Schools closer to paying players, but how much say will players have?
The NCAA has already experienced radical change. More is on the way with a mandate to figure out how to pay athletes for their cost of attendance.
SAN DIEGO -- As part of his scholarship at Alabama, former All-America offensive lineman Barrett Jones received about $1,000 a month. It was part of his allowance for living off-campus.
"I don't know how we're supposed to survive," Jones told CBSSports.com. "There's no way I could have lived on what they gave us."
Jones said he paid $700 in rent while at Alabama, maybe another $100 in utilities, leaving him with $200 spending money for the month.
This was the financial condition of a player whose family was not necessarily hurting for money, who was an academic All-American and graduated early.
What about the athletes who are really struggling? After this week in San Diego, we're about to find out. Leaders at the NCAA Convention received a small, but clear, mandate to go ahead with restructuring the amateurism model.
In the future, it's likely that Division I athletes across the board will be paid some kind of cost of attendance -- the gap between scholarship money and what it would take to live comfortably. That figure more or less is calculated on the high end at $5,000 per school year -- an average of approximately $555 per month.
It doesn't seem like a lot but for the athlete living hand to mouth, it could be a difference maker.
"I don't think they should pay players in the way we think of paying players," Jones said. "I don't think they should have a revenue program because, realistically, it's unsustainable with the amount of schools that make enough money."
True, there are only a handful of schools in FBS that make a profit in their athletic department. But there are enough. Future projections show that schools in the Big Ten will be cashing checks for close to $30 million per year from Big Ten Network revenue alone.
All these schools are technically non-profit, tax-exempt entities. Along with the largesse of schools cashing in on lucrative revenue streams, it's also good business sense to pay players.
NCAA officials loathe the word "pay" in this discussion. But athletes are getting the extra money because they're athletes.
Nevertheless, the stipend most likely will be calculated school-by-school. It costs more to live in Westwood near UCLA, for example, than it does to live off campus in Troy, Ala. (Troy University).
If you're thinking that's a recruiting incentive, you're right. But officials have long dismissed the competitive balance argument. How many recruits is Troy going to steal from UCLA in the current landscape?
"You can talk about how that would swing the biggest [money] in the bigger school's favor but who are we kidding?" Jones said. "Things are already swung in their favor."
You can trace this radical change in NCAA philosophy back 30 years. It started with the deregulation of college football television by the Supreme Court in 1984 and continues today with TV rights fees windfalls.
Those financial shifts have caused almost a constant shift in the classifications favoring high-resource schools. Division I-AA (now FCS) was formed in 1978. Those schools play with less scholarships than Division I-A (now FBS) and profit is hardly a discussion.
The College Football Association (disbanded in 1992) was a TV negotiating entity. It included the top football-playing schools that took on the NCAA in the Supreme Court case.
The BCS (1998-2013) further redefined the have and have-nots. There were the BCS schools (65 in the Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12, ACC and SEC) and everyone else. The so-called Group of Five smaller-revenue schools now includes the Sun Belt, American, MAC, Mountain West and Conference USA.
Some of the Group of Five will be able to afford a stipend, some won't. The move will be optional for each school. If Bowling Green athletes make $500 per year, that's OK. In a way, it's going to enhance upsets if, say, the Falcons beat Ohio State players making $5,000 per year.
We're basically talking about a for-profit business model, at the same time enhancing the amateur ideal. The stipend doesn't figure to be enough to corrupt athletes. It's also small enough not to keep runners off campus with a promise of a big payoff from an agent.
But perhaps even that stain evaporates from college campuses. Part of the BCS conference's new autonomy may include a rule change that allows interaction with agents.
"Can you be an amateur and still have professional representation, then how does that taint [athletes]?" asked Julie Roe Lach, former NCAA enforcement director, now in private business.
"I'm not so sure it does."
Ninety-six players have declared early for the NFL draft. History would suggest a lot of them have made the wrong decision. Just like what happened here this week, there will be a market correction.
The same players who are getting paid a modest stipend in the future will perhaps get smarter about leaving school when they see their peers go undrafted.
The world freaks out over the less-than-1 percent who do turn pro. The stipend is mostly about the 99 percent who don't. Duke women's lacrosse player Maddie Salamone rose to put that point in perspective during this week's Division I governance dialogue.
"We are the only ones affected by these rules 24 hours a day, 365 days a year," she said to a room of about 800 administrators. "How can anyone truly know how student-athletes are being affected by rules without actually talking to student-athletes? ...
"Therefore, any body that is going to make and pass legislation related to student-athletes must have a student-athlete on that body with a voting or advisory role at every single level."
She went on to say that omitting student-athletes from a proposed new governance structure was "an afterthought, leaving the impression that the student-athlete voice is not as meaningful as we have been led to believe in the past."
Members of the NCAA's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee clearly want a seat at the table in discussing the new amateurism model. CBSSports.com spoke to SAAC members Chris Conley (Georgia football) and Chris Hawthorne (Minnesota football). Both were strident about direct involvement by athletes.
They're part of the free labor pool. They're the ones putting their bodies on the line. Maybe that's the next logical step: players having a voice in how much they should be paid.
After this whirlwind week, the concept doesn't seem that outrageous.
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