I’m sure there are plenty of you who share Notre Dame president Rev. John I. Jenkins‘ distaste for filthy lucre, at least as far as sharing it with student-athletes.
The president rejects the notion that Notre Dame is morally obliged to share its football revenue with those playing the game. “I don’t think there’s a compulsion or some demand of justice that we do it,” he says.
“Morally obliged”? Well, he does have Rev. in his title. What is unclear is why there’s something apparently immoral about paying players, but not, say, the school’s athletic director or head coach. Or why opting into a system that requires certain compromises in the name of broadcast revenue is immune from such lofty philosophical considerations.
Jenkins is also either a little bit arrogant or delusional in his insistence that Notre Dame would do just fine walking away from all that revenue other parties, like Under Armour and NBC are morally obliged to pay his school.
Finally, there is the pending lawsuit filed against the N.C.A.A. and the Power 5 conferences by the well-known sports lawyer Jeffrey Kessler, who argues that the value of student-athletes has been illegally capped by athletic scholarships. If he prevails: an open market.
Or, as Father Jenkins puts it: “Armageddon.”
“That’s when we leave,” he says. “We will not tolerate that. Then it really does become a semipro team.”
He believes that the drama and popularity of college athletics are rooted in the fact that the student-athletes are amateurs. “If they make mistakes, you know, it’s not like they’re professionals,” he says.
But if a pay-to-play dynamic is applied to college sports, he suggests, something is lost. “If you go that semipro route, we’ll see,” he says. “But I’m just not sure that we’ll not end up just a second-tier, uninteresting pro league.”
Father Jenkins says that he could see two separate collegiate athletic associations — one following the semiprofessional model, the other dedicated to preserving what he calls “the essential educational character of college athletics.” In belonging to the latter, he says, Notre Dame would be just fine, financially and otherwise.
“If tomorrow you told me, you just can’t do what you want to do in athletics and you’re going to have to shut it down, and we would have club sports, something like that — I don’t think it would significantly impact the revenue,” Father Jenkins says. Some alumni and donors might revolt, he acknowledges. “But just in terms of a financial proposition, I don’t think it would impact the academy.”
Now there’s a level where he’s right about that. Football generates millions of dollars in profit for ND, but it’s a drop in the bucket in the context of the school’s entire budget, so, yeah, the money wouldn’t be missed. But that cuts both ways – if he’s so adamant about not sharing the fruits of the players’ labor with them, why even bother with COA stipends, which Notre Dame is already paying? And why even bother participating in the system now?
I’m sure Brian Kelly would be happy to keep collecting his multi-million dollar annual salary to coach club football. And everyone would still watch the Irish play what he insists would pass for football. Go ahead, Rev. Best of luck with that.