Scholarships that cover the full cost of attendance is the answer, not pay-for-play, according to a polling of a handful of Pac-12 athletic directors.
USC's Pat Haden felt so strongly about the issue that he has a post on the matter on the school's official website.
"The NCAA formulas used to determine student-athlete stipends are not appropriate," Haden said in the post. "Having interviewed 15 different athletes and broken down their stipend against their bills, they are left with about $5 per day for food. I just do not think that is right."
Haden is not alone. Across town at UCLA, Dan Guerrero feels the same way.
“I would much prefer to see the NCAA pursue the notion of allowing athletic scholarships to cover the full cost of attendance at an institution," he said.
In fact, six conference athletic directors said the same thing. None who were asked for their take -- a number of ADs were on vacation -- said they were against increasing the value of scholarships to cover cost of attendance.
But paying athletes for their services beyond a full-cost scholarship also was panned.
"I am not in favor of any 'stipend' that would exceed that amount," Stanford's Bob Bowlsby said.
Why not? Well, while a few ADs sounded at least lukewarm to a revolutionary idea in which athletes in revenue sports -- football and men's basketball -- could receive a stipend, none said they'd heard of a way to do that and not step afoul of Title IX laws on gender equity.
"I haven't heard of one yet," Arizona's Greg Byrne said. "It would have to be a group effort to see if that's even feasible."
And even if someone produced a revolutionary idea that circumvented Title IX, the notion didn't generate much support.
"I'm not for pay-for-play," Washington's Scott Woodward said. "I think it's a great structure the way it is."
So cost of attendance it is.
"Cost of attendance," in fact, is the new catch phrase. It means covering all reasonable expenses a college athlete might have. That would mean an extra $2,500 to $3,500 per athlete. That doesn't sound like much, but when you multiply it across an entire athletic department with, say, 400 or so scholarship athletes, it gets pretty pricey. Woodward estimated it would cost Washington an extra $1 million a year.
Still, that doesn't sound like too much when automatic qualifying conferences in the BCS are signing billion-dollar TV contracts.
Ah, but that's part of the problem. Non-AQ schools would struggle to pick up the extra tab. Many already are losing money on college sports. If AQ programs started to provide "better" scholarships and non-AQ programs didn't, then it would increase an already sizable competitive advantage.
Colorado's Mike Bohn has been an athletic director in non-AQ conferences -- San Diego State and Idaho -- so he understands why the idea isn't generating much traction outside of AQ conferences.
"I recognize the challenges it would put on those types of institutions," he said. "They would have to evaluate that and make decisions on what's best for themselves."
Bohn also feels like many people don't recognize just how valuable a full ride is -- cost of attendance or not. He points out it pays not only tuition plus room and board, but also health care, tutoring and other academic services and summer school. And the experience of a major college athlete is a fairly privileged one.
"It's important to accurately portray the investment each institution is putting into each student-athlete," he said. "The investment in these men and women goes far beyond the scholarship commitment."
Still, there's plenty of momentum behind the idea of improving scholarships and taking further financial burdens off athletes.
Writes Haden: "In a year from now, our new TV contract is going to kick in with $20 million per year in revenue and it is not right to have a student-athlete tell me he or she is going hungry. It is unconscionable."