GREENSBORO, N.C. — Dabo Swinney had been fielding ACC football kickoff questions from reporters for 38 minutes when he first took a long swig of water from a bottle of Dasani.
The quench was well-timed. Because Clemson’s head football coach was in the act of being asked, finally, about the ascending momentum of the Ed O’Bannon case and whether Swinney supported the idea of compensating players beyond their scholarships.
“Mm-mmm. No,” Swinney said. “Absolutely not.”
O’Bannon, a former UCLA basketball star, is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that claims former college athletes are owed billions of dollars by the NCAA.
It was the topic of discussion at Swinney’s table for the following seven minutes, largely while Swinney offered a discourse.
It was simultaneously a subject at assorted tables around the Grandover Resort’s Grandview Ballroom with fellow ACC head coaches.
In fact, Maryland coach Randy Edsall was quite adamant he supports the players’ case for banking money in exchange for their likenesses on video games and the millions in revenue they generate for universities.
“Kids are committed to institutions, not to the NCAA,” Edsall told The Washington Post. “And the NCAA is using their likeness to make money, in my opinion. And that money is not going back to these kids.”
In Swinney’s case, his credentials are simple. In a persuasive speech class while attending the University of Alabama, he penned a paper promoting the purity of college athletics and arguing student-athletes should not be paid like professionals for their services.
“I still believe that,” Swinney said. “The reason I feel the way I feel is, I’ve lived it.”
Swinney began as a walk-on to the Crimson Tide, building his resume from the ground up.
“I went to school on student loans and (federal) Pell Grants (for students in financial need),” Swinney said. “When I got out of college, I owed $32,000, and I got put on scholarship (eventually). So I’m against professionalizing college athletics. We have that — that’s called the NFL, arena league, CFL.
“To me, college athletics are a privilege.”
Swinney added he is “100 percent in favor of enhancing scholarships” to help out college athletes and their families with backloaded stipends upon graduation or departure from a football commitment.
“The scholarships haven’t changed. They’re exactly the same as they were when I was in school,” Swinney said. “But gas is higher, movies, dates and clothes are more expensive. The world has changed, but it hasn’t been reflected in the scholarship, and I think that’s wrong.”
Swinney was the youngest of three boys, and the first in his family with a college diploma.
“I’m not for diminishing the value of an education,” Swinney said. “Football was great, opened up a lot of opportunities for me. But my education is why I’m sitting here.”
This was an intriguing stance for Swinney to take since Tigers senior cornerback Darius Robinson was named as one of six active football players to become an O’Bannon plaintiff — a landmark advancement for the ongoing case.
Robinson has not yet been made available to speak on his participation in the lawsuit.
“That’s just something that he believes in. You know, his career’s coming to an end, and that thing may go on for (years),” Swinney said. “But that’s the way it ought to be. When guys believe in something, you want them to not be afraid to stand up and support something.”
North Carolina State first-year coach Dave Doeren had more questions than answers on the hot-button topic.
“I’m not going to say they don’t deserve things, because they make a lot of money for everybody, you know?” At the same time, where’s the money going to come from? You’ve just got to be careful how it gets created.”
Students in financial need no longer receive Pell Grants from the federal government when school is not in session.
“That hurts a lot of guys. Our guys stay on campus in the summer, and they get no money. To me, that’s ridiculous,” Doeren said. “That’s just the state of our government. (But) to say that every student should get $2,000 per semester, and school’s just got to figure out how to find that money — is that real?”
A flat per diem rate for every Division I football player would mean a financial burden for mid-major colleges like Doeren’s former employer.
“At Northern Illinois, I knew we weren’t going to have that money. So while the BCS schools were paying, we were going to be a school that couldn’t do it,” Doeren said. “So to me, if there’s a way to do that without creating a huge ‘have and have-not’ (landscape) even more than it already is, then I would be real interested in that for the guys.”
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson was just as supportive, but just as stumped.
“I’m all for whatever we can do for the players, if they could find a way to make it reasonable,” Johnson said. “Is it fair to guys if it’s only need-based, or if it’s other sports? I think that’s part of the problem, is figuring out how to administer it.”
Swinney did have a direct ally in the room.
“Wherever we can help the guys, that can be positive. But I’m not for this pay-for-play stuff,” Boston College coach Steve Addazio said. “I’m into player welfare, but I think we do a great job with scholarships and everything else right now.”