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Friday, July 15, 2011
Examining pay-for-play proposals

By Mark Schlabach
ESPN.com

Is it time to start paying NCAA student-athletes?

After a string of ugly scandals involving players selling their memorabilia for thousands of dollars, the proposition of finding ways to get players a bigger piece of the college sports revenue pie seems to be gaining steam.

But what's the best way for schools to compensate their student-athletes beyond the costs of a traditional scholarship?

Here are some of the proposals being discussed:

Full-cost scholarships

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has become the biggest proponent of providing scholarships beyond the traditional cost of an education -- tuition, books, and room and board. Under Delany's proposal, which also has been endorsed by Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott and and Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe (SEC commissioner Mike Slive said he would consider the idea), student-athletes would also receive money to cover other cost-of-living expenses, like entertainment.

Under current NCAA rules, schools are actually allowed to provide scholarships which include tuition, room and board and education-related fees as well as miscellaneous expenses and transportation. But most Division I scholarships only include tuition, room and board and books.

"We only provide room, board, fees and tuition," Delany told reporters at the Big Ten's spring meetings in Chicago in May. "Why? Because we have a lot of people on scholarship."

Conferences like the Big Ten, which has a TV contract that pays its schools between $20 million and $22 million annually, can absorb the increased expenses of full-cost tuition. But smaller conferences like the Sun Belt and WAC might not be able to balance their books.

Delany estimates the difference between a current scholarship and full-cost scholarship is between $2,000 and $5,000 for every student-athlete.

"At some schools, it's higher," Delany said. "At some schools, it's lower. But we were talking about is there any way we can ever have that discussion, because a lot of times students that don't come from means don't have the support. But it's also an expensive proposition."

My take: At the very least, student-athletes should be given scholarships that cover the full cost of an education. Because of the time required for their sports and studies, it's nearly impossible for them to supplement their scholarships by having even part-time jobs, particularly in football. College football has nearly become a year-round sport, and players don't even have the time to have a summer job.

Give players a stipend

At the SEC spring meetings in Destin, Fla., in early June, South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier proposed a plan in which he would personally pay 70 of his players a $300 stipend for every game played. Spurrier, who recently received an $800,000 raise that will boost his salary to $2.8 million in 2012, proposed the plan during an SEC coaches' meeting.

"I presented a proposal that we give our players $300 a game for game expenses that they could give to their parents for travel, lodging, meals. Maybe they could take their girlfriend out Sunday night or Saturday night and so forth. A bunch of us coaches felt so strongly about it that we would be willing to pay it -- 70 guys, 300 bucks a game."

Six other SEC coaches -- Alabama's Nick Saban, Florida's Will Muschamp, Tennessee's Derek Dooley, LSU's Les Miles, Ole Miss' Houston Nutt and Mississippi State's Dan Mullen -- also signed the proposal.

Spurrier's plan would cost him $21,000 per game, or $294,000 for 13 regular-season games and a bowl. That's about 10 percent of his salary in 2012.

"For what us coaches are making now, we'd all love to do it," Spurrier said.

My take: The NCAA would never go for Spurrier's plan, and Slive recently said it is "something that obviously can't be done."

Compensate star athletes

After former Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green and a handful of Ohio State players were suspended for selling their game-worn jerseys, it was suggested that star players like Green and former Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor should receive royalties from the sale of their college jerseys.

A.J. Green
Former Georgia WR A.J. Green was suspended for four games in 2010 for selling his game jersey after a 2009 bowl game.

The money could even be placed into an escrow account, where it would stay until the player exhausts his college eligibility.

When Green was suspended, Georgia was selling 22 variations of his No. 8 jersey.

My take: I think star players probably deserve to receive a cut of their jersey sales -- fans aren't going to buy them if a third-string tackle is wearing that particular number -- but the NCAA would never go for it. In fact, NCAA vice president of communications Bob Williams indicated as much in an ESPN.com chat this week. Asked specifically about jersey sales, Williams said, "It's hard to say that the student-athlete 'owns' that jersey or it's his jersey. But that intellectual property is owned by the institution. There are very few student-athletes who really generate income for their universities based on the sale of a jersey."

Plus, it might create jealousy in the locker room, which is never a good thing for a college football team.

Pay players who actually make the schools money

Not every NCAA-sponsored sports team makes money for its school. In fact, at most Division I schools, only the football and men's basketball teams generate revenue for their athletic departments. And in most cases, the football team is footing nearly all of the bills for the other sports.

Shouldn't men's basketball and football players receive some sort of stipend since they're generating most of the money for their athletic departments? After all, a real estate agent who sells nothing doesn't make the same as one with a thick portfolio.

My take: It makes sense, but the NCAA and Title IX supporters would never go for it. If you're going to pay your starting quarterback a $1,000 stipend for every game, you're going to have pay your school's women's field hockey goalie the same amount. And Title IX is a federal law, not an NCAA regulation.

Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.