Cunningham opposes ‘pay-for-play’ proposal
As the sports world debates if college athletes should receive money beyond the cost of their scholarships, North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham said he is against a “pay-for-play” model.
“Fundamentally, I’m against paying student-athletes to participate in sport,” Cunningham told the Greater Raleigh Sports Council at its quarterly luncheon. “I think our primary responsibility is to provide an education for those who participate, and if we pay them to do that, I think we’ve crossed the line.”
The NCAA Division I Board of Directors had passed a “miscellaneous expense allowance rule,” which allowed schools to give athletes on full scholarship an additional $2,000 to pay for items not covered by the grant including laundry, computers or travel home. But that allowance immediately was overridden by the membership and is in front of a working group again for fine-tuning.
“I think the concept is good, but the way that we’re trying to do it is inappropriate and I think there’s a better way to do it,” Cunningham said.
For example, he said 20 percent of UNC athletes are on Pell Grants. If those athletes received the $2,000 stipend, the value of their grants would decrease by the same amount. In effect, Cunningham said, “We’d be subsidizing the federal government for those Pell Grants.”
He also worried about whether paying players would open schools up to workers compensation and Title IX claims.
“I don’t think we should be paying student-athletes because once you start doing that, ... you’re following a professional model that I don’t think will fit the college stage right now,” Cunningham said.
Not surprisingly, members of his football team disagreed.
“I was very excited about that (stipend),” junior running back A.J. Blue said after practice on Wednesday. “Honestly, I think it should happen because we’re out here working hard, doing what we have to do, and at the same time we can’t take another job. So an extra $2,000 wouldn’t hurt.
“We get a meal stipend, but as a college student, you need more than a meal stipend.”
Cunningham also addressed a few other issues during his 20-minute talk.
— He spent 90 minutes Tuesday morning with his staff discussing what happened with Rutgers men’s basketball coach Mike Rice, who kicked and shoved players and used gay slurs during practices.
The coach initially received a three-game suspension but later was fired after videotape of the incidents was released to the public.
“Where did things go wrong? What can we do to prevent that from happening at our place?” Cunningham said. “They’re great learning opportunities. We basically distilled everything down to simple personal responsibility and holding each other accountable to do what’s right.”
— The department closely is following a budget proposal by N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory that would increase tuition for out-of-state students by 12.3 percent. Cunningham estimated that the move would increase UNC’s scholarship expenses by $800,000.
— Cunningham is waiting to hear whether junior Reggie Bullock and sophomores James Michael McAdoo and P.J. Hairston will declare for the NBA draft this month.
“I know that the fans are worried, I’m worried, the coach is worried,” Cunningham said. “We want to put a great team on the floor, and they’re really good students.
“We have a great freshmen class coming in, and Coach (Roy) Williams does a great job. So we’d love to have the same lineup we had last year, but things will probably change when we get the new kids in as well.”