The offseason of pay-for-play got kicked into high gear earlier this week when the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Northwestern football players are employees of the university and free to unionize.
That's up for debate, and I proposed a reasonable alternative this week. Make no mistake, the ball is rolling downhill now and the pay-for-play debate will be the dominant storyline of the offseason—well, until somebody signs a bunch of autographs in a hotel room, of course.
One small element of the pay-for-play debate is the full-cost-of-attendance stipend, which was initially brought forward and passed in 2011 before being tabled in 2012 after more than 160 Division I schools objected.
But things have changed since then.
The full-court press is on thanks to the NLRB's decision on Northwestern's players being employees and a new lawsuit filed by noted sports labor lawyer Jeffrey Kessler against the NCAA and the power five conferences.
According to USA Today's George Schroeder, Kessler is seeking an injunction that would remove restrictions on the amount of financial aid student-athletes can receive.
The NCAA is getting hit from all angles, and there's never been a better time for the NCAA to strike a deal and pass legislation that would allow the full-cost-of-attendance stipend, which is something South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier has been fighting for.
"I've advocated giving college football players and college basketball players a stipend," Spurrier told reporters. "Our commissioners and our presidents and our NCAA people talk about it but haven't done anything at all yet, so we'll see if they come up with a plan here real soon."
They're going to have to.
The alternative for the NCAA is to continue to dig its heels in against Kessler, Northwestern's players, Ed O'Bannon and any future comers.
It certainly won't win that battle in the court of public opinion since the revenue generated from major college athletics will continue to soar. It likely won't win that battle in real courts either.
Settling is the alternative, and giving every college athlete a stipend that covers the full cost of attendance—which would bridge the gap between what an athletic scholarship covers and what the actual cost of attending college is—would appease both courts.
That's the direction Spurrier sees this going in:
I think the Northwestern kids were just trying to show that they work for the university a little bit. They bring in a lot of money to the university. I think that's what they're trying to say. I see their point a little bit. I hope it doesn't come down to where all schools are forming unions. I hope that the NCAA, the BCS conferences especially, can afford to give a stipend.
How soon could this happen?
According to SI.com's Stewart Mandel, momentum is shifting toward granting the power five conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC) a certain level of legislative autonomy.
If that happens, you can bet your bottom, top and middle dollars that an annual stipend of anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000 per player would be the first order of business.
If it feels like the foundation of college athletics is shifting, it is.
That shift will result in Spurrier getting his wish of a stipend.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report.
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