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The idea that NCAA student-athletes are employees that deserve to be paid to play is "silly," NCAA president Mark Emmert said Wednesday.
"There is no one that I've talked to in intercollegiate athletics that thinks the idea of converting student-athletes into employees is a good idea," Emmert said at an event at the University of Maryland. "It would completely change the relationship."
But, Emmert said, scholarships do not cover the full cost of attending college and student-athletes should be given a stipend to cover miscellaneous expenses.
"Right now we provide Division I athletes with tuition. They get a full scholarship, room and board, books and supplies. For a student-athlete who's putting in the demands of being an athlete and a student, the opportunities for work jobs are hard and limited. There's something missing in that," he said.
The long-running debate over whether student-athletes should be paid or receive more financial benefits has grown stronger in recent months. In January, a majority of players on Northwestern University's football team announced their intention to create a labor union for college athletes.
At the core of the debate is whether these players should be considered student-athletes or employee-athletes. The Northwestern players believe the latter, citing the long hours they dedicate to being an athlete, including weeks during training camp that require 50 to 60 hours.
The group wants players to be compensated for commercial sponsorships, jersey sales and the use of their likeness in video games, in addition to financial coverage for sports-related medical expenses. They also want colleges to pay student-athletes a stipend to cover the full cost of attending college.
Emmert acknowledged that scholarships for student-athletes do not fully cover the true cost of attending college. He said student-athletes should be given payments of between $2,000 and $5,000 as part of their scholarships to cover miscellaneous expenses like traveling home, purchasing clothes or buying pizza on the weekend.
"It's been called a $2,000 stipend, but it's really just the full cost of attendance. It is not in any way paying players to play games. But it is covering the legitimate real cost of being a student-athlete. We want to do that, and we have the flexibility to make that decision," he said.
Emmert has been unsuccessfully advocating for a stipend for student-athletes for a few years. The NCAA board approved legislation to allow schools to pay such a stipend, but it was overridden by 160 member schools in December 2011.
Emmert, the former president of the University of Washington, said he was not comfortable with classifying student-athletes as university employees and paying them to play.
"As a university president, if I was going to hire you to play football for me, why on God's earth would I want you to be a student?," he asked. "I'm paying you to win football games for me; the last thing I want you to do is be bothered with class time. If you're a football player, you're a football player. Why would I pay you to do both? It makes utterly no sense."