Asked his reaction to the new world order in college football, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney’s instinct was to imagine the potential benefits for athletes, which was the overriding explanation for giving the so-called Power Five conferences autonomy from the NCAA.
“I would hope they would modernize the scholarship and allow for these guys to have a little bit of money in their pockets,” Swinney said Friday, “not salaries, not by professionalizing sports.”
Expanding scholarships to include cost of attendance expenses – an issue Swinney long has championed – would certainly be on the table when the 65 most powerful programs in college football begin to plot a course for the future.
The members of the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 plus Notre Dame have a blank check to examine a number of issues, the overriding of which are the benefits available for athletes. Game schedules, staff size and recruiting might also be reviewed.
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An 80-member panel including 15 athletes will determine policy for the Power Five. Swinney hopes the other 65 members will listen to the young people.
If nothing else, he wants athletes to see a tangible benefit from this new relationship, by “modernizing the scholarship to reflect 2014” to reflect “common sense.”
“Just understanding that the scholarship has to be a little different,” he said, “Preparation has changed. The game has changed. And – more importantly – society has changed. Gas is more expensive, clothes cost more. Food costs more.
“These guys work year round.”
Attempts to expand scholarships have been killed by NCAA members unable to compete financially with these five conferences which generate billions through television, tickets and donors. Athletics budgets at many schools are larger than small corporations. It became almost embarrassing as coaches’ salaries ballooned and hundreds of millions were spent on facilities.
The value of an athlete’s scholarship stagnated. Swinney often pointed out that his players receive no more than what he did on scholarship at Alabama more than 30 years ago.
“It needs to be people that have an understanding of what it takes to prepare and what it’s like for these young men,” he said.
Talk of revisiting scholarship limits, lengths of practice and any of several topics aren’t on Swinney’s radar, but he supported the new structure.
“I definitely think that this is a positive because it’s going to bring about positive change. It already has,” he said, pointing out the more generous guidelines for feeding athletes. “Just the conversation already has brought about positive change. We’ve got to be careful that there’s a good balance, that we don’t lose sight of what college football is all about and the model of college football and those core values.”