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.
“I still think the overriding factor here is that these young men put in so much time with being a student and then their responsibilities playing the sport, that they don’t have an opportunity to make any money at all,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Sunday.
“I want them to be college kids, and a stipend will continue to allow them to be college kids.”
To get a sense of the landscape, look at the way things were when Notre Dame last won the national championship, in 1988. That season, Fighting Irish players earned scholarships worth about $10,000 per year and the school got $3 million for playing in the Fiesta Bowl to go with the revenue it made for TV appearances throughout the season. Even then, there was discussion about the disparity between benefits for the players and for the schools.
This season’s Irish will get scholarships worth about $52,000 per year and the school will receive $6.2 million for playing in the title game — to go with the $15 million NBC reportedly pays just to televise the school’s regular-season home games.
While the value of that athletic scholarship has never been greater, the money being made by the schools that play big-time college football has skyrocketed, too.