Former Purdue AD: College athletes get enough now, and maybe too much

Recently retired Purdue athletics director Morgan Burke has an answer for those who believe athletes in the most prominent college sports should receive greater benefits than those currently allowed under NCAA rules, including benefits other than cash:

No, not only do athletes get enough now, there also are people involved in the college sports world – specifically donors – who think athletes get too many benefits.

Burke’s sentiments were conveyed through a filing Friday night in class-action antitrust lawsuits against the NCAA and major conferences that are challenging the association’s limits on what football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball players can receive for playing sports. The cases’ named plaintiffs include former West Virginia football player Shawne Alston and former Clemson football player Martin Jenkins, and they are being led by attorneys Steve Berman and Jeffrey Kessler.

Friday’s filing pertains to a dispute over the plaintiffs’ request to depose five university officials, including Burke, who were interviewed by a defense expert as part the expert’s compilation of a report in the case. The NCAA and the conferences maintain that the plaintiffs are entitled to notes of the expert’s interviews with the five officials and a deposition of the expert, but they should not be allowed to depose the officials.

The expert, Kenneth Elzinga, covered a wide range of topics with Burke, according to the seven pages of notes from that interview, which say it was conducted Feb. 22 at Purdue in the presence of two attorneys from the law firm representing the Big Ten Conference in the case and an attorney from Purdue’s office of legal counsel.

Among them:

“MB discussed the possibility of giving student-athletes benefits that didn’t necessarily come in the form of a check.

“In his opinion, student-athletes already are provided with everything that they need to be successful, which he described as the goal of financial aid to student-athletes. He said that ‘we’ [referring to schools] want to provide a level of support and services based on the time demands of participating in intercollegiate athletics and being a student that meets what student-athletes need to be successful academically and athletically.

“MB believes that there is ‘already some tension’ where the question of giving more to student-athletes is concerned. He said that some schools ‘are creeping back into that.’ ”

The notes next say that Burke discussed the John Purdue Club, the athletics department’s fundraising arm.

“ … MB said that one can already see what the effect of changing the current model of student-athletics would be on this group. If the model were changed to a more professionalized version, the members of the John Purdue Club would cut back in their giving and their level of interest in intercollegiate sports. ‘They see how much we’re getting from our media contracts and that the university is taking a cut,’ MB said. They ask him, ‘why are you asking us? You’ve got money.’

“Member [sic] of the John Purdue Club would not like the money going into athletes’ pockets beyond the cost of their attendance at Purdue. Some donors already are concerned about the level of services Purdue provides its student-athletes. MB and his colleagues have to explain why the services are appropriate. He believes that if he didn’t have those conversations, donors might act unilaterally and reduce the amount of money they give.”

Burke was Purdue’s AD from 1993 through summer 2016, was promoted to university vice president in 2014, and, according to the university’s online directory, now holds the title of vice president for athletics special projects. He has held leadership positions within the Big Ten, a national AD’s association and the NCAA’s governance structure.

His comments come amid cases that U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken refused to dismiss last August, in part, because they challenge NCAA rules “prohibiting the provision of other ‘benefits’ and ‘in-kind’ compensation as well as cash compensation.”

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Wilken’s ruling in the Ed O’Bannon antitrust case that the NCAA violated antitrust law with its compensation limits that existed prior to the introduction of scholarships based on the cost of attendance. But the appeals court overturned a remedy from Wilken that would have allowed athletes to receive as much as $5,000 a year in deferred compensation, saying that “the difference between offering student-athletes education-related compensation and offering them cash sums untethered to educational expenses is not minor; it is a quantum leap” that would change college sports.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs in the ongoing cases have said in court proceedings that there a numerous benefits connected to education that athletes could receive if the NCAA’s current compensation limits are lifted, including tuition for graduate school, improved health care while athletes are in school and afterward, and the provision of what Kessler called “greater incentives to the students to graduate, to stay in school.”

Copyright 2017 USA TODAY Sports


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