It was a couple of months ago, while the NCAA was still congratulating itself for getting a 10 percent cost-of-living raise on its basketball tourney contract with CBS, when representatives from major conferences showed up with their hands out.
With its outstanding success over the years during March Madness, the ACC has become used to collecting an annual check in the neighborhood of $6 million. The Big Ten, SEC and Big East score big, too, but as we all know, six or seven mill doesn't go very far these days.
So, yes, the big boys got a hefty percentage of the increase because, after all, they are the show. All those other schools that make up the 300-plus Division I membership, heck, they should consider themselves blessed that the big boys bestow a game upon them while padding their record early in the season.
What bothered many in addition to the unseemly notion of the rich getting richer was the ongoing grumbling that with so much money being made by the hoops tournament and the football bowls, it may be a good time to begin letting some of the loot trickle down to people performing.
A "franchise" player like Patrick Ewing goes to a school (Georgetown), sees the fortunes of its athletic program take a 180-degree turn, and has to wonder if tuition, room and board and books cover what he has meant to the situation. During his four years, Ewing meant an estimated $12 million to the Hoyas.
Of course, for every Ewing, Larry Bird at Indiana State or Cornbread Maxwell at N.C.-Charlotte, there are thousands of scholarship hoopsters who are probably overpaid by getting a ++ free education when the profit and loss statements of the school athletic departments are considered.
A bunch of college football coaches wrestled with the question of paying players during a recent NCAA forum and their thoughts and conclusions went well beyond simple yes and no replies.
For instance, Dick Tomey of Arizona said, "I think the athletes that have extreme needs still find it very difficult to live what is, quote, a normal college life. And I think at the very least we need to look at being able to have the athletes who can demonstrate the greatest need have some way of receiving more aid."
Fred Goldsmith of Duke, while agreeing with his colleague, said, "I've had the hardest time getting kids to go fill out the paperwork, to fill out the application to receive a Pell Grant. And I think $2,400 is an awful lot of walking around money for nine months out of the year."
Gene Stallings of Alabama made a strong argument for there being no such thing as "an average student."
"Just because somebody is relatively poor in high school, he's going to be relatively poor in college," said the 'Bama coach. "A lot of us can address that. That's the whole idea of going to college, to help ourselves so that we can get a better job and our children will then go to college and so forth."
Stallings harkened back to his playing days at Texas A&M; when athletes spent summers working in the oil fields "and other tough jobs to make some money and stay in shape. I think it's easier to go to summer school than it is to go out and work hard.
"I've sent five people [children] to college. I know what that's worth. Somewhere along the line I think athletes need to appreciate a full scholarship more than they do."
Going along with the "tough it out" theme, Goldsmith said, "we encourage our guys to make the grades and pass the courses they need during the year, because one of the things we feel we can do is get youngsters good jobs during the summer. The incentive has to be toward getting the education, not having that car."
All pretty well agreed that the Pell Grant (aid as needed) can get the job done if administered well and some of its dictates are reviewed. "We had a young man named Richard Maddox play at Arizona a while back," said Tomey, "and when he came to school he had three kids. And he had a fourth when he was in school.
"The inequity in the system was his grant was the same as an 18-year-old freshman with no family. Totally ridiculous. And he was not able to have a job because he was a scholarship athlete."
Fisher DeBerry, coach at Air Force Academy, said, "I'm all for some sort of monthly stipend in the way of whatever you want to call it, laundry money or whatever. But I'm not a play-for-pay guy."
For years, "laundry money" of $15 was the way athletes were helped out. But that was done away with when Walter Byers was executive director of the NCAA. And it is Byers now who accuses the organization of "operating out of a slave mentality with the whole system filled with hypocrisy."
Too bad Byers, during his three-plus decades on the job, didn't spend some time on an answer. Meanwhile, as Deep Throat advised in the "All the President's Men" movie, "Follow the money." And watch the same teams go to bowls and the Sweet 16 year after year.