I came across this Deadspin article today, which tries to downplay the latest pay-for-play scandal (this time at Oklahoma State) by noting that often the money was used for basic necessities like food and clothes. Since the piece is short, I’ll reprint it in its entirety:
Beneath all of the handwringing and pearl clutching that is laced throughout Sports Illustrated’s story on Oklahoma State’s pay-for-play schemes is this, the final paragraph:
At Oklahoma State the bonus system, the booster and coach payouts, and the bogus jobs provided players with money that was seldom spent on extravagances. One or two standouts bought a new car or expensive jewelry, team members say, but the vast majority of the players used the extra cash to purchase everyday items — food, clothing, tickets to a movie. “There were some athletes who were almost starving,” says Carter. “Wherever the money came from, they were like, Yeah, I’ll take that.”
After 3,000 words about wads of money being stuffed into envelopes and socks—after all that scandalous B-movie imagery—we are finally told the only thing that really matters about this story: All that money was going towards clothes and food for college kids who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford either. Everything else is just useless muckraking on behalf of the exploiters at the NCAA.
This certainly changes ones perspective, as well as the assumption that these players are blowing their illegal cash on cars, jewelry, and other frivolous items. But there is just one problem:
I don’t buy it.
I’m pretty familiar with Okie State and their athletic program, as they were in the same conference as my Nebraska Cornhuskers for most of my life. While the OSU Athletic Department isn’t as big and well-to-do as their in-state rivals in Norman, they are not exactly hurting for resources – even without including the mega contributions from billionaire oil man T. Boone Pickens.
Why does that matter? Because it means I feel very confident in saying that no OSU football player should be going hungry or be without clothes to wear. I’m guessing* that scholarship football players at Oklahoma State have ample access to:
- Plentiful amounts of food. Schools like Nebraska and OSU have athletic dining halls (Nebraska calls theirs a training table) with vast amounts of nutritious (and delicious) food choices. And to be clear, this isn’t the same cafeteria slop the coeds in the dorms are eating. This is steaks, seafood, fresh fruits and veggies, and other choices.
- Tons of free clothes. Oklahoma State has an $11 million dollars apparel contract with Nike. Yes, a good chunk of that goes for uniforms, cleats, gloves, and other game equipment. But players also receive a number of shirts, sweatshirts, shorts, pants, socks, shoes, and other free clothing.
*Yes, it is a guess. But it is a very educated guess. With my familiarity of college athletics, I’ll need somebody with deep knowledge of OSU policies to prove me wrong.
I’ll allow that college football players (other than Johnny Manziel) are not living a life of luxury, but the inference from the Deadspin piece that OSU players are sitting in their underpants eating ramen noodles because they cannot afford clothes or food is crap. A scholarship football player – at Oklahoma State or any other BCS program – may not be able to eat out every day, or wear designer labels…but a lot of college students don’t do those things either.
And let’s not forget: Joe Student doesn’t get meals at the training table, several hundred dollars worth of Nike apparel, academic tutoring, or free tuition.