A&M AD discusses paying athletes at sports club meeting

Ross Bjork

Sam Morrison (left), Texas A&M University Athletics Director Ross Bjork, and Joe Don Dockery posed for a photo after Bjork spoke to members of the Rudy Davalos Horseshoe Bay Sports Club on November 8. Staff photo by Jennifer Fierro

STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO

To pay college athletes or not? And, if so, which ones and how much?

Texas A&M University Athletics Director Ross Bjork discussed that issue and its impact during his visit to the Rudy Davalos Horseshoe Bay Sports Club on November 8.

The topic has gained national momentum after the NCAA’s top policy-making group recently voted to let collegiate athletes benefit from the use of their name, image, and likeness. With the decision, announced October 29, the NCAA and collegiate athletics programs are just beginning to develop a road map toward athlete compensation.

As the A&M athletics director, it’s something Bjork is researching himself.

But he isn’t doing it alone or just with the input of his staff. Bjork, whose first day at A&M was June 3, said he met with the department’s leadership council, which is made up of athletes representing each of the 17 sports offered at the university. The total number of student-athletes playing for Texas A&M during the 2019-20 school year is 650.

Aggie student-leaders have raised several concerns about the NCAA’s decision, especially in regard to equity and preserving the integrity of athletics.

The student leadership council pointed out that some athletes, based on their sport and position, will likely attract more opportunities for use of their likeness or name

In football, skill players such as quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, linebackers, and defensive backs typically have the most name recognition. Therefore, their images would probably be of more value to a company advertising a product. But lesser know players, such as linemen, might not get the same opportunity. So how will the athletic department handle that? Would the more recognizable players get a larger amount of compensation, or would the NCAA and colleges spread compensation equally, no matter the athlete’s position or sport?

Bjork offered another scenario that his leadership council discussed. On a basketball team, the top scoring players are typically the forward and center. But the point guard handles the ball more than these positions. To build their own scoring stats, would they then not pass the ball as much in the hopes of landing an endorsement deal. Would other student-athletes alter their behavior during competition to increase their potential value for endorsement deals?

“I do believe that could happen,” Bjork said. “Those young people get pressure put on them. Those are things I don’t think have been thought through.”

According to Bjork, most athletics directors don’t “believe student-athletes should be employees” and receive a paycheck, but they don’t object to expanding benefits or modernizing the current platforms and social media.

Currently, sports administrators are trying to create a structure in which each student-athlete can benefit equally, and Bjork wants to provide athletes with more monetary benefits to pay for personal expenses their scholarships don’t cover.

Even though a full scholarship student-athlete’s entire college costs, including books, classes, dorm, and food, are covered, NCAA rules often limit their ability to hold jobs to earn extra money. And then there are student-athletes who are only on partial scholarships.

Compensation for use of a student-athlete’s “name, image, and likeness” raises a lot of questions, probably more than there are answers for right now, but Bjork and the university’s student-leaders are working to find solutions.

During the November 8 club meeting, another question came up that brought a smile to Bjork’s face. He was asked about the possibility of the Aggies and the University of Texas playing against each other again in football. The two teams haven’t met since 2011.

He noted both teams have their non-conference schedules booked through 2033 and reminded meeting attendees that Texas A&M wanted to continue playing after the Aggies entered the Southeastern Conference, but Texas refused.

“I’ve answered this question every day,” he said. “We’re in a great position with our schedule. We’re full, they’re full. We’ve moved on, they’ve moved on. My goal is to play them in the College Football Playoff.”

The Rudy Davalos Horseshoe Bay Sports Club meets when it has a speaker who is available. The cost to join is an annual $110 membership. The cost to attend a speaker breakfast meeting is $10. Call board member Brad Goebel at 830-798-7700 for more information.

jfiero@thepicayune.com

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