GREENSBORO, N.C. – Much has changed since Dabo Swinney graduated from the University of Alabama in the early ‘90s.
The NCAA football scholarship hasn’t.
“They are the exact same as when I was in school,” the Tigers’ head coach said at ACC media days this week. “Gas is higher. Movies are more expensive. Dates are more expensive. Clothes are more expensive. Everything.
“The world has changed, but it hasn’t been reflected in the audience. I think that’s wrong. I’m 100 percent for a stipend or enhancing the scholarship.”
The fires were stoked in the debate in the last week from Clemson senior cornerback Darius Robinson being one of six current players to join Ed O’Bannon’s lawsuit against the NCAA. The former UCLA basketball player is arguing for compensation from the NCAA’s profiting off from the likeness of its student athletes, in such avenues as EA Sports’ video games.
At the ACC Football Kickoff, Maryland coach Randy Edsall said he would have joined the lawsuit as well if he was a player.
Swinney isn’t, however, backing that particular movement, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t supporting Robinson in the move.
“Knowing that his career is coming to an end, he wanted to be a part of it because that’s something he believes in,” Swinney said. “That’s the way it ought be…Doesn’t mean I have to believe in that.”
His philosophy goes back to when he started as a walk-on wide receiver for the Crimson Tide and worked his way on scholarship. He even wrote a speech for a class in college on why players shouldn’t be paid.
“I’m against professionalizing college athletics,” Swinney said. “We have that – it’s called the NFL, arena league (or) CFL. To me, playing college athletics is a privilege. It’s a privilege to be a part of it. Anything that diminishes the value of an education I’m against.”
The Terps’ Edsall is pretty sure college football is already on that “professionalizing” track, and the NCAA is letting it run off the rails.
“One head coach, (10 assistants), four graduate assistants and then they’d like 10 more guys that you can hire that you’re getting 25 (coaches),” he said. “Now what we’re doing is basically creating a scouting department for college. There’s so many issues in our sport right now that you got to have people that are sitting down and talking this 24 hours a day and 365 days a year for this sport to continue to do what we want for young people.
“It’s enormous. There are some enormous issues that are there right now.”
The identity crisis in college football now comes on a couple of fronts: its place in college athletics overall and football’s “Big Five” versus the rest.
Edsall says the sport cannot be treated like everybody else.
“You have all the other sports,” said Edsall. “Why does football get (a stipend) and nobody else? Gender equity and all those things…We’re trying to do the things for all the sports and you can’t do it. I’m of the firm opinion that football shouldn’t be in the equation for Title IX.”
For such reasons, Swinney says a breakup of the NCAA and the Big Five conferences of the SEC, ACC, PAC-12, Big Ten and Big 12 is a “very real scenario” now.
“Whether it be a stipend or whatever, well, you get into a lot of schools making the decisions that don’t fit with the ‘Five,’” he said. “The Five can do a lot of things the rest of the schools can’t, but yet they’re making a lot of the decisions.”
An NCAA-like structure just for bigger conferences – in terms of similar rules – appears to be the future.
“I can see that happening somewhere down the road,” Swinney said. “I see the gap widening. Basically (need) just another division.”
Whatever direction the sport goes soon, maintaining the value of an education is as vital as anything to the coach.
“I get very sensitive when talking about professionalizing college athletics,” said Swinney. “That totally devalues the education and the housing and meals and all that you get to do and the experiences and the privilege they have to be a part of college athletics.”