Big changes unlikely for college athlete compensation

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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

The speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives says he is open to the idea of increasing the amount of money college athletes receive in scholarships, and potentially allowing some leeway in how they spend the money. But Speaker JD Mesnard appears much more reluctant to allow state universities to pay college players a salary.

“Actually having salaries? Once you’re going down that road, you can see how the competition is just going to go higher and higher. How, in that world, do you maintain lower tuition?” Mesnard asked, during an interview with CBS 5 Investigates. “As soon as you open the door, it would be hard to close it,” he said.

Mesnard and other state lawmakers like him across the country would likely have to okay any move to pay college athletes if the time comes that the NCAA changes its amateurism rules.

Currently, college athletes are not allowed to accept payment for playing their sport. That rule has come under fire in past years, and more recently because of a national scandal involving allegations of basketball coaches directing payments to recruits and their families.

University of Arizona men’s basketball coach, Sean Miller, was the target of an ESPN report that alleges he directed a $100-thousand payment to star freshman DeAndre Ayton.

“I have never paid a recruit or prospect or their family or a representative to come to Arizona. I never have and a I never will,” said Miller during a news conference the week after the ESPN story came out.

Other sports outlets have reported that the ESPN sources were wrong about Miller and Ayton, although ESPN states that it stands by its reporting.

ESPN basketball analyst Jay Bilas recently stated on air that these controversies would not exist if the NCAA changed its rules.

“If we're going to sell these players for billions of dollars, they should be allowed to share in that without feeling like they're committing a federal crime,” said Bilas.

Other sports figures agree.

“Eventually these kids are going to start having to get paid,” said former University of Arizona player Mike Bibby.

Last week, the NCAA announced that it took in revenues of more than $1-billion for the first time. Schools from power conferences like the PAC 12 generally make money with the athletic programs. Arizona State University took in just over $101-million during the 2016-17 fiscal year, which was $2.7-million more than it spent.

But critics argue that those figures don’t take into account stadium renovations and other expenses absorbed by the universities and the taxpayers.

And although the pressure is growing for the NCAA to change its amateurism policy, any changes would likely need the okay of state governors, boards of regents and lawmakers across the country, because they fund public universities.

“It’s easy to say well we should just pay them but you’ve got to think through all the logistics of what that looks like,” said Mesnard. “There might be additional forms of some minimal compensation, which means just outside of room and board, especially when you are maybe practicing four and five hours a day,” he said.

But Mesnard said it would be a problem if any plan were to take money away from the classroom or increase tuition for other students.

There are other realistic concerns, including how any plan to compensate star athletes would conflict with Title IX requirements, which call for equal opportunities for female student-athletes. Other considerations include whether students would forgo scholarships, in favor of payment. A paycheck is taxed, while many scholarship benefits are not.

It all boils down to a long road for any changes in compensation for college athletes.

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Morgan  LoewMorgan Loew is an investigative reporter at CBS 5 News. His career has taken him to every corner of the state, lots of corners in the United States, and some far-flung corners of the globe.

Click to learn more about Morgan .

Morgan Loew
CBS 5 Investigates

Morgan’s past assignments include covering the invasion of Iraq, human smuggling in Mexico, vigilantes on the border and Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County. His reports have appeared or been featured on CBS News, CNN, NBC News, MSNBC and NPR.

Morgan’s peers have recognized his work with 11 Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards, two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for investigative reporting, an SPJ First Amendment Award, and a commendation from the Humane Society of the United States. In October 2016, Morgan was inducted into the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Silver Circle in recognition of 25 years of contribution to the television industry in Arizona.

Morgan is graduate of the University of Arizona journalism school and Concord Law School at Purdue University Global. He is the president of the Arizona First Amendment Coalition and teaches media law and TV news reporting at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

When he’s not out looking for the next big news story, Morgan enjoys hiking, camping, cheering for the Arizona Wildcats and spending time with his family at their southern Arizona ranch.

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