Panel discusses paying college athletes stipends

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Moderator Daron Roberts and John Kuempel, a former UT football player, participate in a panel discussing the payment of student athletes in the Tower on Monday night.
Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

Texas athletes-turned-lawmakers at a panel on Monday discussed the merits and challenges associated with paying student athletes a stipend for playing on university sports teams. 

Although the panelists agreed that student athletes deserved a minimal stipend to be able to afford basic necessities, they also expressed concerns about the possibility of creating a financial distraction from the athlete’s academic career and the complications of determining the amount for an appropriate stipend.

Many student athletes’ economic situations do not guarantee that they even have enough money for full meals, according to Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), who participated in the panel. 

“When you begin to think about some of these athletes who sign and sell jerseys, some of them are doing that to get a few dollars to be able to get a meal,” West said. “We should not allow that type of system to persist when we know that’s an issue.”

New streams of revenue have raised the funds to make paying student athletes feasible for Division I schools, said Rep. Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches), who took part in the panel. 

“In 2015, college sports teams have the television contracts, merchandising, EA sports video games and much more,” Clardy said. “A whole lot of people are making money because of a bunch of kids putting on a jersey with a particular school’s colors on it. So I think there is plenty to go around; we just have to figure this out.”

Even though a stipend system, in theory, would help alleviate financial issues for student athletes at big schools, Clardy said, those schools with weaker sports programs would struggle to budget for the system. 

“Funding issues are not as much of a problem in big schools like the University of Texas and the University of Michigan, but what do you do when you get down to the Division II, Division III, and Division IV schools?” Clardy said. “Factor in Title IX issues, [and] you really get into some very difficult economic issues.”

Title IX provisions prevent institutions that receive federal funding from discriminating for or against parties based on gender, so both male and female
student athletes would have to receive stipends.

Rep. John Kuempel (R-Seguin), who participated in the panel, said paying athletes high stipends could prevent them from getting the quality of education they will need to sustain themselves after college.

“I disagree with having paid players,” Kuempel said. “What is the percentage of people who go on to make money in professional sports? It’s miniscule. Once you start paying athletes, they will not pay attention to what’s going to keep them afloat for the rest of their lives. In the end, sports are there to teach you what to do with the rest of your life.”

Paying student athletes more than a minimal stipend would remove the school spirit aspect of college sports, according to Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), who participated in the panel. 

“I want to make sure that the athletes can have meals and they get the stipends, but I don’t want to make it pro-sports because it kills the spirit of what college means,” Kolkhorst said. “Nothing can rally you as much as school spirit.”