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June 07, 2011 7:39 am

SPORTS GUY: Questions left unasked

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In the wake of Ohio State head football coach Jim Tressel resigning last week, the issue of paying college athletes to play has once again been thrust into the national spotlight. Tressel’s undoing ultimately began when five Buckeyes players were discovered to have exchanged various personal awards and memorabilia for reduced rates at a local tattoo parlor.

Proponents of paying student-athletes point to the sales as an indication that current NCAA regulations, which, among other things, prohibit student-athletes from obtaining jobs, are too stringent. Longtime coaching icon Steve Spurrier, currently head coach at the University of South Carolina, added fuel to the discussion later in the week by proposing a $300 per-game stipend be paid to 70 roster players. The funds would be paid for out of coaching salaries.

Considering Spurrier’s proposal would cost less than $300,000 for teams playing a full 14-game schedule and that many major-college head coaching salaries dwarf that figure by a factor of 10, it’s at least a plausible idea at the BCS conference level.

There are, however, some glaring questions that supporters of paying student-athletes conveniently ignore. The most notable of these, in my mind, is asking exactly when getting a tattoo became a vital and necessary part of the college experience.

I realize college isn’t cheap, even for folks who have budgeted for the experience. Textbook prices can approach legalized extortion. Housing costs around most major college campuses are insane. Extras like lab and student fees, computer costs and parking permits can add up in a hurry.

If these were the expenses that student-athletes were trading memorabilia to help offset the cost of, I might agree that there’s a problem with the NCAA overlords.

When the money in question is going toward a little ink on the skin? Well, then you’ve got a harder sale.

One of the advantages of attending college is that it teaches you to make the hard decisions. Debating whether that last three dollars in your pocket should go toward laundry or 30 packs of ramen noodles so you can eat for a month — that’s a tough decision. Deciding whether or not to get a tattoo if you’re strapped for cash? That should be a no-brainer.

And if it isn’t, then you deserve to experience the feeling of being broke. Just my two cents.

That said, I do recognize that there is a segment of the population for whom current NCAA restrictions may be a little tight, particularly those student-athletes trying to juggle families and their academic life. For this group, Spurrier’s proposal makes a little sense.

Let’s not fool ourselves that it’s a fix to the greater problem, however.

In a world of Reggie Bush, $180,000 price tags on Cam Newton and nine vehicles in three years for Terrelle Pryor, that $300 per game is only going to go so far. If such an agreement were ever approved by the NCAA — and I seriously doubt it will be — the ink wouldn’t have a chance to dry before some shady element was offering a little extra something under the table.

There’s also the small matter of what happens in non-revenue sports — a title that pretty much encompasses any sport other than football or men’s basketball. If football players are going to make $300 per game, what do the women’s softball players make? Or the wrestlers? Or the tennis team?

These groups mysteriously vanish whenever people start talking about student-athletes being paid. Saying athletes need paid sounds good on face value. Actually putting pencil to accounting ledger to figure out how and what to pay them is a far more challenging job.

There are definitely problems with college sports that need addressed. For the benefit of the game, some of them need answered. I’m not sure that five student-athletes selling memorabilia to a tattoo parlor in Ohio should become the poster children for the pay-for-play movement though.

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