NORMAN — Bob Stoops went all Marie Antoinette to The Sporting News the other day.
The 21st-century version of Let Them Eat Cake: “I tell my guys all the time,” Stoops said, “you're not the first one to spend a hungry Sunday without any money.”
Stoops made the case that college athletes shouldn't be paid, and he's on solid ground. But man, the bedside manner needs a little work. A coach making $4.5 million a year talking about hungry Sundays is a textbook case on how to start a revolution. Just ask old Marie.
It's more than a little insensitive for a college football coach who just moved into an Oklahoma version of Versailles, a château hard by Interstate 35, to tell his ballplayers to toughen up and scrape by.
Even if they and everyone else needs to hear it.
It's a great message. Manage your money. Bide your time. Take care of business. College is not where you strike it rich. Not where you achieve your goals. College is the gateway to those dreams.
Strong advice. Ought to be part of orientation for every athlete every August.
Just don't trout out the Hungry Sunday line. At least not for public consumption.
I know what Stoops meant. He was being literal. Sunday nights are the traditional munchie times around campuses. The cafeterias are closed; pizza delivery and taco runs are in high gear on Sunday nights. Many a college kid gets hungry on Sunday night and stays that way without a 10-dollar bill lying around.
“That's part of life,” Stoops said.
He knows from experience. Stoops painted houses in the summer to have spending money, not just when he was an Iowa safety but an Iowa graduate assistant and volunteer coach, too. Not all castle-dwellers were born in one.
And back in those days, Stoops would occasionally come up a dollar short. “I'd have a hungry Sunday often,” Stoops said.
Stoops wanted to clarify a couple of things. In his Sporting News interview, Stoops said, the subject of stipends didn't come up. Stoops is all for it.
The stipend is a trending issue within NCAA ranks. Changing the athletic scholarship to include the cost of living, not just the cost of attendance (room, board, tuition, books).
The NCAA definitely should implement the stipend, primarily because it's standard procedure for a lot of scholarships. For example, OU's hugely successful National Merit program includes stipends above and beyond the standard full scholarship.
We've long said student-athletes should be treated the same as students who aren't athletes. The stipend doesn't compromise that tenet.
Stoops also points out that athletes from low-income backgrounds qualify for Pell grants to supplement their scholarship, and the university helps in the application process. So players who need money have access to money.
Stoops' primary point to The Sporting News was lost in the Hungry Sunday comment but remains valid. A college scholarship is no small reward.
Stoops pointed out the economic worth of a scholarship and all the amenities that go with it, from support personnel who build up their minds and bodies.
He also bristles at the idea that all this money generated by football is going to his lofty salary. OU has made major capital improvements and added support personnel in every area during the Stoops Renaissance.
“All that money we're making is going to me?” he asked. “What they pay me is a small part of what we make. Don't act like it doesn't get put back into the athletes.”
Again, right message. Wrong messenger.
But it goes much deeper than just what Stoops listed. Playing football at OU makes connections and opens doors that are unavailable to most non-athletes. Can't put a price tag on that.
And while everyone drifts the debate to the money generated by athletic departments, built on the backs of ballplayers, they don't see the bigger discrepancy.
The same can be said, only more so, about the university at large. OU's university operating budget for 2013 was $838 million. That's a lot of money. That's a lot of paychecks, many of them with six figures left of the decimal point.
A major university is a serious economic engine. All of it built on the backs of engineering majors and education majors and business majors and fine arts majors. Most of whom are not getting scholarship help and some of whom are going into serious debt in pursuit of that degree.
And people want to talk about the unfairness of the football dichotomy?
This debate long has been with us but has intensified with the escalation of coaches' salaries. Hard to take a sermon on hanging in there from a guy making $4.5 million a year.
Stoops told me he wishes the Hungry Sunday line hadn't become the focal point of this debate. But he doesn't back down. Stoops stands by what he said. Says he feels bad if money's tight with one of his players. “But I feel bad for the hungry kid in the other dorm, too,” Stoops said.
That's part of the deal. College life is not an end. It's a means to an end. Stoops knows that and can express it well, except when he says to let his linebackers eat cake.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.