? I feel student-athletes should share in the revenues generated by their efforts. If the proposed compromise of post-graduation trust funds is adopted, I’ll consider it fair. In the meantime, as long as everyone’s nominally bound by the current NCAA charter, any attempt to get around said rules by under-the-table payments is clearly legally wrong, even if it’s morally defensible.

I know I sound like I’m waffling — none other than the estimable Mr. DeCourcy tried to nail my opinion down on Twitter one afternoon. Suffice to say that I hope a day is coming soon in which student-athletes have access to a fair percentage of the money they earn for their “employers”, because as long as it’s a grey area, the shady stuff will continue to go down, and that hurts the sport and the young adults who play it.

Bill Self called it: realignment is about money, not even remotely about what’s best for student-athletes. That fact bears examination.

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.