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Associated Press
The Coaches’ Trophy is awarded to the winner of the BCS title game. A four-team playoff will replace the BCS in 2014.

Playoff heats up debate on stipends

Associated Press
From left, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, BCS executive director Bill Hancock and SEC commissioner Mike Slive helped usher in a four-team playoff.

– The new playoff system means big money for major college football, as much as a half-billion dollars per year just in television rights alone.

That has Texas coach Mack Brown – among others – wondering if some of that windfall should be heading the players way.

“In my opinion, with the amount of money the playoff will generate, I hope we can revisit the student-athlete stipend,” Brown tweeted soon after the new, semifinal format was approved by university presidents Tuesday in Washington.

“It will be a very lucrative event, and those young people are the ones that make it all possible,” he added.

Even before the plan had a presidential seal of approval, a group of former and current athletes was pushing for some of the newfound wealth to be spent on player safety and health – an issue that becomes more important as the season expands.

The current Bowl Championship Series television deal with ESPN, plus the Rose Bowl’s separate agreement with ABC, pay the major college football schools about $155 million per year. That money is distributed unevenly throughout college football, with power conferences such as the Big Ten and Big 12 getting more for their members than others such as the Mountain West and Conference USA.

The commissioners working on the playoff system have been reluctant to speculate on exactly how much the TV rights for it will be worth, but they all agree it’ll be at least double.

Also, the new national title game will go to the highest-bidding city, which will pour millions more into the coffers of FBS schools. Officials in Arlington, Texas, home of the Cotton Bowl, and Atlanta, where the Chick-fil-A Bowl is played, are already lining up to make a pitch.

West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck said that, to those who want the players to receive more money, all that playoff cash “is at least one more arrow in their quiver.”

While NCAA president Mark Emmert has argued strongly against paying football players like professionals, in a manner that South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has been pushing the past two years, the fight over raising student compensation already has started.

Last year, legislation was approved that would have allowed schools to offer a $2,000 stipend, in addition to their scholarship, toward what the NCAA calls the full cost-of-attendance.

But the measure was tossed into limbo after more than 100 schools asked for an override vote. Critics were concerned about whether all schools would be able to afford it, especially with so many facing budget crunches. Also, there is concern that the schools that can afford to pay the extra stipend will gain an advantage in recruiting.

Still, Emmert has said he would still like it passed, and he praised the approval of a postseason format to replace the BCS.

“I commend the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee on its leadership to move to a playoff model,” he said. “I remain confident that as the details of the new format are determined in the coming weeks, presidents will continue to keep student-athlete well-being, both in the classroom and on the field, front of mind.”

Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt said it’s too soon to start talking about what do with the extra money.

“I think there’s still a lot of work to be vetting out, and how the revenue is going to be distributed is the first step in that,” he said. “We haven’t gotten that far along in the process, but I expect over the course of the next academic year we will do that in meetings.”

Luck said he had been telling his bosses, even before the new playoff format, that they should start budgeting for the increased cost of scholarships.

“I always kind of figured it was inevitable,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

Cutting back would seem to be off the board at this point, Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. With teams being asked to play as many as 15 games in a season now, he said there better not be any more talk about reducing the 85 scholarship limit.

“Any talk about that going forward has to cease,” he said. “You’re going to need more players to get through a season healthy.”

Washington State coach Mike Leach said while he has no problem with giving players a bigger scholarship, maybe the extra money could go toward more scholarships.

“Give everybody five more scholarships, five more opportunities for guys to go to school,” he said.

The National College Players Association, an advocacy group made up of 17,000 current and former Division I student-athletes, isn’t looking for players to be paid as much as it would like more money spent to keep them safe.

Their point is the national title winner is going to start camp in August 2014 and finish the season on Jan. 12, 2015, with a regular season, conference title game, semifinal and final in between. Not so long ago, NFL teams had only a 14-game regular season.

The group’s president, former UCLA football player Ramogi Huma, was in Washington and arrived at the hotel where the presidents and commissioners met a few minutes before the meeting started.

“Our universities shouldn’t add extra games without adding extra protections to minimize the head trauma risks associated with contact sports,” Huma said.

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