There's a clear disconnect between college athletes and the administrators they play for, and at no point has that been more evident than the past 48 hours. One day after athletic directors at NC State and Alabama teamed up to bemoan the spending practices of their own players, NCAA executive Oliver Luck took that rhetoric a step further to essentially suggest that the student-athletes his organization represents are children.
NCAA's Oliver Luck on why there's an open market for coaches pay and not athletes: Coaches are adults.— Michael Casagrande (@ByCasagrande) December 10, 2015
Of course, the vast majority of student-athletes are legally considered adults. Any freshman that arrives on campus at 18 years old can vote, enlist in the military, serve on a jury, get married, own land and buy fireworks. Luck's own son, Andrew, spent four years at Stanford and left the program as a 22-year-old. According to the elder Luck's recent quote, he wasn't an adult until NFL teams could start bidding on him.
Some players, like former Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden or Florida State passer Chris Weinke even hit the magical age (25) where they can rent a car on their own, while still playing for their respective programs. When these players run into legal problems, they aren't charged as juveniles - regardless of their status as a college athlete.
What's so surprising about this comment is that Luck had previously been one of college athletics' more progressive figures in the field of compensation. In 2014, he was part of a Big 12 forum where he and commissioner Bob Bowlsby came out in support of paying players when they are used for marketing purposes. He told reporters in attendance "I think [student-athletes] should be compensated for use of that name, image and likeness."
The NCAA hired Luck to help oversee reform as the executive vice president for regulatory affairs, and he has been vocal about his desire to make scholarships more comprehensive for college athletes. While he was still with West Virginia as athletic director, he made it clear that more funding was needed for scholarships. While he may not support paying players directly, he has been an advocate for giving these students greater financial support. Here's what he told the Charleston Gazette-Mail in 2014:
I believe that we should provide a student-athlete with a scholarship that covers the full-cost of attendance at his or her university for the entire academic year, i.e. including summer school. The NCAA has defined what a scholarship comprises and this definition has remained largely unchanged since the 1960s. It is high-time for the NCAA to allow an institution to provide a more comprehensive scholarship to its student-athletes.
There's a big gulf between paying athletes for the use of their likeness in marketing tools like jersey sales and video games and making them salaried employees, like their coaches. It's possible for Luck, or any collegiate official, to feel differently on the two matters without contradicting themselves.
Still, it raises an important question about whether or not the former college quarterback has changed his opinion on the compensation he was in favor of fewer than 18 months ago. And it doesn't make the implication that student-athletes aren't adults any less insulting.