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Canadians, CFL players divided on whether new NCAA rule on compensation

They'll forever be rivals, one a former college quarterback at Florida the other a rugged centre at Miami. But Tim Tebow and Canadian Brett Romberg do agree that NCAA athletes should not be financially compensated, despite a recent rule change.

They'll forever be rivals, one a former college quarterback at Florida the other a rugged centre at Miami. But Tim Tebow and Canadian Brett Romberg do agree that NCAA athletes should not be financially compensated, despite a recent rule change.

Earlier this week, the largest governing body of college sports in the U.S., voted to allow student athletes to "benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness."

Tebow, a former Heisman Trophy winner who led Florida to a pair of NCAA titles, has come out against college athletes being paid. Romberg, a 40-year-old native of Windsor, Ont., who had a decorated career as a centre at Miami, agrees.

"I don't want to put praise on Tim Tebow because he's a Florida Gator but initially when I heard him speak, he made a hell of a lot of sense to me," said Romberg, who's now a radio talkshow host in South Florida. "I was and am the old-school player with the old-school mentality that when I put the University of Miami logo on my helmet and the name on the back of the jersey, it was for my school, my passion, my love of the game.

"It wasn't something that was a self-centred driving force like an Instagram account or developing my own personal brand or image. It was more of a team thing for me and Tim Tebow echoed those sentiments."

By no means, however, is there a consensus view on the compensation question.

Chris Boucher feels the NCAA is taking a step in the right direction.

Boucher, now a centre with the Toronto Raptors, says a similar rule would have been "helpful" when he was playing Division I basketball at Oregon from 2015 to 2017.

"There's a lot of other things that come with money but just knowing the appreciation, how many people are willing to buy your jersey and stuff like that," said the NBA player from Montreal. "That would have been great for me to see how much support I was getting. Even though you see it when you play, it would be nice to know that you could get something out of it."

NCAA rules allow for an athletic scholarship that covers tuition, room and board, books and a cost-of-attendance stipend. The cost of attendance is determined by the institution using federal guidelines and generally ranges from US$2,000-$5,000 per semester.

The NCAA has been criticized for not allowing athletes the opportunity to make more. The group signed a US$8.8-billion contract extension with CBS and Turner for TV rights to its men's basketball championship — one of its most valuable properties — in 2016 but none of that money goes directly to student athletes.

Men's basketball and football routinely net multi-million dollar TV contracts at the highest levels and the highest-paid NCAA coaches can make more than pro counterparts.

"The athletes make the universities a lot of money," said Calgary Stampeders quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, who played at Southern Methodist for two seasons before transferring to Eastern Washington where he won a national championship (not in the top tier of the NCAA) in 2010.

"Eastern Washington, after we won a national championship, Eastern Washington was really kind of on the map after that. For me, coming back two years later and watching (current Montreal Alouettes starting quarterback) Vernon (Adams Jr.) play, he had national recognition. People knew him all over the country. That's a guy who could have profited off his image and made a little bit of money in college. Because maybe he's a guy that gets injured his senior year and never plays football again."

Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive end Willie Jefferson sees things differently.

The team's most outstanding player this season thinks the NCAA could be setting a dangerous precedent.

"I don't really think thats a good thing because, first and foremost, as a college student you're supposed to be worrying about your studies and trying to get better as an athlete through the college that you're at," said Jefferson, who played at Baylor before transferring to Stephen F. Austin State, which plays in a lower tier.

"You don't really want to be worrying about contracts with major companies like Gatorade and stuff like that. You want to wait until you at least go pro to get an agent and let them talk you through stuff like that and be in a better situation."

Romberg, who went on to play nine seasons in the NFL, was an all-star centre at the University of Miami from 1999-02. As a senior, he captured the Dave Rimington Trophy as American college football's top centre and was a consensus All-American at the position.

But Romberg did get into hot water with the NCAA in '02 after accepting a friendly wager on air from a radio talkshow host prior to Miami's game against Florida, an example of the hard line the group can take on rules.

If the Hurricanes won, the host offered to have Romberg and his fellow offensive lineman over to his house for a home-cooked meal. If Florida won, Romberg and his fellow offensive linemen would wear Gators jerseys for a photo that would appear on the station's website. An anonymous caller alerted the NCAA of the bet and Romberg faced a possible suspension before ultimately being cleared of any wrongdoing.

"It wasn't the fact I was getting a home-cooked meal, but that the home-cooked meal was wagered," Romberg said.

Romberg feels the NCAA is opening a potential Pandora's Box with allowing college athletes to be compensated.

"The problem is going to be sorting through it all and finding out how they're going to be able to delegate who's getting paid," Romberg said. "Is this going to be like an NFL revenue-sharing pool?

"You're also going to be going with big cities having massive amounts of money available for marketing and endorsement deals that many smaller towns won't stand a chance against. Bill and Ted's Hardware store isn't going to stand a chance against some massive hardware (company), Home Depot or whatever national advertising they might get."

Expect the debate to continue.

The NCAA and its member schools now must figure out how to allow athletes to profit — something they have fought against doing for years — while still maintaining rules regarding amateurism. The NCAA Board of Governors directed each of the NCAA's three divisions to create the necessary new rules immediately and have them in place no later than January 2021.

"It's about time," said Calgary Stampeders receiver Reggie Begelton, the team's top player this season. "Me, as a student athlete, even though I was on scholarship by my third year, I still had to take out student loans because I couldn't pay for my cost of living.

"It's one of those things that's going to help student athletes."

— With files from Dan Ralph and Melissa Couto in Toronto, Donna Spencer in Calgary, Judy Owen in Winnipeg and The Associated Press.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 31, 2019.


The Canadian Press

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