They dangle there neatly.

By Gus Bode

The hangers clack against each other as curious customers wander by and have a look at the rows of Saluki basketball jerseys boasting the numbers of men’s basketball players Jermaine Dearman and Darren Brooks.

That is a daily sight at the University Bookstore in the Student Center where Saluki fans can go to purchase hats, shirts, sweaters, jerseys and even mini-basketballs and footballs of their favorite teams.

The bookstore makes money off the teams.

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The athletic department makes money off the teams.

The student-athletes who make fans want to purchase this merchandise receive nothing.

This is the life of a student-athlete.

They spend hours upon hours in the weight room or out on the playing field working to improve at their chosen craft.

They go home and spend the rest of the night doing homework or studying as they continue to work towards their degrees.

Then they walk around campus and see fellow student wearing their work clothes.

Dearman said he is not mad he does not get paid for people selling his jersey. In fact he likes it.

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“I’m pretty flattered to see people walking around with my jersey on because since I’ve been here, I’ve noticed people with [Kent Williams] jersey, but you never really did notice too many 23s and 1s,” Dearman said.

Williams, who has been the poster boy for SIU basketball over the past four seasons, said he, like Dearman, does not mind seeing fans wearing his familiar No. 33.

At the same time, Williams admits he has sometimes thought that it would be nice to get some money from the sale of his name.

“I mean, it crosses my mind, but at the same time it’s fun and it’s for the fans and it’s for the University, so I don’t look at it as I’m not getting paid anything for what I do,” Williams said. “I’m getting an education from this school so that’s something I’m getting rewarded back. I’m getting it for free.”

The exchange of a free education for putting a university’s sports team on the map is something that has been going on for as long as sports has been played in college.

That exchange is something that SIU Athletic Director Paul

Kowalczyk believes benefits everyone involved.

“Let’s face it, it’s a pretty darn good deal for them to get an education for free if they choose to take advantage of it,” Kowalczyk said. “If you look at the increased earning over a lifetime of a college graduate as opposed to one who has a high school education, it’s extremely significant.

“So I think that’s a heck of an investment that we and the student-athlete are making in their future.”

However, as college athletics become more and more profitable, the question of whether these athletes should be paid for all they bring to the school financially begs to be asked.

Kowalczyk said he is flat-out against the thought of paying student athletes because that is not what college athletics is supposed to be about.

“You would basically have a professional or a semi-professional league and that’s not what we’re supposed to be about,” Kowalczyk said. “It would change the landscape dramatically.”

Kowalczyk said if student-athletes were paid it would become more of an employer-employee relationship, and there would be other issues such as benefits and workman’s compensation.

Another problem with the prospect of paying student-athletes is that most college athletic departments are already under strain just to support the teams they bring in.

Ohio State University, who Kowalczyk said was light years ahead of any college spending-wise, made $26.6 million in revenue off of its football and men’s basketball programs according to an article in the November issue of The Chronicle of Higher Learning.

SIU, on the other hand, made just $14,005, based on figures provided by the SIU Athletic Department. On the whole, SIU only netted revenues of $26,900 off all of its sports teams.

Ohio State spends a mind-boggling $79 million operating its athletic department. In comparison, SIU spends $6,391,210 operating its athletic teams.

While schools like Ohio State, Duke and Tennessee might be able to pay athletes without being hurt too badly, mid-major schools such as SIU simply are not able to handle that added cost.

“I can’t imagine how you would be able to finance that kind of an enterprise,” Kowalczyk said. “The question becomes how much do you pay who? How much do you pay each individual student-athlete? Does a swimmer get as much as a football player?”

Williams and Dearman both think that under a perfect system paying student-athletes could work, but said anything less than that would fail.

“I think the idea of it is good as long as every college athlete is paid the same and as long as at every university it’s the same,” Williams said. “We can’t really have jobs. We’re stretched during the season, we’re not allowed to have a job and then at the same time in the summer we’re asked to do so much that it’s impossible to have a job.”

Until recently, college athletes were prohibited from having jobs altogether, but the NCAA changed its policy to help ease the money problem for the athletes.

SIU men’s basketball head coach Bruce Weber said there are other ways for student-athletes to get money other than working jobs, which is virtually impossible during their seasons.

Methods include financial aid, Pell Grants and NCAA emergency money.

“Over a course of 12 months you’re talking almost 200 bucks a month that they can receive so that’s pretty good,” Weber said. “I think most college students can live off of $200. Now can that get them a Hummer? No that can’t, but you’ve got to live within your means.”

Dearman said if a system like this was put in place, the pay would have to be identical because if not, it would have an effect on team chemistry and cause jealousy among teammates.

“Everybody should get like a set wage so that way everybody can be treated the same,” Dearman said. “I mean, everybody’s putting in the same amount of effort, so I think that would solve a lot of problems.”

It is that lack of having spending money that often leads college athletes to leave school early to go and play professionally, especially in basketball where more players tend to be from lower-income families than other sports.

In the 2002 NBA Draft, there were an amazing 46 underclassmen and high school players eligible. Unlike other sports with multiple rounds like football and baseball, the NBA Draft has just two rounds where 58 players are selected.

Dearman said a big reason for all the early entries is because players are broke and they tire of not being able to afford the luxuries they want. Another reason is the rare shot of being able to play among the world’s best players.

He said if college players were paid it would keep some of those people in school longer, though some would still choose to leave school.

“Money is the No. 1 factor, so maybe if they were kind of more financially stable they might tend to stay in school a little longer,” Dearman said.

Basketball is not the only sport where athletes leave early for the money. There are 45 underclassmen eligible for the upcoming NFL Draft in April.

The argument can be made that paying student-athletes would take away from the tradition of collegiate sports and make the athletes nothing more than hired guns for their teams.

However, Dearman said he thinks athletes are already mercenaries. Players choose to attend the schools with the nicest arena, uniforms, locker rooms, stay at the best hotels and other fringe benefits.

“I think it’s kind of the same situation where now you’re just talking about direct money, but it’s all correlated together,” Dearman said.

Even if a system could be found that was equal for all sports, athletes and universities, Kowalczyk said he would not be happy with any system that takes the amateurism out of college athletics.

“It would certainly not be something I’d want to be a part of,” Kowalczyk said. “I can tell you that much.”

Reporter Jens Deju can be reached at [email protected]

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