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Days of paying college athletes getting closer

| Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013, 7:14 p.m.

MIAMI — After decades when paying college athletes was thought to violate the spirit of amateurism, the enormous television revenue generated by sports — football and basketball in particular — and the long hours of work by the players have changed the debate.

The head of the NCAA now supports a stipend for athletes to cover costs beyond tuition, books and fees, and both coaches in Monday's BCS championship between No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Alabama spoke in support of the idea in the days before the game.

The question is no longer whether to cut athletes a check, it's how best to do that.

While NCAA President Mark Emmert draws a clear distinction between the $2,000 stipend he has proposed and play-for-pay athletics, he unapologetically advocates for giving student-athletes a larger cut of a huge pie that is about to get even bigger.

The NCAA's current men's basketball tournament agreement with CBS is worth an average of more than $770 million per year, and the current Bowl Championship Series television deal — money that goes to conferences and then is distributed to schools, with no NCAA involvement — is worth $180 million per year.

The new college football playoff, which starts in the 2014 season, will be worth about $470 million annually to the conferences.

Emmert chides athletic programs that make major decisions guided by efforts to generate more revenue, such as switching conferences, and then complain they can't afford a stipend.

“When the world believes it's all a money grab, how can you say we can stick with the same scholarship model as 40 years ago?” he said last month.

To help build more support, Emmert's latest proposal would make the funds need-based. In other words, lower-income students would get more money than wealthy ones.

The problem is, that could limit students' access to federal aid, such as Pell Grants.

However it works out, Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly sees stipends as inevitable.

“This is going to happen,” Kelly said. “It's just when is it going to happen? I think like minds need to get together and figure it out.”

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