Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy thinks back on his days as the Cowboys’ quarterback and readily admits that players today have it a lot tougher.
“We didn't have near the time commitment that these guys have nowadays,” Gundy said Tuesday during the Big 12 football coaches’ teleconference. “When we were in school, we had some offseason workouts and some running, and we hung out at the pool and didn't put near the time in that these guys do.
“There's a tremendous amount of strain, time and effort put into these players not only physically but mental year round.”
Still, Gundy wasn’t quite ready to call his players “employees” of Oklahoma State University, saying he hadn’t followed the Northwestern case closely enough to comment.
As spring football ends and summer workouts — which are supposed to be voluntary — loom just around the corner, the debate regarding student-athlete compensation in major, multimillon-dollar athletic departments rages on. Last month, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that football players at Northwestern are employees under federal law and, as such, can unionize.
Several Big 12 coaches chimed in Tuesday, saying that they don’t consider their players university employees.
“I look at them as part of our family in a way that we’re here to support them and help them in every way possible,” said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops.
“It’s kind of different because I’ve never fired one. If they are employees, I guess you get to fire them. I’d never want to do that to a young guy that’s doing the best he can to be a part of this program.”
Stoops has, of course, dismissed lots of players from his program over his 15-year tenure in Norman for violating team rules, missing too much class and other reasons. He’s never failed to renew a player’s year-to-year scholarship, though, based on performance.
Baylor coach Art Briles, who played college football at Houston in the mid-to-late 1970s, disputed the notion that players today face more football-related time demands.
“I mean we were seven days a week during the season,” Briles said. “There wasn't a day-off rule. We were a lot longer in spring training. I think we had 30 days of spring training where now you have 15. The time obligations back then were a lot heavier than what they have now.”
Briles did acknowledge, though, that summer workouts are different.
Under NCAA rules, any organized team workout activities in the summer must be voluntary and if a player chooses not to participate, they aren’t supposed to be punished for it. That notion has long been disputed, though.
Kansas State’s Bill Snyder, who has been the Wildcats’ coach since 1989 with a three-year break between 2006 and 2009, said he has seen the time demands on his players increase dramatically throughout his career, and sounded ambivalent about that fact.
“It's become pretty much a full-time involvement for young people,” Snyder said. “I think one of the advantages of it if you look at it from the positive side is it keeps young people involved with people who really have their best interests at heart and people that want to help them grow as young men.
“By the same token, you could look at the other side of the coin and suggest that this isn't the NFL, and the NFL probably has more time off for their players than we do in college football right now.”