Proposed legislation in both the Mississippi Legislature and the U.S. Congress reflect how much intercollegiate athletics have changed in the past 60 years.
Ralph “Catfish” Smith, a member of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame who played at Ole Miss from 1959 to 1962 and went on to excel in professional football, once told me the story of a strapping country boy being recruited by then Rebel Coach John Vaught.
One of Vaught’s assistants was explaining to the kid the benefits of an education at the University of Mississippi and how much his scholarship was worth; not nearly as much as it is now but still into the thousands of dollars over a four-year period.
After an obvious failure to communicate on the coach’s part, the athlete said he really liked Ole Miss, would love to attend and play football at the school, “but Coach I ain’t got that kind of money.”
Nobody being recruited by Ole Miss or any of its rivals these days are as naive.
If you can believe the rumors around recruiting of the top athletes, as well as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) allegations against some coaches and institutions, it’s more about “show me the money” to paraphrase the character in the “Jerry Maguire” movie.
Several states have enacted legislation allowing college athletes to make money on their names, and the movement is pending in Mississippi.
Rep. Scott Bounds, R-Philadelphia, says the NCAA and Congress have yet to approve “name, image and likeness” proposals, so states have opted to act on their own. Waiting to approve a similar measure could put Mississippi at a recruiting disadvantage. “Every day that this is not addressed, we are losing ground to other institutions around us,” Bounds said.
This could make what has been illegal and got some schools on probation legal.
In related legislation, the Mississippi Senate has passed a bill prohibiting transgender athletes from competing in female sports.
So far there have been no cases reported in Mississippi of those born as males competing in female sports, but 16 states allow transgender high school athletes to compete without restrictions, and President Joe Biden has signed an executive order forbidding discrimination against transgender people in the military, something that could be applied to schools.
Probably there will be some court cases on this issue.
The proposal to allow college athletes to market their name and image and possibly to hire agents is more significant to many sports fans than the possibility of a few transgender males wanting to play girls volleyball.
One thing seems likely. If and when legal pay for college athletes comes about, the gifted on the winning teams will make the most money. The rich will get richer and the poor won’t gain as much. More jerseys bearing the name of the quarterback at Alabama will be sold than the one from the best player at Mississippi College.
Some things don’t change. It is said that back in Ralph Smith’s day players were given a certain number of game tickets for their families or friends. Sometimes a wealthy booster would buy those tickets for more than face value.
The star players always seemed to get more for their tickets than the benchwarmers and sometimes would even buy tickets from their back-ups to sell at a higher price.
On an unrelated sports issue, I have a complaint and it’s not about the athletes or the coaches.
It’s those television broadcasters, especially in college basketball and baseball, who ignore what’s happening in the game they’re supposed to be covering and go off on some dissertation about the significance of the game, history of the series, who might get in the big tournament, who might win it, the background on certain players, etc.
Just tell me who made that three-point shot. My old eyes are too weak to make out the numbers on the TV screen.
Someone told me to mute the TV volume and listen to the broadcasters on the radio who do a better job of following the game. I tried that, but the radio broadcast isn’t synchronized with the picture on TV. This is as irritating as the TV announcers.
Charlie Dunagin is editor and publisher emeritus of the McComb Enterprise- Journal. He lives in Oxford.