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NCAA Stipend Hold-Up Highlights Pay-for-Play Pitfalls

The much-ballyhooed proposed NCAA stipend of $2,000 toward the full cost of attendance looks to be dead on arrival. The cause of death? You guessed it: Money, or more appropriately stated the lack thereof for many athletic departments. Per the Associated Press:

The governing body said Thursday the number of schools seeking an override had reached 125 - the necessary number to suspend the rule until it can be reconsidered by the Division I Board of Directors at January's NCAA convention.

The board passed legislation in October to give some athletes an additional $2,000 toward the full cost-of-tuition, money that would go beyond tuition, room and board, books and fees. Some schools have expressed opposition because they believe it violates the NCAA's philosophy on amateur sports. But most are concerned about compliance with Title IX rules requiring schools to treat men's and women's sports equally, or the budget hit athletic departments will face with incoming recruits next fall.

The emphasis of the boldface type is mine, but it nevertheless deserves heightened attention. Keep in mind here that at issue is a relatively small, almost nominal amount of money that is being cloaked as additional scholarship money and not as actual compensation for services rendered. Even so, this measure has been easily blocked and it's clear that the financial limitations of schools -- and in particular small schools -- are the real culprit, and any philosophical objections over amateurism are at best window dressing thrown in for added effect.

We can discuss as you wish whether or not college athletes should be paid, but developments like this make it exceedingly clear that any such discussions are little more than hypothetical scenarios involving theoretical schemes. Athletic departments in their current state are highly stressed financially as it is, and there is simply no way that athletes can be paid additional monies (even if it's a relatively nominal amount) without having to make massive changes to the fundamental structure of the current system.

Revenues can (and probably will) be increased in the years ahead, but those increases will not be substantial enough to pay for additional outlays of this magnitude, and many of those revenues will in fact be offset entirely by the rising cost of attendance. For something to this effect to legitimately come to fruition, we'll have to see something along the lines of a dramatic elimination in the number of sports and/or scholarship athletes, the repeal of Title IX, the secession of major schools and conferences, or something else of similar impact such that the bottom-line financials can work for the member institutions involved. Again, something more substantive must be changed to see any form of pay-for-play legitimately come to fruition.