Pay-for-play: Mixed views in the ACC

The topic of paying athletes more than the scholarship money they currently receive was not discussed at this year’s ACC spring meetings, according to Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson.

Maybe it should have been.

There is no general consensus on the topic in the ACC, as some, like Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, called the notion of paying players “ludicrous,” and others, like Johnson, expressed interest in it if it could help their players. Regardless of the coaches’ personal feelings on the matter, ACC commissioner John Swofford has said this offseason that it’s a concept worth looking into.

"I think that is something that we need to talk about and give consideration to,” Swofford told Matt Murschel of the Orlando Sentinel in early June. “I think a lot of times we forget the value of a full grant-in-aid in today's world. There are a lot of young people and families that would give their right arm to have their sons or daughters have the opportunity to play a sport that they love and receive a free college education. There's great value for the rest of their life and I think we lose track of that sometimes. But with that said, if there is a way to appropriately increase the value of that scholarship in a way that is educationally sound then we should consider it.

"Could it be limited to only revenue-producing sports?" Swofford told ESPN’s Joe Schad in May. "I'm not sure we would want to do it. And from a legal standpoint, how does it mesh with Title IX? I think we're a ways away from getting there. But it's a student-athlete welfare issue. It's a way to enhance the student-athlete experience and put a dent in some of the financial strains that some athletes have."

In a survey of all 12 ACC coaches through their respective sports information directors, only half of the conference responded, and NC State coach Tom O’Brien declined to participate. Maryland’s Randy Edsall, Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer, and Georgia Tech’s Johnson were all for some form of pay-for-play. Miami coach Al Golden was specifically in favor of a monthly stipend only consistent with the cost of living standard for the student’s city.

While Johnson said “whatever we can do for the players, I’d be for,” he also brought up some counterpoints that would jeopardize the feasibility of increased scholarship amounts. He also questioned how it would affect some of the smaller conferences, and the decisions of recruits.

“When you talk about the cost of college, it’s only going to take one or two times before a kid picks a school because their cost they get back is greater than the cost somewhere else until that other schools goes, whoa, whoa, this isn’t working,” Johnson said. “I’d be all for it if they could figure out a way to do it that made sense.

“How do the Olympic sports come in? How does Title XI come in?” Johnson said. “You’re opening Pandora’s box. I would think that most football coaches in general are all for getting anything they could for their players within reason if they can figure out a way to do it.”

Virginia coach Mike London and Swinney were both against the idea. In a June interview with Bart Wright of the Greenville News, Swinney’s reaction against the idea was strong.

“The idea of paying players to play football in college is ludicrous,” Swinney said, “absolutely ludicrous. If this is going to be a situation of employees coming in to perform a service, that's not what I'm here for. The value of a college scholarship -- of a college diploma -- has been lost over the years and that's sad to me.

“It's impossible for anyone to tell me you can't make it through college without money,” he said. “It's impossible for someone to come to college with less than I had because I didn't have anything, I mean not one thing; you can't have less than nothing and I had nothing at all. I made it through, I worked my (rear end) off to do it, but it can be done, it's possible.”