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FBS Playoffs could have financial implications for GSU
Money is always a concern for Georgia Southern athletics director Sam Baker.
So when a four-team college football playoff was announced for Football Bowl Championship teams last week, prompting officials to speculate about paying players with some of the additional money from the event, Baker understood the trickle-down effect for the Eagles’ future athletics budget.
“It’s going to be a perplexing question. If it’s mandated (and) we have to do this, what are we going to do?” Baker said.
Southern recently announced the football program would seek to play at the FBS level.
That move meant GSU will have to work out the jump from 63 full scholarships to 85 scholarships, the corresponding increase in female scholarships to remain in compliance with Title IX, facility expansions and salary raises.
For the smaller schools, paying players would be just one more financial concern. No one knows if the potential hundreds of millions of dollars earned from the football playoffs would be distributed among all Division I teams like money from the NCAA basketball tournament.
Or would the five major conferences — the Big 12, Pac 12, Southeastern Conference, Big Ten and Atlantic Coast Conference — take the bulk of the money and leave the smaller schools behind?
Paying players has been an issue swirling around collegiate sports for years, citing athletes, particularly football players, who help their schools rake in big bucks. If coaches can profit in multimillion-dollar salaries, why can’t players be given some spending money?
The NCAA actually approved the idea in October, but schools objected.
Baker did the math in his head. He took the proposed $2,000 stipend per player, multiplied it by 85 football players (when GSU moves to FBS), then multiplied the stipend by another 15 men’s basketball players and 15 women’s basketball players.
Players’ “salaries” came out to nearly a quarter million dollars.
GSU’s athletic budget is $11.5 million.
“By in large, student-athletes on full scholarships have their tuition and room and meals paid for,” Baker said. “If there’s a need, they have access to special assistance money and can qualify for Pell grants.
“It’s hard to justify to other students why these athletes are also getting (spending) money. I think (a stipend) is just a feel-good (gesture) to deflect criticism because coaches make so much money and (major-college) athletic departments have such big budgets.”
Baker said GSU will approach its students this fall to ask for an increase of the student activity fee. An additional $25 a semester will raise the activity fee to $190 and be earmarked for extra student seating at Paulson Stadium.
Baker said the goal is to provide 6,000 more seats by adding a deck over the north stands (side opposite the pressbox) and 1,500 seats on each side of the north stands.
Baker said student attendance has been averaging 8,500-9,500 students a game. The proposed additional seats would boost student seating to 10,000.
Paulson Stadium currently has seating for 14,400 overall. With space for 900 to sit on the four grassy banks of the stadium, capacity is 18,000. Last season, GSU averaged 17,701 — 11th best in the Football Championship Subdivision.
“Right now, we’ve outgrown our stadium for student attendance,” Baker said. “When our stadium was built, we had 6,000 students (enrolled). Now we have 20,000.”
Baker said he has had a conversation with Sun Belt Conference officials as the Eagles look to join an FBS conference. Baker said not much was accomplished.
“Basically, we made a call to the Sun Belt, in essence saying we’d like to know more about you, like you’d like to know more about us,” Baker said. “The response we got was: we’re at 10 (schools) for football, 12 overall. Right now, we’re going to sit tight until we see what happens.”
But GSU isn’t sitting tight. It is in the middle of an ambitious fundraising drive to bolster the school’s athletic facilities. Baker said supporters have contributed $5.7 million toward the $10 million football operations center project that will be built at Paulson Stadium.
Along with better facilities, GSU will need to add one more sport to move up to FBS. Baker said women’s golf, sand volleyball (a new NCAA sport) and archery and rifle teams were being considered.
By Donald Heath, Savannah Morning News