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NCAA's College-Athlete Pay Decision: Will It Pay Off for Players?

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on August 08, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The NCAA's board of directors voted Thursday to give the five largest football conferences the freedom to begin paying their athletes small stipends as part of their scholarship packages.

The vote came as the five largest conferences -- the Pac-12, Southeastern, Big Ten, Big 12, and Atlantic Coast conferences -- had threatened to splinter off to form their own association if not granted greater autonomy, according to Time. The vote comes amid ongoing lawsuits pitting players against the NCAA on the subject of athlete pay.

What do the new rules allow, and what are the current court cases that have big college sports programs worried?

Athletes Could Receive Up to $5K for 'Full Cost of Attendance'

The board's vote granted the 65 schools in the five top conferences greater autonomy to make their own rules for providing benefits to their athletes.

The vote allows those schools to move forward with plans to offer athletes "full cost of attendance" stipends. This figure, established by the federal government for use in calculating student aid, includes allowances for personal expenses such as food, clothes, and travel.

According to Time, this could amount to $2,000 to $5,000 per athlete per year, depending on the school. The schools in the so-called Power 5 conferences can also begin easing restrictions on athletes' contact with sports agents and provide additional benefits, such as paying for post-season travel for athletes' families.

Ongoing Lawsuits

The Power 5's pressing need to address athlete pay is likely in part due to several ongoing legal battles involving the issue.

Earlier this year, football players at Northwestern University were successful in their bid to be allowed to unionize when the National Labor Relations Board ruled the players were legally "employees." The ruling is currently under appeal.

In a separate case, former UCLA basketball player Ed O' Bannon and other former players sued the NCAA over alleged antitrust violations for licensing player images without compensating the players. If successful, the case could give NCAA athletes the ability to negotiate licenses of their own likeness individually. The case was heard in federal court earlier this year and a ruling is pending.

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