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Cincinnati, Tuberville Wrong to ‘Fine’ Players

It all started when word got around that Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said that the school’s football program is considering punishing players by “fining” them out of their cost-of-attendance stipends.

“We’re going to look at doing that. Some people got in trouble for getting up and punishing people at 6 a.m. in the morning. You need some discipline, and I think that’s one way you can potentially do that,” Foster said during a media session Wednesday evening.

Here’s an excerpt from Mike Barber’s story from the Richmond Times-Dispatch, describing the scene Wednesday night and the fine system:

“Images from a television monitor outside the Hokies’ players’ lounge on Wednesday night listed what appeared to be a fine structure and named players who already had been assessed fines.

Fines ran as low as $10 for missing a team breakfast or tutoring session, to $45 for missing a class, and up to $100 for drawing a personal foul penalty.

A second screen included fines for improper equipment that listed the first offense as a $100 fine and the loss of four tickets to the next game, and went up to $1,600 for the seventh offense and being left off a possible bowl game trip for an eighth offense.

A third screen listed players who apparently had been assessed fines, with names, offenses, dates of occurrence and fine amounts.

One player, for example, had been fined $20 for missing a meeting Aug. 17; $10 for missing breakfast that day; and $20 for missing treatment the following day, according to the monitor.

Another player was listed as having a $100 unsportsmanlike conduct fine and two $20 fines for missing team meetings.

In total, the screen showed five players being fined $330.”

Apparently, former Cincinnati and current Virginia Tech athletic director, Whit Babcock, was unaware of the fine system, immediately spoke with the coaches about it. Since that conversation, Babcock has said of the monetary discipline structure: “It has been discontinued 100 percent.”

Fast forward to Thursday afternoon, and a similar story involving Tommy Tuberville and the University of Cincinnati broke via Joe Schad of ESPN.

Cincinnati athletic director Mike Bohn had this to say about the potential of withholding portions of a student athlete’s cost-of-attendance money as punishment:

“It’s not a fine. It’s not a threat. It’s a tool. We want to help our student-athletes and are committed to helping them. Our expectations are high. Coach told them, ‘We love you but don’t think that if you continue to do the wrong things that we are required to provide every piece of that support package.’ It’s an accountability measure.”

I’ll get back to the phrase “accountability measure” in a bit. First, let’s explain this a bit more.

Cincinnati isn’t planning to take this as far as Virginia Tech was willing to, as Tuberville told ESPN the reduction of cost-of-attendance funds would aim to address “off-the-field shortcomings, not athletic performance.”

Tuberville, when speaking to local media after Thursday’s practice, said, “What we’re going to do is going to happen at every school. We just talked about it… It’s all about accountability.”

There’s that word again: accountability. To me, this isn’t the way to teach accountability, at least not to collegiate football players.

What does withholding $10, $50, or maybe a hundred bucks from a stipend doled out to them in 10 installments really teach an 18- to 20-something year-old about accountability? That getting less money isn’t cool? I doubt it curtails the behavior much or teaches them an actual life lesson. My guess is they will hardly even know it’s missing, especially considering they weren’t getting it until this year and with all the other things a student-athlete has to worry about anyway.

Tuberville went on to say, “They’re accountable for what they do here, fees and parking tickets and all those kind of things… If you don’t take it out of their cost-of-attendance money, their Mom and Dad are going to have to pay it from home. So, it’s got to come from somewhere.”

Right. So, what happens when that specific player is counting on his stipend to pay his rent that month, but he happened to be a bit late to a meeting because he got a parking ticket? If I’m following this correctly, those fees would be withheld from his cost-of-attendance money to be sure he is accountable, but then he is calling home that night to ask Mom and Dad for some rent money anyway since he’d be short there.

The fact is, this isn’t really about teaching players accountability. It is about reinforcing the control that universities and coaches have over these young men and women, and that just perpetuates the farce that is the NCAA’s definition of amateurism.

December 6th 2014: Cincinnati Bearcats head coach Tommy Tuberville ,during the NCAA football game between the Houston Cougars and the Cincinnati Bearcats at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, OH. Cincinnati defeated the Houston 38-31.

December 6th 2014: Cincinnati Bearcats head coach Tommy Tuberville ,during the NCAA football game between the Houston Cougars and the Cincinnati Bearcats at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, OH. Cincinnati defeated the Houston 38-31.

Never mind the fact that Tommy Tuberville can reduce or pull a kid’s actual scholarship for any number of reasons at any time, but now he can tap into what would be a max of $7,018 over a 10-month period?

How many years has the plight of the amateur athlete been at the forefront of NCAA discussion? Hell, it took former UConn basketball star Shabazz Napier saying he was often left hungry at night without money for food to make changes to the meal and stipend rules.

And while many will argue that players get a “free” education out of their playing days, think about how these young adults are controlled and exploited. Their academic schedules and future opportunities are frequently limited by practices and games. Their likenesses are used to promote merchandise and sell tickets without their consent or benefit. And the list goes on.

The bottom line here is that a fine system of players’ cost-of-attendance acknowledges that college sports is a business. And that’s something the NCAA has been forever reluctant to do.

If this is really about accountability, teach players that by taking away game time or adding some extra “quality time” with a strength and conditioning coach. Have them make up the missed class time and put in extra work in the classroom.

Teach them to be accountable to their teammates, professors and most importantly themselves, not to money.

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