In 2003, the members of those conferences at the time reported average athletic department revenues of $45.6 million and expenses of $42.3 million. By 2011, the current members' average revenue had increased 76.1 percent to $80.4 million. Expenses had grown at an even faster rate, up 76.5 percent to $74.6 million.
The average salary for head coaches of men's teams increased almost 131 percent in that span, with football driving that number.
Alabama coach Nick Saban will make about $6 million this season, including bonuses, if the Crimson Tide beats Notre Dame. Kelly's contract with Notre Dame pays him about $2.4 million per year, according to the school's federal filings (because it is a private school, Notre Dame does not have to release his contract).
Having benefited most from the boom, it's perhaps not surprising coaches such as Kelly and Saban support finding a way to get more money to their players.
"A lot of the young people that we have, that play college football, the demographics that they come from, they don't have a lot and I think we should try to create a situation where their quality of life, while they're getting an education, might be a little better," Saban said. "I feel that the athletes should share in some of this to some degree. I don't really have an opinion on how that should be done. There's a lot of other people who probably have a lot more experience in figuring that one out, but I do think we should try to enhance the quality of life for all student-athletes.
"I believe the leadership in the NCAA finally sort of acknowledges that so that's probably a big step in that direction."
The old argument was that a scholarship provided enough benefit. And while there is wide variation, depending on the college and major, there is little doubt among those who study the issue that a bachelor's degree is a huge economic boon, even for those who have to borrow to pay for it.
In a 2011 report, Georgetown's Center on Education and the Workforce calculated a worker with a bachelor's degree will earn on average $2.3 million over a lifetime. That's roughly $500,000 more than associate's degree-holders, $700,000 more than those with some college but no degree, and $1 million more than those with just a high school diploma.
According to the latest NCAA statistics, 70 percent of football players in the top division graduated within six years. The NCAA's Graduation Success Rate takes into account transfers and athletes who leave in good academic standing.
In the 11 years that GSR data have been collected, the rate for football players in the top division has increased by 7 percentage points — so more players are getting the benefit of a college degree.
The problem is scholarship rules have lagged behind the times, said Pac-12 Conference Commissioner Larry Scott, now in his fourth year in the job. His conference, like most of the major ones, supports a stipend.
"The scholarship rules don't allow you to cover the full cost of attendance," he said. "Doesn't cover things like miscellaneous meals, trips home, clothes and other things. For me there has been a gap.
"This does not cross the philosophical Rubicon of paying players."
Players, naturally, agree.
"It kind of goes both ways," said Alabama defensive back Vinnie Sunseri, whose father, Sal, is a college football coach and former NFL player. "A lot of people would say we don't deserve it because we already get enough as college kids that just happen to play a sport. A lot of people don't realize all the work that goes into all the stuff that we have to do throughout the day.
"I have no time during the day. I wake up at 6 a.m., lift, go to class, right after class you come back up to the football complex to watch film and get ready for practice. By the time you get out, you've got to go to study hall. By the time you get out of study hall, it's basically bed time. It is really like a full-time job."