HOOVER, Ala. – Southeastern Conference players have mostly been content to let league administrators and coaches take up the drumbeat for NCAA reform – not that they’re complaining.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive even said the Big Five conferences could break away from the NCAA if players aren’t compensated more properly.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has advocated that players should be getting a bigger piece of college athletics’ substantial monetary pie for years.
Maybe the most ambivalent group in the whole process? The players.
“We’re not starving,” Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel said. “But at the end of the day it would be nice to receive a little more compensation.”
The life of major college football players and coaches could change drastically in upcoming years once the NCAA and Big Five conferences are done revamping the current system.
Players at SEC Media Days were mostly pleased about the trend toward a few more perks – including scholarships that would offer full cost of attendance – but also admit they’ve already got it pretty good. The fact that most of those upperclassmen might not be around to benefit might make it easier to downplay.
“I think that shouldn’t be a deterrent, the fact that it might not change while you’re here,” said Georgia receiver Chris Conley, a member of the NCAA’s Student-Athlete Advisory Council.
“You’ve got to think about others. When you don’t think selfishly, you realize that the people behind you are going to have the same problems that you did, so you need to change those things.
“As long as the NCAA keeps evolving and growing, it can’t become stagnant because the country is evolving and growing. As long as it keeps moving forward, that’s all we can ask.”
The NCAA’s board of directors will vote on the Big Five’s push for more autonomy in August and if it’s approved a cascade of changes could come quickly.
Slive said the first item on the agenda would be scholarships that included full cost of attendance, which would allow players a little more financial flexibility.
“There is some angst on the part of many, but I think many realize we’re moving into the 21st century, things are different and expectations of student-athletes are different,” Slive said.
Some players say they’re paying attention to the proposed changes. Others say they’re too busy concentrating on football.
“If it happens, it’s going to be great for the players. I know that,” Tennessee senior linebacker A.J. Johnson said. “But I won’t be here for that. The main thing for me is I will be here for this season.”
Arkansas offensive lineman Brey Cook lives with his family in Fayetteville, so he can get home-cooked meals, free laundry and other comforts of home.
“But that’s not the case for most of the guys,” Cook said. “A lot of guys are from all over the country. Some have children they have to take care of, and sometimes (the current situation) doesn’t cut it.”
Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III said he thinks players should get paid.
“I think we all do. I think it’s a job to play college football,” Hargreaves said. “But I can’t really concern myself with it because I can’t do anything about it.”
Auburn center Reese Dismukes and Georgia coach Mark Richt pointed out that high-profile athletes get plenty of perks.
That includes playing on national television, of course, tutors and academic counselors, nutritionists, sports psychologists and up to five years of coaching.
Not to mention tuition, room and board.
“I don’t think that’s that big of a deal,” Dismukes said. “We get a lot of intangibles right now. We’ve got school and all that stuff paid for. You get food and that kind of stuff. Obviously there’s a big push for that these days with all those guys, but we get a lot right now. We’re doing pretty good for ourselves.”
For Richt, there’s also the nurturing received by young men from ages 18-22, who can use college connections as a way to build a professional career if football doesn’t work out.
Richt said Georgia has specific programs in place that can help football players adjust to life after football.
“You can’t always put a price on that,” he said.