To pay or not to pay?
That is the most pressing question as the landscape of college football continues to drift away from being a truly amateur sport and becomes more aligned with the big-money professional sports leagues.
But how can players get paid?
The tax-exempt status of the NCAA is just one of several legal hurdles that makes paying players easier said than done.
Count new Alabama athletic director Bill Battle as one of those in a position of power who's willing to explore any and all possibilities, but he is approaching the situation cautiously.
"I'm for exploring anything," Battle told AL.com. "I want people to get their fair market value. But again, (in) our system, there are a lot of people that are beneficiaries as well as coaches and players and staff members."
Good for Battle.
Of all the people in college athletics working to tackle the issue, Battle is uniquely qualified to work on a solution. He founded the Collegiate Licensing Company, which AL.com notes is named as a defendant in the Ed O'Bannon Case along with the NCAA and EA Sports. That case stems from the alleged appearance of players' likenesses in video games and whether or not they should be paid as a result.
A baby step would be the full-cost-of-attendance stipend, which the SEC has been in favor of for quite some time. Commissioner Mike Slive said last week that a $4,000-per-year ceiling is what he's backing, which is an increase from the $2,000-per-year stipend that has yet to get through the NCAA's legislative cycle over the last two years.
Slive has gone so far as to suggest that the full-cost-of-attendance debate may be what spurns a split in Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) between the financial haves and have nots, according to the Asscoiated Press (via AL.com). After all, the difference in bottom lines from the top to bottom of Division I is about is big as the Grand Canyon.
NCAA president Mark Emmert even suggested that a breakaway by the power five conferences may be in the NCAA's best interest at the Big 12's spring meetings, according to the Houston Chronicle.
"I think it would be healthy and the right thing to do," Emmert said.
That's a major statement by the man who's desperately trying to keep the NCAA relevant in a time where the inmates are taking more control of the asylum.
Full cost of attendance may cause another divisional split, but it's certainly doable.
The true value of an athletic scholarship is around $36,000 depending on institution (not including health care, training, team apparel, etc.), but doesn't cover miscellaneous expenses like spending money and expenses for travelling home. Adding that $2,000-$4,000 stipend in under the athletic scholarship might calm the storm a bit and likely wouldn't threaten the NCAA's tax-exempt status.
But Battle going for "fair market value" for players is tricky.
Despite the value of a scholarship and the potential full-cost-of-attendance stipend, skyrocketing revenue is creating a bigger divide between a player's worth and what he or she is being legally compensated.
Do you pay players based on performance? If so, how can a school legally do that within the restrictions of the NCAA? Is it even realistic to pay football and men's basketball players without offering something to athletes in sports that don't generate revenue?
Those questions are loaded with possible outcomes.
"I don't see how you can pay one set of some players on a team more than others," Battle told AL.com. "The Olympic model might be something where you put money in a trust and it goes to that individual and they don't use it until after they graduate."
This discussion isn't going away.
With battle lines being drawn due to the full-cost-of-attendance debate and the O'Bannon case, paying players could cause even more of a shift in the landscape of college football than the recently completed realignment bonanza did.
Whoever figures out the appropriate and responsible solution for all parties will be credited for pushing college athletics into a new era.
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