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BYU’s future requires a paradigm shift away from ‘old school’ thinking

Fans in the student section hold up a BYU banner during a football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022.

When BYUtv hits the air at 4 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 31, to begin its “GameDay” pregame show outside LaVell Edwards Stadium, it will do so with an army of student support. They are the best of the best — students from all over campus operating cameras, editing audio and video, producing graphics and running interference for the demanding two-hour production.

A student doesn’t have to be a broadcast major to work on the show, they just need to be good at what they do and, no matter if they are on scholarship or not, they are paid as a university employee in one form or another to do it.

Ten minutes into the broadcast, their peers on the football team will arrive to a thunderous roar as they prepare to face Southern Illinois. They, too, are students who are mostly on scholarship, and some have NIL benefits, but there is a big difference.

Despite their challenging job requirements, the 60,000-plus fans who paid top dollar to watch them, and the millions in revenue they will generate for BYU over the next four hours, none of these students can be compensated like the BYUtv crew.

Is there a difference between paying a student camera operator and a student linebacker participating in the same profitable event? That is the question the NCAA is answering for BYU and every other school with a resounding “No” — not anymore.

Paying student-athletes to play is on its way and despite some natural “old school” resistance, it is long overdue. What remains unsettled is how distribution will take place. Will the linebacker become a taxable university employee just like the camera operator is?

Negative stigma

Paying players makes people nervous.

There is no shortage of sad stories when it comes to student-athletes and money. Former BYU guard Nick Emery is one of them. The NCAA ruled that the former Lone Peak High star accepted extra benefits from four BYU boosters while playing for the Cougars between 2015 and 2017. As a result, the governing body forced BYU to vacate 47 victories.

Arizona State faced a point-shaving scandal in 1994 when players were influenced by money to “throw” basketball games. SMU’s football program was given the “death penalty” in 1987 for allegedly paying its players and their families.

Those are three extremes, but they join a flurry of NCAA violators to create a negative stigma around the idea of paying college kids to play their sport; however, that’s part of the paradigm shift underway. The money that was once seen as the root of all evil in college sports is now the substance that is going to keep it alive. Moving forward, instead of receiving cash from the shadows, players will get it right from the schools.

Revenue sharing

The proposed settlement between the House vs. NCAA case will lead to an eventual revenue sharing plan between BYU and its student-athletes — and every other college or university.

“This is where college is going. We have to be able to adapt,” BYU assistant basketball coach Chris Burgess said recently on the “Y’s Guys” podcast. “There is no reason to complain or whine about it or say, ‘Back in my day, we did it this way.’ It doesn’t matter. We have to adapt right now.”

The paradigm shift will be seismic. For generations, the college game has been seen as amateur, mostly innocent and completely governed. The NCAA controlled the sport. The schools controlled the coach, and the coach controlled his or her roster. If a bad apple was discovered, it was dealt with.

The new day

Today’s environment couldn’t be more different, where the judicial system and fear of further lawsuits has put the student-athlete behind the wheel. He or she can get paid through NIL, and soon from the school, and they can transfer to another school any time they want and as many times as they want without penalty.

The coach, the school and the NCAA have been relegated to the backseat and didn’t have much of a choice. Further litigation beyond the House case threatened to cripple college sports beyond repair.

Revenue sharing with student-athletes is not wrong, it’s just different and there seems to be no shortage of money to make it work. Last week, the Big 12 announced it was dispersing a record $470 million to BYU and the other 13 member institutions. Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark announced the projections for future financial growth remain robust.

Whether a national commissioner is required to oversee financial fairness (salary cap) among schools and conferences, much like each professional sport has, needs to be decided. There must be some kind of “checks and balances” system put in place to preserve solidarity and keep the SEC from running off with all the gold — which appears to be one of the fruits of the House vs. NCAA settlement.

In the agreement, the NCAA will pay $2.8 billion in NIL backpay over the last 10 years to an estimated 14,000 players. The agreement will also require BYU and every other school to pay up to $21 million per year to its student-athletes. The money is expected to come from television revenue and ticket sales.

How they are going to do it is still in the debate stage, but the NCAA and its member institutions believe paying now will keep them in business later. In addition to the settlement, NIL opportunities will remain part of the new landscape moving forward.

Games still matter

Utah Utes safety Brandon McKinney and Utah Utes linebacker Hayden Furey try to get to Brigham Young Cougars QB Jaren Hall.
Utah Utes safety Brandon McKinney (28) and linebacker Hayden Furey (54) try to get to BYU quarterback Jaren Hall as BYU and Utah play in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The true power of college sports lies in the competition and the NCAA is banking on that being enough to trump all the off-the-field legal wrangling and keep fans invested. They have history on their side.

For example, when BYU and Utah reunite Nov. 9 in front of a sold-out Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, the last thing on anyone’s mind will be the amount of NIL money a player is making. Instead, all thoughts will be on winning a rivalry game that began in 1922.

That’s the only way the NCAA can remain relevant while it reinvents itself. So long as the games matter, most fans will put up with the politics around them, including conference realignment, NIL, the transfer portal and even revenue sharing — four significant changes that require a paradigm shift to close “old school” thinking and kick off a brand-new era.

The crew of the BYUtv's "GameDay" on the set during a BYU football game. | BYU Photo
The crew of the BYUtv's "GameDay" on the set during a BYU football game. | BYU Photo

Dave McCann is a sportswriter and columnist for the Deseret News and is a play-by-play announcer and show host for BYUtv/ESPN+. He co-hosts “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com and is the author of the children’s book “C is for Cougar,” available at deseretbook.com.