Programs run into pitfalls with fining college players
Take away game tickets for missing class. Hold back a bowl gift for being late. Maybe even dock a player his $15 per diem for skipping study hall.
For years, college football coaches have been coming up with creative ways within NCAA rules to punish players for relatively minor missteps — sometimes hitting them in the wallets.
These days those wallets are fuller than ever before, thanks to new NCAA rules that increased the value of an athletic scholarship by several thousand dollars to include a stipend for additional cost-of-attendance expenses. That does not mean coaches can start fining players for misdeeds like they do in the pros.
"All that's covered (in cost of attendance) is the costs that the school says is needed to survive on campus," said Ramogi Huma, executive director of National College Players Association, a student-athlete advocacy group. "This is not excess money."
Not only could fining players be an NCAA violation, but it also makes college sports look like professional sports at a time when college leaders are trying to make the case that amateurism needs to be preserved.
Huma led a movement to unionize football players at Northwestern. It failed, but the National Labor Relations Board never did rule on whether the players were employees. College sports leaders insist they are not. Antitrust lawsuits against the NCAA make the case they are.
Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock quickly stamped out a potential problem Wednesday night in Blacksburg, Virginia, when he quickly ended a fine program Hokies' coaches said they were considering.
Defensive coordinator Bud Foster talked about fines coming out of players' cost-of-attendance money. Virginia Tech athletes are receiving an additional $3,280 (or $3,620 for out-of-state students) this year to cover expenses beyond tuition, room and board and fees.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch published a photo on Thursday of a video board at the Virginia Tech football facility that had a list of transgressions — missing class, missing study hall, dirty locker, unsportsmanlike behavior — with dollar amounts next to them ranging from $5 to $100.
Virginia Tech said no money had been forfeited under the proposed system.
"Now, I would also like to say this: I really admire Coach (Frank) Beamer, the behavior of our players, the accountability, the discipline, the clean program. I admire what he's done," Babcock told The Roanoke Times. "But I just think this is a new era and we all agreed this morning that we would stop this practice in total."
Babcock said in the past Virginia Tech coaches had disciplined players by withholding game tickets or bowl gifts.
That's not uncommon nor is it against the rules. Tickets and gifts are perks for being part of the team, not financial aid.
"I would basically hold ransom," said former UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, now an analyst for CBS. "I would keep things and if I got the behavior I wanted it would be returned to them.
"I would hold back bowl gifts until we got the academic work that we needed to get done."
Neuheisel, who also coached at Washington and Colorado, said a player could be punished by not being allowed to drive to a not-so-far-away bowl game, hence taking away the player's ability to be reimbursed for the mileage and make a couple of bucks in the process.
Former Arkansas and Mississippi coach Houston Nutt said making a player run gassers or stadium steps at 5 a.m. as punishment isn't always enough to get his attention.
Nutt said he once took away a player's travel per diem — about $15 — after the player missed several study halls.
"To me it was a good little learning point especially when his teammates opened up their envelope and got theirs and his first trek was straight to me," said, who also works for CBS Sports. "'Hey coach where's my envelope?'"
Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville seemed to double-down on the Virginia Tech plan when he told ESPN that he would withhold cost-of-attendance funds if players violated team or athletic department rules.
"We are in no way, shape or form fining any of our student-athletes," Cincinnati athletic director Mike Bohn said.
While NCAA rules prohibit schools from withholding scholarship funds based on athletic performance, a school can include in its scholarship agreement that funds can be revoked for violations of university, athletic department or team policies. The scholarship agreement athletes sign with Cincinnati spells that out. There is also a university appeals process for an athlete who faces the loss of a scholarship.
Cincinnati football players are receiving an additional $5,504 in scholarship money to cover cost of attendance and Tuberville wants it used to pay for student misdeeds such as parking tickets, late rented books and damaged door rooms.
"And now we're trying to educate our student athletes," said Maggie McKinley, associate athletic director who oversees compliance at Cincinnati, "because of that increase in their scholarships, they have more to lose."
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP