It's time for some of this big money to trickle down to college athletes

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I try not to spend too much time on my soapbox during these regular visits with you. Because the one thing we do not have a shortage of, particularly when it comes to college football, are opinions.

But having covered this sport for more than 30 years, it appears to this reporter that we are nearing critical mass when it comes to the treatment of college athletes in regard to money.

Let me break this down as simply as I can: College football, at least for those schools that play at the elite level, is getting ready to have a big influx of new money. Lots and lots of new money.

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The new four-team playoff, starting after the 2014 season, will more than triple the roughly $180 million per year that postseason football brings in now.

The big conferences are re-doing their bowl deals to get more control of and more money out of the process.

The Big Ten has already proven that a conference network is a license to print money. The SEC will smartly jump into this pool in August of 2014 and the financial rewards will be considerable.

Each member of the Big Ten will get a check for almost $25 million this year. The SEC schools got $20 million each last season and with the new money coming in that figure, I hear, will jump to $30 million per school rather quickly.

Against this backdrop, where the big-boy conferences are going to be flush with cash, we still can't find a way to give the athletes another dime in their scholarships.

Two years ago Mike Slive, the SEC commissioner, called for NCAA schools to expand the athletic scholarship to cover the full cost of attendance. That's the difference between the current athletic scholarship -- which covers room, books, board and tuition -- and what it actually costs to go to college. If you've been to college or put a child through college you know that there are a lot of costs that are not covered by that kind of scholarship.

Most academic scholarships provide a stipend to cover the full cost of attendance, so why shouldn't athletic scholarships? And with all this money coming in college athletics can't find a measly $2,000 bucks a kid? And that's not just football and basketball players. Every athlete on scholarship must get the full cost of attendance.

We have head coaches making more than $5 million a year and coordinators paid a million plus. We have athletic budgets in excess of $100 million per year and there is NO WAY to give these kids some extra walking around money?

Look, I've heard all the arguments. The big boys with the big stadiums can afford to bump up the scholarship while the smaller schools, who are holding on for dear life trying to keep up, simply cannot. Those schools, thanks to the antiquated governance structure of the NCAA, have created enough pushback to keep the cost of attendance stipend from being adopted.

But this cannot continue. There is not a level playing field in college football. There never has been and the attempt to maintain that illusion is being executed on the backs of these kids. The fact that the bottom half of the FBS can't afford the cost of attendance stipend isn't a good reason not to do it. Not anymore. As my dad always used to say when I complained about not having enough money: "Son, this is not a ME problem. This a YOU problem."

At some point doesn't somebody in charge get embarrassed that all this money is coming in and the value of an athletic scholarship hasn't changed in 40 years?

"You don't do it because you can afford it," said Slive, the former attorney. "You do it because it's the right thing to do."

It is time -- past time -- for the commissioners of the big conferences to meet with the other FBS conferences for what we in the South call a "Come to Jesus meeting." And the commissioners should say the following: "We have the resources to address what we believe is a fundamental unfairness of the system and we must be allowed to do so. So here is what is going to happen: Everyone who wants to fund college athletics at this level is going to join a new division within the NCAA. We don't care what you call it.

"Those who can't play at this level, or choose not to play at this level, will stay in Division I FBS."

That's it.

Think of it this way: If my neighbor has the resources and the land to build a swimming pool in his back yard, I shouldn't be able to stop him because his property values, and not mine, will go up. Chances are more people will visit him because he has a pool. Those are the breaks.

I know giving athletes a mere $2,000 a year is not enough. It's not close to being enough. But that doesn't mean that NOTHING should be done.

"I just think with all of us coaches making all this money and the schools making all this money it's time to start giving some of it to the players," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier told me last week. "They are the ones that people pay to see. They are the ones that television wants to put on. Sooner or later this whole deal comes down to fairness. I just don't think we are being fair to the players."

There are a ton of ideas out there on how to get more money to the players. Some people believe that the Olympic model, where athletes can accept endorsement money and still retain their amateur status, is the way to go. It certainly didn't destroy the Olympics like many predicted that it would.

Others believe that players should get a percentage of the merchandise that is sold that is related to their image. Think Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel would like a piece of the jersey sales the Aggies made after he won the Heisman?

Others flat believe they should make whatever the market will bear. My point is that we don't go from where we are now straight to college athletes getting paid, which is not going to happen until a judge makes it happen (Watch for a big ruling on the Ed O'Bannon case on June 20).

If the NCAA can't get a little measure like the full cost of attendance passed, how will it ever address the really big stuff? The answer is that, under the current structure, the NCAA is just too big and two unwieldy to get anything of lasting consequence done. I've heard the NCAA referred to as a battleship, where it takes a long, long time to change course.

I think that's right and the only solution is to cut the battleship down to the size of a nice yacht -- still big enough to do great things but nimble enough to change quickly when change is needed. Like now. And keep this is mind. Slive has had his plate pretty full the last 2 ½ years getting the SEC's television network from theory to reality.

Now Slive has time to revisit the cost of attendance issue. And for all of his lawyerly and grandfatherly countenance, he is persistent and determined when he wants to get things done.

Two weeks ago he addressed the Associated Press Sports Editors in Birmingham, Ala., and was asked whether the bigger schools might have to break away or form a new division within the NCAA to get the cost of attendance stipend done.

Slive didn't throw down the gauntlet but gently laid it out there for the whole world to understand. This came from reporter Jon Solomon of The Birmingham News, who was there:

"When there are certain things that many of us would like to come into play, it's our hope that those things can all occur in the current system," Slive said. "Obviously, if things like that don't get accomplished, then it may be appropriate to talk about some alternative or division or something like that. But that's not our desire. That's not our goal and that's not something we're trying to get to."

Boom!

The reality is that in the Brave New World of college athletics at the highest level, the big boys don't really need the NCAA. Yes, there is the basketball tournament, which the NCAA still controls and the other championships. So wouldn't it be smarter and better for everyone to give a little and let the stipend move forward?

The SEC and the Big Ten don't want to leave the NCAA. It would be a real hassle. But is there any doubt that the big conferences would do just fine should that happen?

Just something to think about.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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