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SEC coaches sound off on whether athletes should be paid to play

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ATLANTA (CBS46) -

Should college athletes be paid to play?  It's a hotly debated topic and the issue doesn't seem to be going anywhere.

Earlier this month Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel graced the cover of Time magazine with the headline "It's Time To Pay College Athletes."

It's hard to escape college sports when you live in SEC country. Each Saturday during football season, fans leap to their feet in the stands and while watching the games on TV.

The Southeastern Conference brings sought-after coaches, exceptional athletes and is one of the most financially successful conferences in the nation. The athletes that participate are given scholarships - but are not paid outright.

"How big of a business is college sports?" reporter Jennifer Mayerle asked UGA football coach Mark Richt.

"It's a big business. It's a big business because there's a passionate fan base," Richt said.

That fan base translates into millions of dollars for the universities.

Some college coaches make as much or more as coaches in the NFL, which begs the age old question: Should college athletes be paid to play?

"I don't think we can get into pay for play because if we do then they're not amateur athletes anymore," Richt said.

College athletes can receive an athletic scholarship worth anywhere between $20,000 and $50,000 a year. It often includes tuition, room and board, plus books. University of Alabama coach Nick Saban thinks they should get more so athletes leave college truly debt-free.

"I just think they ought to get whatever it costs to go to school, but I think it has to be a level playing field," Saban said.  

University of Florida Gators coach Will Muschamp agrees.

"You look at where some of these young men come from, it's very difficult. I do think putting an extra monies in their pocket here or there would be good," Muschamp said.

But longtime UGA women's basketball coach Andy Landers said no way.

"You asking me? No. No, I'm sorry. We've got a $30,000 scholarship on the table. Trust me, it's a good gig. You go to class three, four hours a day, you practice two, three hours a day, c'mon, c'mon," Landers said.

And Landers believes too many variables come into play.

"Who do you pay? Do you pay the sports that make money or the sports that don't make money? Do you pay everybody?" Landers explained.

The controversy over pay for play has already impacted several high-profile athletes.

While Heisman winner Cam Newton played at Auburn, the NCAA found his dad solicited a pay for play plan in violation of NCAA rules. The league allowed Cam Newton to continue playing after deciding he knew nothing about it.

And in February, Manziel sued a vendor for selling shirts with his trademark "Johnny Football" on it. If Manziel wins the suit, the Aggie will get to keep the cash. If the school had made the shirts, Manziel wouldn't see a dime.

So will SEC college athletes ever see any real money beyond the cost of college? Not while SEC Commissioner Mike Slive is around.

"Pay for play is something that I've not been an advocate of. I think it has to be educationally based. But there's no reason why financial aid shouldn't cover all of the expenses," Slive said.

If athletes want to get paid right out of high school, some opt to play with professional teams in other countries.

A former UCAL basketball player is challenging the rules. Ed O'Bannon filed a class action lawsuit against the NCAA for using his likeness. Before a college athlete starts, they sign a waiver allowing the school to do so. The case will be heard in federal court next summer.

Copyright 2013 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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