"College football needs to start paying its players."
It's a common statement made during the offseason at sports bars, on Internet message boards and on Twitter. Even South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier has thrown his hat into the ring on multiple occasions, going so far as to proposing a fund paid for by head coaches to give players a small piece of college football's increasingly large pie.
While it's a virtuous argument, but it's also a complicated one that involves several moving parts and large hurdles that won't be easy to overcome.
Sure, it's be great if more of the money that college football generates could trickle down to the players, but let's not lose sight of the fact that playing college football is still a pretty sweet gig if you can get it.
A standard full ride in football consists of the cost of tuition, room and board (meals), and course-related textbooks and materials, according to the University of Alabama's website.
The cost of a scholarship varies from player to player and university to university, and there are always additional expenses that can be included, like game day meals, special travel expenses, etc. that aren't paid for by the student athlete.
Take a look at the estimated cost of attendance figures for fall and spring semesters for Auburn University (the two cutouts in each graph represent portions of the cost of attendance that aren't covered under athletic grant-in-aid).
Certainly not chump change, and very similar to the figures for the University of Georgia below.
Apparently you're not expected to travel off campus at all if you're a Bulldog.
The in-state tuition for each institution drops dramatically to $9,446 for fall and spring semesters for Auburn, $9,842 for Georgia and $6,949 for LSU (all estimates are based on 12-hour-per-semester workload).
How does that pan out over an entire roster?
Determining who's on scholarship and who isn't is always a moving target, but judging from AL.com's most recent breakdown of Auburn's 2013 roster and incoming class, 31 players could qualify for in-state tuition and 54 for out-of-state.
Based on cost of attendance estimates for 2012-13, Auburn will be providing $2,648,096 worth of goods and services to members of its current, active football roster.
Is that proportionate to the money being generated by the football program? Forbes.com reported in December that Auburn made a $44 million profit on football in 2012, despite the lackluster 3-9 season.
There has been a push recently—led by SEC commissioner Mike Slive and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany—for more schools to include the "full cost of attendance" in scholarships, which would bridge the gap that exists in what is paid for and what going to college really costs.
That gap—which according to SI.com is "several thousand dollars" per year—consists of miscellaneous academic materials, ancillary spending associated with being a college student like laundry, travel, entertainment, etc., and additional spending money that's more easily gained by students who are able to work more than student-athletes.
A proposal to provide up to $2,000 per year towards full cost of attendance was approved by the NCAA, but tabled by university presidents in January 2012.
Even without the full cost-of-attendance, each institution provides a lot for student athletes—more than $36,000 worth of goods and services during the normal school year at Auburn and Georgia. That figure isn't anything to scoff at, especially considering that college football players are receiving top-flight athletic training in the process as they prepare for a possible future in the NFL.
Of course, there are other ways for college football players to be legally paid.
Federal Pell Grants, the NCAA's Student Athlete Opportunity fund and other forms of financial aid are available. And players have certainly developed clever ways to gain a buck or two legally like carpooling to bowl games and pocketing the travel money.
Is it as much as they deserve? Of course not.
BCS teams posted a profit of more than $1 billion for the first time in history in 2010, according to CNNMoney.com, and that number will surely increase with skyrocketing media rights deals and the implementation of the four-team playoff that starts following the 2014 season.
Those numbers are escalating on the blood, sweat and tears of "amateur" athletes, who deserve a bigger piece of the pie.
But let's not pretend that they're playing for free either.