By Ashley Dunkak
CBS DETROIT – Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo looked reluctant as he considered the question. For once, it was not another inquiry about one of the team’s many injuries. Izzo pondered how to respond to the idea of whether, in the context of the movement to union college athletes, change is in the air for college sports.
First of all, Izzo began as he spoke with reporters Thursday, he is not familiar with the entire situation as far as what is being requested by the College Athletes Players Association headed by Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter. Unfamiliarity aside, the prospect of players unionizing seemed to make the venerable coach uneasy.
“I’m a little nervous, little nervous as a parent, because I think I’m going to come home and there’s going to be a union rep on my steps and my son is going to demand that he gets to stay up til 9:30 and not 9 o’clock and he gets his phone until 9 o’clock not 8 o’clock, and I’m a little nervous about stuff like that,” Izzo said. “Where does it end?
“Is change in the air?” Izzo said, returning to the original question. “I think we all got to make sure – the grass is always greener, right? It’s greener for me if I go to Cleveland. It’s greener for somebody else if he takes the Texas job. The grass is always greener; it’s greener for you, it’s greener for me. And 99 percent of the time, when we get there, the grass isn’t greener. It’s the same damn grass.”
The coach also voiced concern that perhaps the demand for a union appears larger than it is because of how quickly ideas proliferate on social media, particularly on Twitter, which Izzo loathes.
“Everybody has such a voice now because of my favorite thing that I’m not going to talk about from now to the end of the season,” Izzo said. “They have such a voice that it worries me that how much of this is a couple of voices that all of a sudden it explodes. How much of it is reality?”
Izzo said he absolutely supports solid working conditions for players, proper treatment of them, even the idea to have scholarships cover the full cost of attendance. As far as paying players, though, Izzo appeared opposed.
“I’ve been in favor of the cost of attendance, I’ve been in favor of that and making sure we take care of kids as best we can, but I will say this,” Izzo said. “I was dirt poor like 90 percent of these guys, okay? It wasn’t all bad. It made for a better Tom Izzo, I think, that I went through that period.
“There’s nothing wrong with grinding it,” Izzo continued. “There’s nothing wrong with paying your dues and paying the price to be great. There is nothing wrong with it. It is good. I hate the trophy world. I don’t like it. I’m glad I wasn’t raised in it. I struggle to raise my kids so they’re not in it. It’s harder.”
Back to the original question once more, whether change is in the air for college athletics, Izzo said that maybe some of the old-school concepts, like discipline and strong instruction from coaches and teachers, should stick around.
“It didn’t work so bad for me, and I know a lot of other guys it didn’t work so bad for, so we keep talking about changes, changes, changes,” Izzo said. “I don’t know. I think we had a better world when there was more discipline, so I don’t know what that does for that, but I’m just giving you my own [opinion].”