The NCAA, Big Five Conferences Allow Coaches, Staff and Their Families Free Travel to Bowl Games; Why Not Players’ Families?

Cardale Jones Archie Griffin

A lot has been written about the cost of travel and lodging for parents of the players involved in the first-ever College Football Playoff over the last week or two, and a lot has been said about the subject from the coaches involved as well.

Rather than have one of our writers simply add their own thoughts to the discussion, we decided that it would be better to hear a parent’s perspective. We asked Annie Apple, the mother of OSU Freshman All-American cornerback Eli Apple, to give the parents’ thought process regarding the matter.

What follows are her words and we thank her very much for sharing them with us. _____________________________________________________________________

A little over a week ago, we, the parents of Ohio State Buckeye football, were excited to learn our team would be getting into the first college football playoffs. We were elated for our boys who had worked so hard and overcome so much to have this opportunity. Our joy was weighted down with the heavy financial burden of inflated bowl travel cost. After a trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship, we now have to find a way to afford a trip to New Orleans on New Years and potentially another trip to Dallas for the national championship. That’s up to three major travel costs within a month. For a family of four, this trip would cost upwards of $4,500. The NCAA allows for the families of coaches and staff to get their travel and accommodations taken care of; why shouldn’t the players’ families be taken care of as well?

It’s hard to believe that as the NCAA and the Big Five Conferences sat down to create a playoff system, they made zero provisions for players’ families. I couldn’t believe with ESPN paying close to 500 million dollars annually ($7.2 Billion in total for 12-years) for these playoff games and each Big Five conference receiving $50 million annually in added revenues, they would allot zero dollars for players’ families’ travel cost, while coaches’ and administrators’ travel free to all bowl games. This is not a debate about paying players. This is about valuing players’ families and the hard work our sons put in to bring their schools, conferences and the NCAA hundreds of millions of dollars.

As I read the amounts of money that were coming into schools, conferences and NCAA, I began to ask myself: why are coaches’ and administrators’ families more important to the NCAA and Conferences than players’ families? Any team that wins a conference championship brings rewards to the University, Conference, and NCAA, and brings bills to the players’ families. When a college team qualifies for the post season, there are rewards and bonuses that occur at all levels from the University, Conference, and NCAA, whereas more wins bring more financial burden to all student-athlete families. I really don’t know how the families of NCAA Basketball teams make it through the NCAA March Madness Tournament, in fact many don’t. The NCAA signed an $11 billion TV Contract just for the Final Four portion of the Tournament, but for players’ families, it’s a $3,500 weekend expense per family.

Winning is awesome. Winning is what we all want, and it shouldn’t be bittersweet due to expenses that the NCAA covers for everyone else’s family except the families of the players. This is true for all sports, in all conferences. The NCAA and Big Five Conferences allow coaches, staff and their families free travel; why not players’ families?

In the specific case of the College Football Playoffs, it’s not a matter of money because the College Football Playoffs bring in even more large amounts of money: $50 million per Big Five conference (Big Ten, ACC, SEC, Big 12 & Pacific 12), $6 million for each school in the semifinals (this year; Ohio State, Alabama, Oregon & Florida State), $2 million per team for expenses. So why aren’t travel needs for players’ families factored into the exorbitant amount of revenue coming in? So what’s the NCAA’s response? The NCAA reps have said that parents may get help for travel expenses from the Student Assistant Fund.

This means all parents of all sports at all schools in all conferences can seek travel funding. The Student Athletes Assistant fund is a limited emergency fund available for all university sports, not just football, and the university is restricted in the amounts it can take from the Student Assistance Fund since it is a general fund and must maintain a certain balance in case of any emergencies that may occur in any of the school’s sports. In our efforts to work with Ohio State Athletics and Compliance, OSU was able to avail up to $800 in taxable reimbursement per player family. As of now, Ohio State has made such arrangements for player’s families without the support at the Conference or NCAA levels. The Conference says there is nothing they can do because of the NCAA Legislation (and the NCAA says it’s a matter to be addressed at the Conference levels). One thing is for sure: Ohio State is in full support of players’ families and wants to see the Conference and NCAA do what’s right for players’ families. The NCAA and Big Five Conferences allow coaches, staff and their families free travel; why not players’ families?

Back in July, Head Coach Urban Meyer brought up the concern for players families at the Big Ten Luncheon, along with Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio. “Many families of administrators, assistant coaches and support personnel already make the trips with expenses paid, which is the right thing to do,” Meyer said. “I look at our players, and (some of their families) may drive in the day of the game, and they watch the game, then they go home. ‘How was your bowl experience?’”

So let’s see: Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis, College Football playoff semifinalist game in New Orleans and national championship game in Dallas. For players’ families, that would be three major trips in roughly a month, with airline tickets bought at the last moment, inflated cost of hotel rooms near stadium and bowl festivities, and paying for transportation and meals. “Those are three trips in a month that would set people back a small fortune,” Michigan State coach, Mark Dantonio said back in July at the Big Ten Luncheon.

“If you have people thinking about student-athlete first … above all that other stuff, finances, and ‘Boy, what a windfall for the university’ … it might have been already discussed,” Meyer said. “I’m hoping it has been. But if so, I’ve never been invited to those meetings.”

It hasn’t been discussed and it won’t be discussed for another potentially three years. With the millions being generated by the new playoff system, why wasn’t the huge financial toll on players’ families addressed by the NCAA, Big Five conferences and playoff committee? “If I was on that committee I would have addressed that first,” said Coach Meyer in July at the Big Ten Luncheon.

In a recent discussion with a Big Ten rep, it was said that assistances for bowl travel for players’ families won’t be up for discussion at the earliest until January 2016. Not only has the NCAA not provided bowl travel assistance for players’ families, it won’t allow schools or others to do so even when millions are given as bonuses to the Conferences and Universities of the teams that make it. This 2014 bowl season, the Big Ten Conference will be given $70-million in bowl game bonus fees. We had a friend of a parent who wanted to help a single mother get to see her son play in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, but her help had to be refused because this would be an NCAA violation.

This is not about us or Ohio State. This is about every student-athlete in this country and their families being valued. There is no reason why any mother, father, sister, brother, or guardian should be forced to struggle with the financial burden of bowl travel costs.

“The expense is a huge challenge but my mother, myself and Trey’s girlfriend split the cost,” said Alabama LB Trey DePriest’s mom Angie.

“There needs to be some way parents can get some assistance to get to their kids’ games,” said Guss Armstead, dad of Oregon defensive lineman Arik Armstead.

“With family support, I’m going. It’s tough,” said Cassandra Green, mother of Florida State wide receiver Rashad Greene.

“If I am (Buckeyes defensive lineman) Michael Bennett’s family, and we go on a (playoff) run, you can plan on spending $20,000 going to the Big Ten Championship Game, going to the semi-final game and going to the championship game,” said Coach Meyer. That’s a huge financial hit for players’ families, while coaches and administrators’ families enjoy free bowl travel accommodations.

The NCAA doesn’t have to give players’ families a dime. Just allow schools when making coaches’ and administrators’ families free travel plans to include players’ families. It’s not about NCAA charity. It’s about its integrity. If coaches and administrators need their families present at bowl games, how much more do 18, 19 and 20 year-old kids need their families present? The NCAA and Big Five Conferences need to allow players’ families the same free travel accommodations provided for coaches’ and administrators’ families.

“I’ve got a feeling their families can go for free to the national championship game, but my starting center’s can’t? That’s not right,” said Coach Meyer.

You’re absolutely correct, Coach. That’s not right. So why won’t the NCAA do the right thing? Families of coaches and staff at Ohio State, Alabama, Oregon and Florida State, as well as conference administrators and NCAA officials all get their travel and accommodations taken care for postseason games, so why shouldn’t players’ families?