Boclair: Their faces sell Vandy, but they won’t see a dime

Monday, October 22, 2012 at 10:05pm

Zac Stacy is a game changer. Archibald Barnes is a game changer. So is Walker May.

I know this because Vanderbilt University tells me so. On billboards around town, on television at 15 and 30 seconds a pop, on various social media outlets, that message and those faces are inescapable.

Things are different with the Commodores — that’s what they’re selling. And make no mistake about it, the sale is the key thing. The slick, smart campaign, which also includes coach James Franklin, has been at the forefront of the effort to fill Vanderbilt Stadium on Saturdays, which was the case in each of the past two weekends when Florida and Auburn, respectively, came to town.

Unwittingly, the ads also serve as a reminder that Vanderbilt is no different than any other major college athletics program in the way it exploits its athletes.

It’s not news to anyone that everyone involved with college athletics makes money except for the athletes themselves. Those who play the games are subject to a mountain of regulations and oversight that make it impossible for them to make a buck in their free time, if they even have any.

The issue resurfaced nationally for the umpteenth time last week when Sports Illustrated published an article that alleged former LSU star Tyrann Mathieu (aka “Honey Badger”) and another player might be guilty of one or more NCAA violations because they allowed use of their image to promote one or more parties at a Baton Rouge nightclub.

At issue in that case is NCAA rule 12.5.2.1, which declares ineligible any student-athlete who “accepts any remuneration or permits the use of his or her name or picture to advertise, recommend or promote directly the sale or use of a commercial product or service of any kind.”

Yet we all see larger-than-life images of Stacy and Barnes and May looming over area interstates accompanied by the number to the Vanderbilt ticket office.

The distinction, of course, is that the players were not paid for their participation in this particular ad campaign. Add to that the fact that Vanderbilt, by legal definition, is a not-for-profit educational institution rather than a commercial product or service, and it’s clear the university absolutely did not break any NCAA rules in this case. Nor did it stoop any lower than any other school does in similar instances.

Thus, this is not an indictment of Vanderbilt, in particular. It’s just latest unsavory example of how much hypocrisy clouds college athletics in general. It’s like Lance Armstrong being added to the list of professional cyclists who used performance-enhancing drugs — disappointing but not surprising.

In practical terms college athletics, particularly football in the Southeastern Conference, is a multimillion-dollar industry. It goes well beyond ticket sales into apparel deals, broadcast rights on radio and television, fundraising and so on and so on.

Coaches get paid more than professors and — a lot of times — administrators. Sneaker companies cash in. So do those who make everything from big foam fingers to pompons to caskets and sofa cushions. Beverage makers drink in the profits through their connection to college sports teams.

Often Vanderbilt is set apart from many others because of its moderate size, its rigorous academic requirements and, in the case of football, its many failures.

Its willingness to call on players to hawk its athletics wares, so to speak, proves that it is just like all the rest. That’s probably good news to some.

There’s no way to know for sure just how many tickets have been sold, how much merchandise has been moved or how much ancillary income resulted from the goodwill created by the ads.

All that is certain is the players won’t see a dime from any of it. Sadly, it seems that never will change.

6 Comments on this post:

By: 4gold on 10/23/12 at 6:00

And if you dont think the players benefit from the exposure they get from playing in the SEC, moving on to NFL you are nuts. Little mentioned free education that seems to be swept under the rug these days. It is still valuable at Vandy. Vanderbilt is Nashvilles largest employer. See what Varnderbilt did to revive 100 Oaks? I think Nashville and its media should show some appreciation for VU instead of trying to trash and criticize them every chance they get.

Go Dores, Preds, Titans! Go Nashville a great place to live!

By: Rasputin72 on 10/23/12 at 6:21

I like to read the articles by Boclair. He is willing to print a different side of what athletic reporting usually puts out . (Christine Brennan excluded)

I think he sees James Franklin in a light different from James Franklin wants the public to know. (He is a better salesman than a football coach) He has however done more with this 14th edition of a renaissance at Vanderbilt than his coaching ability would normally allow. Maybe a snake oil salesman and an Athletic Director with an open mind and a new Chancellor are all it took.

In the case of college athletes being exploited as Boclair wants to point out. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If the NBA and the NFL would just set up a minor league for athletes from the ghetto and pay them while they learn enough to get into the "big league" college athletics would return to normal.

By: joe41 on 10/23/12 at 9:02

I would say that getting a free education including room and board is one heck of a benefit. Boclair, did you receive a college education? Who paid for it?

Joe

By: VanDSIRROM on 10/23/12 at 1:16

A football scholarship to Vanderbilt University costs the school more than $56,000.00 a year including room & board. So for 5 years, the total is more than $280,000.00. Multiply that X 85 and you have almost $24 million. And that is only for the football players and does not include the multitude of other athletes participating in 15+/- other sports. So, conservatively, the total is possibly close to $50,000,000.00.

What hypocrisy to maintain that players are not compensated. Since Vanderbilt players are true student-athletes they have no "free" time for part-time jobs; however, when they enter the "real world" after Graduation--and almost all VU athletes DO graduate--they earn significant incomes BECAUSE they have a meaningful degree from a Top 20 University.

Mr. Boclair, I'm sorry if you missed the opportunity to be an athlete at Vanderbilt or a similar institute of higher learning; however, that does not excuse you to rant about something you know little about. Educate yourself or, at least, talk to knowledgeable people before you spout-off from your soap box.

Btw, most Div. 1 student- athletes happen to be grateful for the opportunity to play sports AND get an education. It is the ones who only care about sports (and do not care about an education) that bellyache about wanting to be paid cash.

By: charlestonalum on 10/24/12 at 6:02

This is a terrible column, as pointed out above - the athletes love to see people in the stands - I was an athlete at VU (not football) and there is nothing more pleasing to players than to see people supporting you in the crowd. On the whole, Boclair writes some decent pieces, but this was a lazy, unoriginal effort that hopefully will be followed by something much better. Everyone has a bad day from time to time - certainly VU teams have.

By: charlestonalum on 10/24/12 at 6:02

This is a terrible column, as pointed out above - the athletes love to see people in the stands - I was an athlete at VU (not football) and there is nothing more pleasing to players than to see people supporting you in the crowd. On the whole, Boclair writes some decent pieces, but this was a lazy, unoriginal effort that hopefully will be followed by something much better. Everyone has a bad day from time to time - certainly VU teams have.