Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott (George Frey / Getty Images North America)

Legendary Colorado football coach Dal Ward was a firm believer that his players should leave the Boulder campus with one major accomplishment: a degree.

Everything else was gravy.

"Son, you are here to get an education and to play football, in that order," Ward famously said years ago.

A lot has changed since Ward roamed the sidelines in Boulder, from 1948-58. A degree is still the goal of most, but the gravy — billions of dollars in revenue flowing through college athletics, and how to handle that money — is a growing focal point for many.

In the spotlight are several issues that could impact the entire model of college sports. Most notable:

Colorado athletic director Rick George
Colorado athletic director Rick George (Michael Wilson / Daily Camera)

• Members of the Northwestern University football team are trying to form a union. That's an issue that could alter the structure of college athletics as we know it today.

• Former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon has sued the NCAA, on behalf of Division I football and basketball players, over how the NCAA and its member schools use athletes' images commercially. O'Bannon believes that athletes should get financial compensation for the use of their images.

• Then, there's the age-old debate about whether or not college athletes should receive paychecks. That's a debate that has become perhaps hotter than ever with massive dollar figures — for TV rights, bowl game appearances and coaches' salaries — being throw into the spotlight.

Athletes and administrators at Colorado are paying close attention to the issues being raised.

Numbers game

165 — Number of student-athletes on full scholarships at CU.

$6,402.25 — Amount per semester each full-scholarship athlete receives as a stipend.

More than $2.1 million — Amount CU pays in stipends to athletes each year.

$700,000 — Colorado athletic director Rick George's annual salary.

$1.49 million — Buffs men's basketball coach Tad Boyle's annual salary.

$2.4 million — CU football coach Mike MacIntyre's annual salary.

$143 million — Projected cost of planned facilities upgrades in and around CU's Folsom Field.

$500 million — Potential value each year of the NCAA's 12-year deal with ESPN for broadcast rights for the new college football playoff.

$11 billion — Potential value of the NCAA's 14-year TV deal with CBS and Turner Sports to broadcast the men's basketball tournament.

"We're following all of it really closely," CU athletic director Rick George said. "It's important for us to understand what's going on out there.

"I think there's still a lot to be played out and a lot to be seen out there. I do think some of the issues that the student-athletes raise are things that need to be addressed and I think in time they will be."

Athletes vs. employees

Rising tuition costs and general challenges associated with the U.S. economy, as well as a heightened awareness of long-term health issues associated with playing sports, have contributed to the desire for change to the current structure.

Although not everyone agrees on how to go about making changes, changes are coming.

"I think the question is what's the best way to get there and how do we do that effectively?" NCAA president Mark Emmert said last weekend during a press conference in Dallas at the men's basketball Final Four. "It's time to act."

Football players at Northwestern have already acted.

Quarterback Kain Colter — who played at Boulder High and is the son of former CU player Spencer Colter — led Northwestern's push for unionization. Last month, the Chicago district of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that the Northwestern players qualify as university employees, rather than simply being students, and therefore could form a union.

While the ruling was celebrated by Colter and others, administrators around the country have been vocal with their opposition to that ruling.

"I strongly disagree with the decision that student-athletes are employees," George said.

Colorado cross country and track star Shalaya Kipp feels blessed to be able to get an education from CU and compete.
Colorado cross country and track star Shalaya Kipp feels blessed to be able to get an education from CU and compete. (Cliff Grassmick / Daily Camera)

If student-athletes are eventually considered employees, they could possibly be taxed on their scholarships and other benefits — ultimately costing them thousands of dollars they currently don't owe. It would also alter the current relationship between schools and the athletes.

"To convert to a unionized employee model is essentially to throw away the entire collegiate model for athletics," Emmert said at the Final Four. "You can't split that one in two. You're either a student at a university playing your sports or you're an employee of that university."

Employees get paid, and for years many current and former athletes have argued that they deserve to be as well.

Big business

The argument, of course, is that college sports produce billions of dollars in revenue and that football and men's basketball star players are responsible for that money flowing into the universities.

According to USA Today, the University of Texas led the country with more than $163 million in revenue in 2012, turning a profit of roughly $25 million. Thirteen schools generated at least $100 million in revenue that year, and 52 schools brought in more than $50 million (although all but seven schools relied on subsidies). Colorado is among those bringing in more than $50 million, but needing subsidies to cover its costs.

TV contracts are producing mind-boggling numbers, too. In 2012, ESPN reached a 12-year deal for the rights to broadcast the new college football playoff — a deal that could be worth $500 million per year. In 2010, the NCAA reached a deal with CBS and Turner Sports for the broadcast rights to the men's basketball tournament; that's a 14-year deal worth nearly $11 billion.

With those figures sitting in the forefront of the minds of many, athletes feel like they deserve a share of the money.

With very few exceptions around the country, football and men's basketball teams are the only programs producing revenue, and those athletes feel like they deserve their piece of the pie.

"I feel like we should be paid, just based off of the amount of money the NCAA makes," CU senior football player K.T. Tu'umalo said. "Maybe not to the extent of having a salary, but just getting extra money to go do things."

To Tu'umalo's point, coaches and administrators are cashing paychecks bigger than ever and multi-million dollar facilities are being built on campuses around the country, but many of the student-athletes are barely scraping by financially.

CU is currently making plans for $143 million in facilities upgrades. Annually, the Buffs are paying head football coach Mike MacIntyre $2.4 million, head men's basketball coach Tad Boyle $1.49 million and new athletic director Rick George $700,000. In 39 of the 50 states, the highest paid employee is either a college football coach or a college basketball.

Meanwhile, many of the student-athletes are barely scraping by financially.

"I know that something definitely needs to change," said Juda Parker, a senior on the CU football team. "I hear from my friends that are around different schools, the struggles that they go through. I'm content with the way it is right now, but I know an increase in our stipend would definitely help us."

While athletes do not receive salaries, as if they were employees, some receive stipends to help with living expenses.

At CU, there are about 345 student-athletes this year, 165 of them on full scholarship.

In addition to their scholarships, each of those 165 athletes gets a stipend of $6,402.25 each semester, paid out in five installments of $1,280.45.

That all adds up to more than $2.1 million in stipends that CU will hand out to its full-scholarship athletes this school year.

While that sounds like a lot of money, it tends to disappear in a hurry when athletes are using it to pay for rent, gas for their vehicles, groceries, entertainment and any other living expenses they encounter.

"A lot of guys are trying to find a cheaper place to live," Tu'umalo said. "The closer you are to campus, the more expensive it is, so you try to move out as far as you can; just doing anything to save money. So, I think just getting that little extra would help out a lot."

A little extra stipend money might suit most athletes, but not all. A star quarterback or basketball player, such as Florida State's Jameis Winston or Connecticut's Shabazz Napier, could argue that they deserve a bigger piece of the revenue pie.

That's where the O'Bannon case comes into play, because it could ultimately lead to the biggest stars making money off of their own likeness, or possibly even earning endorsement money.

Not everyone wants more

Meanwhile, there are many who believe the athletes are already getting a good deal.

A recent article by the Associated Press said that 37 million Americans have combined to build up $1 trillion in student loan debts.

College tuition costs are rising almost every year. Depending on the choice of major, residents who attend CU can expect to pay between $24,000 and $30,000 per year for tuition, books and room and board, according to the school's web site. For non-residents — which most of the athletes are — the costs are roughly $46,000 to $49,000 per year.

So, in essence, an athlete on full scholarship who was recruited from out of state, can leave CU with a degree worth nearly $200K — and no debt.

Shalaya Kipp, a senior on the CU track and field and cross country teams and a 2012 Olympian, believes college athletes ought to feel blessed.

"Why aren't we happy with what we have already?," asked Kipp, who acknowledges she doesn't have the same perspective as the star football or men's basketball player. "If you look in the news, every other story is on how students these days can't afford college and how college tuition is sky-rocketing, and I think how lucky I am to be in athletics and be on a scholarship to get me through college."

Kipp added that athletes are extremely fortunate because it's not simply the free education that they are getting.

"We're getting sports medicine treatment while we're here," she said. "We're getting facilities to use; there are tutors available for us; we have academic athletic coordinators. I think we are fairly treated."

Non-revenue sports will pay price

Last week, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott was a guest on the Colin Cowherd Show on ESPN Radio. He said that too much attention is being given to the amount of revenue being produced, and not enough attention is being given to how that money is currently being used.

"The money that is generated is invested back into student athletes, with programs and enhancements for fans and making sure the (athletics) programs are successful going forward," Scott said. "There's only a certain amount of revenue that's generated. It's all being used to support student athletes. This is not a for-profit enterprise."

Basically, Scott warned that the money these football and basketball players want simply isn't there. While there are a few schools that could probably afford to pay salaries to their players, there aren't many.

"I think it would put a strain on a number of athletic departments," George said.

Count CU among those schools. For the past couple of years, the CU athletic department has been operating with a deficit and is currently struggling to raise money to pay for long overdue facilities upgrades.

The USA Today report said CU had roughly $57.1 million in revenue in 2012, but needed $15.9 million in subsidies to cover its $54.25 million in expenses.

If athlete salaries are added to the budget, George said, "We'll either have to generate more revenue to be able to support that or we'll have to make some decisions on some areas that we may have to limit our resources on."

Scott was blunt, telling Cowherd that if football and men's basketball players start getting salaries, some non-revenue sports will "absolutely" have to be eliminated. Imagine CU cutting its nationally-ranked cross country and ski teams in order to pay salaries to its football players.

"What it would do is take all the resources that are available for all these other sports away," Scott said.

Nothing imminent

For now, none of these issues seem close to resolution. There are so many potential factors involved that not even the athletes themselves can wrap their arms around the positive and negative impacts of change.

"Getting paid would be great, but there's a lot of dynamics that would go into that," Parker said. "As college athletes, we would probably need a lot of professional help with (understanding) that."

At the very least, the positive impact to all of the discussion is that athletes have a louder voice than ever before.

"We want to make sure our student-athletes are represented and have a place to vote and make their voices heard and known," UC-Irvine chancellor Michael Drake said during the press conference at the Final Four.

Yes, change is coming, but it will take years to figure out exactly what changes need to and will be made. The vast majority of current college athletes likely won't be impacted, but they will be paying attention in the years to come.

Until then, the words of Dal Ward still ring true at college campuses across the country.

"All we need to be focusing on is getting our education, and doing the best we can in sports," said Parker, a native of Hawaii who is nearing the completion of his degree in communications. "I feel that sometimes a lot of athletes forget that our sport ends at a certain period of time. We need to have our education and we need to really be focused on that."

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.