Back in April, the University of Michigan football team went to Rome on a school-sponsored trip. Good times were had by all. Today, Michigan's athletic director Warde Manuel told the Detroit News that the trip cost approximately $800,000 and was paid entirely by a single anonymous male donor as part of an unrestricted gift.
This means that someone handed the athletics department more than three-quarters of a million dollars and told them to do whatever they wanted with it. Somehow, the athletics department decided the very best use of that money was a trip to Rome.
Now, it sure seems like Manuel totally gets how weird this looks when the players are unpaid, but he still tried to talk his way through it.
"It will be about $5,000 to $6,000 a person, so it was a great investment. It was just terrific. We pay them through an educational experience like Michigan does all the time. I don't think about it in terms of paying our athletes but if people want to say we should give something to our students of value, I can't think of a better way to invest in them for their lifetime and their experience."
It's interesting, to me at least, that Manuel doesn't specify exactly who this was a good investment for. The donor? The school? The athletics department? I think he meant the university's investment in the students (LOL) but another reading of it, placed inside the larger college football recruitment arms race, could mean this was a great investment for the athletics department in future recruits.
In any event, "Pay them through an educational experience" is a classic line straight from Amateurism 101, a course Manuel has obviously taken, during which I'm sure he received no monetary compensation because he was being paid through an educational experience like Michigan does all the time.
It probably doesn't surprise you Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh is all aboard the Paying Them Through An Educational Experience train and thinks "free" trips abroad he also gets to go on is a fantastic use of resources. I'm going to include his full quote from the Detroit News article because it, too, is pretty Peak Amateurism:
"This is a good way to spend our resources. Investing in the players, investing in the youngsters in this educational type of way because all learning's not done in the classroom. Not all of it's done on the football field. It's done in connecting. Can't close ourselves off. To connect with the rest of the world, from this experience it's been amazing. We're all similar, we're all part of the same team, the human race. When you throw out a ball, a soccer ball, a football, a pelota (Spanish for ball), there is no language barrier anymore. Everybody is speaking the same language. We do feel like innovators, we feel like pioneers, and for the good. Innovators for the good. I encourage as many people to do this."
So, while the athletic director tried to justify this program by comparing it to study abroad programs—something universities have been doing for almost as long as they've existed—Harbaugh thinks it's an innovation. Why, it's almost as if they're making shit up as they go along.