Kansas colleges’ priority should be students — including student athletes

Wichita State University’s Koch Arena
Wichita State University’s Koch Arena The Wichita Eagle

During a congressional hearing on athlete pay this week, NCAA president Mark Emmert told Senators that endorsement deals for college athletes “could lead to corruption in the recruiting process.”

The Associated Press story didn’t mention any uproarious laughter filling the chamber. But that had to be the reaction, right?

Corruption abounds in major college sports, as illustrated by a 2018 federal case that exposed the influence of basketball apparel companies such as Nike, Adidas and Under Armor.

More recently and right up the road in Lawrence, the University of Kansas stands accused of five Level I NCAA violations connected to alleged payments made to families of recruits.

Letting players earn stipends or endorsement money wouldn’t degrade college sports. It might allow athletes to see a cut of the billions of dollars generated by their work — money currently gobbled up by highly paid coaches, athletic directors, television networks, conferences and universities.

Beyond that, it could shift dollars, attention and appreciation toward a group of people universities too often shrug off: students.

Colleges are big business. We have only to look at Wichita State University to see a notable emphasis on private industry and community partnerships, sometimes at the expense of students.

Andy Schlapp, Wichita State’s executive director of government relations and strategy, told the university’s board of trustees last month that WSU students, faculty and staff would be ticketed if they parked in a lot outside a new campus YMCA and Student Wellness Center during normal business hours, according to a student newspaper report.

The parking spots were reserved “for Y members only,” Schlapp said.

Even though most full-time WSU students pay a $190 annual fee to fund operating costs of the new YMCA and are automatically Y members, “They’re not able to park there,” Schlapp told the trustees.

Understandably, students complained, and university officials announced earlier this month that they will be allowed to park in the YMCA lot for up to two hours, The Sunflower reported.

Parking is a regular challenge for WSU students anyway, including during men’s basketball games, when huge swaths of student lots are turned over to season ticket holders and VIPs.

It seems, as U.S. Sen. Richard Bluementhal said during the recent Senate hearing, that “everyone is profiting off of the fame . . . of student-athletes except the athletes themselves.”

WSU men’s basketball coach Gregg Marshall makes about $3.5 million a year, not including bonuses and perks. University of Kansas coach Bill Self makes close to $5 million a year.

Universities bring in millions from athletic tickets, sponsorships, endorsement deals and merchandise. Student athletes are profit machines, and although the full-ride scholarships many receive have significant value, it’s a small percentage of what they earn for their colleges.

Twenty-six states, including Missouri, are considering legislation that would prevent universities from restricting student athletes from profiting off of their name, image or likeness.

Congress should act — as KU chancellor Douglas Girod urged senators this week — to prevent a hodge-podge of state laws. And universities should remember their priority should be students, including student athletes.