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PAY FOR PLAY
In what may have been a symbolic first step toward openly professionalizing college athletics, Nebraska's one-house legislature last Friday passed, by a 26-23 vote, a bill decreeing that football players at the University of Nebraska be paid a stipend. The action won't put cash into the hands of Cornhusker players anytime soon: Nebraska governor Kay Orr may veto the measure, and even if she doesn't, under the terms of the law it won't go into effect unless four other states with Big Eight schools pass similar legislation, an unlikely occurrence. Still, the bill's maverick sponsor, Senator Ernie Chambers of Omaha, told SI's Doug Looney that he hoped the Nebraska vote would "put pressure on the NCAA and provide national leadership for compensation of players."
Chambers has pushed for this measure for nearly seven years on the grounds that Nebraska football players—like those at other big-time football schools—generate huge amounts of revenue for their university but are "denied compensation and forced to live with the fiction that they, like flowers, exist on air, sunshine and water." Chambers has a point. Though a scholarship player may receive tuition, fees, room, board and books from his school—a package worth $32,500 over five years to an out-of-state Husker—NCAA rules make it almost impossible for him to earn spending money and bar him from accepting any money for incidentals except from close family members or guardians. As a result, some players from poorer families don't even have enough money to pay for a movie ticket. It's hardly surprising that some accept under-the-table cash from agents and boosters.
Chambers tends to overdramatize the demands of football, describing the players as virtual slaves. Yet he accurately points out that Nebraska's football program took in more than $9 million in revenues in the past fiscal year while distributing just over $600,000 in scholarships. As valuable as a college scholarship is, it's certainly worth asking if football players—and perhaps athletes in other college sports—don't also deserve adequate spending money.
You never know who—or what—is going to sponsor a race car anymore. If negotiations work out between the Penske racing team and Bridge Publications, the best-seller Dianetics, by L. Ron Hubbard, a self-help tome published by Bridge that serves as a sort of bible for the cult religion Scientology, will sponsor defending champion Al Unser's car in next month's Indy 500. "This could open the door for sponsorships by both publishers and movie production houses," says Kevin O'Brien, director of marketing for the CART racing series.
It should be pointed out that neither Unser nor anyone else with the Penske team is said to be a member of the Church of Scientology, which Hubbard founded and which has long been beset by charges of fraud and misrepresentation. But the Dianetics negotiations have convinced O'Brien that he should approach other publishers and moviemakers for sponsorships. O'Brien says Indy cars would be great vehicles for promoting upcoming summer releases: "Can you imagine a car racing down the straightaway at Indy with Gone With the Wind on it?"
Q. How many Broncos does it take to change a tire?