Dr. Martin Talks Paid Athletes
Dr. Michael Martin, Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) President, recently addressed the Chamber of Commerce of Southwest Florida, presenting “FGCU: 22 Years Strong” at The Holiday Inn Fort Myers Airport at Town Center. While primarily focusing on FGCU, near the end Dr. Martin brought up one of the more controversial items before the Florida Legislature – whether or not to pay students on college athletic scholarships.
Prior to becoming FGCU’s 4th President on July 1, 2017, Dr. Martin was the Chancellor Emeritus of the Colorado State University System, Chancellor of Louisiana State University (LSU) and President of New Mexico State University. “You may know that LSU just recently won the Division I NCAA National Championship in Football,” he joked, “further proving the evidence that there is an 8-year gap between a great Chancellor and a National Championship!”
Dr. Martin provided the audience “with a quick FGCU update, not only on our 22-year history, but how we plan to grow in the coming years. Our campus continues to develop, with a ribbon cutting for our new fitness center as well as a mental health center and the expansion of the Cohen Center and our brand new entrepreneurial institute and the region’s Small Business Institute. Our biggest news is that Tallahassee, at its last session, appropriated the funds to FGCU to build our largest campus building ever that we cleverly named ‘Campus Building #9’ that will become home to The Water School. In addition to all of this, we have another three or four projects under consideration. We make all these improvements, along with new undergraduate and graduate degree programs, so we not only draw more local students to FGCU but they remain in this area after they graduate.”
Your Name Here
FGCU initiated The Water School approximately one year ago, said Dr. Martin, “when the State of Florida’s Board of Governors mandated that each of the nine regional universities select one specific area of expertise. We were actually working on the concept of The Water School for some time before that, as we already had a faculty with a strong emphasis in that regard, so it was a natural for us. When you see the title, ‘The Water School,’ you will notice we deliberately left a space between ‘The’ and ‘Water’ for someone’s name, so if you want to cut a check, we would love to accept that, so we don’t have to keep referring to it as ‘Building #9!’”
Another FGCU emphasis is that “there are 2.5-million Floridians who have college credits but no degree,” Dr. Martin explained. “If we can convince just one percent of these people to complete their academic programs, we will have another 25,000 graduates. We are headquartering this initiative out of Punta Gorda because that community said to FGCU that we do not love them, so we are doing this from there to prove we do!”
Additional enhancements, according to Dr. Martin, “include an alternative center for Kindergarten through 12th Grade teachers, to create a greater stability and retention within the profession, especially in our rural areas. Administratively, we are going through an interesting and challenging time, with several new Vice Presidents and Deans, and we hope to have a new Provost by July 1. Finally, what I am most proud of is our ‘Student Success Initiative’ where we increased our four-year graduation rate from 23% to 42%! While I am not wedded to graduating every student in four years, preferring that our folks get everything they need out of their educations so they can be the best they can be, graduating in four years is a good thing, too.”
Pay to Play
“Now I am going to address another topic pertaining to higher education,” continued Dr. Martin, ”and I hope I don’t offend anyone’s political opinions, but I am going to do it nonetheless. There are 353 Division I universities that play college football, with 130 of these schools in the Football Championship Subdivision, and there is talk that we should start to pay our student-athletes, but I say we should not!”
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis endorsed paying athletes in October 2019, calling it a “fight for fairness for college athletes.” Should the Florida Legislature approve House Bill 251, the Sunshine State’s over 11,000 scholarship athletes can earn money from their name, image and likeness. Florida, along with New York and South Carolina, is modeling HB 251 and the companion Senate Bill 582 after a California law to go into effect in 2023 that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) fiercely opposes. The initiative for the California law came from a 2009 legal challenge by Ed O’Bannon, a former University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) basketball player who noticed his image on a video game for which the NCAA received money but he did not. Florida HB 251 would forbid the NCAA from disqualifying any student who received compensation for their name, likeness and image, nor could the NCAA revoke or reduce their athletic scholarship. The bills, currently in committee, would become Florida law on July 1 with legislative approval.
“LSU is obviously a college football powerhouse,” said Dr. Martin, in using one of his former employers as an example, “but in one ten-year period, we determined that 61% of the players on the team we would not admit if they were not football players, yet once we got them into school, they graduated at a higher rate than the rest of the student body, and a major reason why is we invested roughly $41,000 into each of them so they could earn their degree that they would not otherwise achieve if they were not on the football team, so if it were not for football, many of them would be driving bread trucks! Who pays for this, including the athletic scholarships? The other students through their Student Fees. An example is Florida Atlantic University that is awash in red ink, with 19.52% of their credit hour fees going to student athletes, amounting to over $600-per-year for each fulltime student. If you pay athletes, that will only increase.”
Decisions Freely Made
Dr. Martin added, “Some politicians link paid athletics to another problem they tell you that exists in the United States: a ‘Student Debt Crisis’ to the tune of $1.6 trillion, but most of that is from elevated schools like private universities and medical schools. Conversely, a typical FGCU graduate leaves our school with practically no debt at all, and those who do, roughly one-third of their amount is attributable to lifestyle choices and not education; if you don’t believe me, take a walk through our student parking lot! They vacation at Cancun or go skiing over Christmas Break, or chose to live in a higher level apartment rather than campus housing. One-quarter of their funds go to our campus meal plan, but I submit if they were not attending FGCU, they would still eat, so I don’t think it is fair to attribute that cost to higher education. These are decisions students freely make, so when you hear a politician say we should wipe out all student loans, I say that I regret purchasing decisions I made once or twice over my lifetime, like buying the wrong car, but no one wanted to eliminate my automobile debts over a decision I freely made!”
The cost to students to attend FGCU does increase, Dr. Martin conceded, “but that is because we now have a 23-person Mental Health Unit and an 18-person Police Force, and we have a high end residence hall with a really great swimming pool and a pretty nice beach and a lot of other good things. The FGCU educational cost, however, actually declined over the last few years because we have so many generous donors, so we have a relatively low education price of $22,000-per-year, and very few students even pay that due to scholarships. Next time you walk down our main campus mall, please notice that every building has someone’s name on it, and that occurred before we ever had one single alumni, so it is our community that owns FGCU! Eighty-nine percent of our students work at least part-time jobs and most tell me they enjoy that because it makes them feel like part of the community, and some of their employers provide benefits, so next time you hear a politician talking about these issues, ask them if they are trying to solve a problem that does not exist.”
Dr. Martin concluded, “On our 100-point rating system, FGCU currently scores an 88 and that is 17 points higher than just 2 years ago, but I have a different metric that means more to me. My goal is the day when every single Southwest Floridian says to themselves, ‘Thank God for FGCU,’ because their nurse or child’s teacher or someone else equally as important to them is an FGCU graduate, so thank you very much and Go Eagles!”