Never before have college student-athletes let their voices be heard like they have this summer.
Student-athletes have been at the forefront of protests for social justice. They have been upfront in assertions that some coaches and staff members have acted inappropriately. In recent weeks, they have started the #WeWantToPlay movement as some football conferences have decided to cancel the fall season.
Using both social and conventional media, student-athletes have loudly expressed their opinions. Many participated in the Black Live Matter marches.
A number of schools were rocked in recent months when student-athletes stepped forward to call out coaches and staff members of insensitive behavior. That included West Virginia University, where sophomore safety K.J. Martin set off a storm that ultimately led to WVU’s agreement to “mutually separate” with defensive coordinator Vic Koenning.
The Mountaineers were not the only ones facing difficult times. They weren’t even the only ones in the Big 12 Conference, as the football programs at Oklahoma State and TCU, as well as the women’s basketball program at Texas Tech, also underwent intense scrutiny.
In addition a group of student-athletes in the Pac-12 and Big Ten conferences each recently released a list of “demands.”
Many of their ideas dealt with health, safety and eligibility issues, especially those surrounding the current COVID-19 situation, but there were also some calls for financial considerations. The student-athletes in the Pac-12 included a request for “50 percent of each sport’s total conference revenue distributed evenly among the athletes in their respective sport.” Reportedly Pac-12 football generates in the neighborhood of $450 million per year from the conference through its media rights deals and bowl/CFP money.
That revenue sharing demand has been seen as an overstep by many.
As the chairman of the Division I Football Oversight Committee, West Virginia University director of athletic Shane Lyons is leading many changes within the NCAA.
He’s been progressive when it comes to the modernization of the rules for college student-athletes, but he also makes it clear he believes those student-athletes are already receiving some very good benefits.
“There is not a better time to be a student-athlete than right now,” said Lyons in a recent interview with the Blue & Gold News. “There are more benefits now for student-athletes than there has ever been.
“The thing that frustrates me a lot is that some say the student-athlete receives nothing to play. That’s not true. They receive an education and those on full scholarship walk out with no debt. How many regular students leave college with large debt? For an out-of-state student-athlete, that scholarship is worth $35,00 to $40,000 a year.
“Student-athletes also receive many other things from nutrition to training to academic advising; we can go on and on. Those student-athletes who are needy can receive a Pell Grant with up to an additional $6,000,” Lyons added. “Also compared to what we used to give them when the scholarship paid for tuition, room, board books and fees, now there is additional money for cost-of-full attendance, which provides several thousand dollars more per year. There comes a point in time that you can only do so much.”
Most college athletic departments are currently facing economic hardship caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Still, even in the best of times, college athletics is a unique combination of profit and loss.
“We have just two sports that generate profits, and that’s football and men’s basketball,” explained Lyons. “We have 16 other sports that don’t generate profits. They are very costly. To run a program that doesn’t generate a profit, it will cost anywhere from a half million to $2 million.
“Some are thinking that college athletics need to move closer to the professional model. I definitely disagree; that’s not what our model is.”
(This was part 9 in a multi-part series from our interview with WVU A.D. Shane Lyons. In part 10, which will be the final installment, we’ll discuss some topics that moved to the backburner because of the coronavirus.)