People go to colleges for many reasons. Sometimes it's the name eg. Harvard,Princeton,Yale. Sometimes it's the cachet eg Notre Dame, USC , Duke. Sometimes it's simply because people are reasonably sure their school's sports program can destroy everyone else's program. No I won't name colleges for this one but I'm sure in your mind's eye you already have one.
So let's do something novel. let's remove the fawning to the NCAA and let's see if the colleges can get together and form their own semi-pro league. The funding is easy. The same college boosters paying for the NCAA sanctioned version will definitely "kick-in" for this one. Also since the "bloom is off the rose" companies will definitely kick in for their piece of the media recognition. On the back of the uniform you have the school and the player's name and on the front any company with the dollars to make it happen.
That takes care of funding.
The athletes in this semi-pro league would come out of highschool, college eligible. That removes true pro's from looking for a free meal and inordinate unbalancing in the league. These semi-pro's only have four years of eligibility, cannot retain the services of an agent and are under the same rules as student athletes as well as consequences except for two very important differences.
First these athletes are not sanctioned under that 800 pound gorilla the NCAA. All interested colleges make up the rules and the auspices under which these athletes play. They can play no more games than a regular college season which harkens back to the "under the same rules as the student athletes" line. They will get paid a set amount. No matter how special an athlete is, that amount will not waiver. Yes, yes I am aware schools will find a way to pay these athletes "under the table". Not the concern of this proposal, but most likely a reality.
Second they do not have to take classes. They can take classes but there is no need. They are athletes not students. Their room and board is covered through out the entire school year. They are paid for games. They have a four year eligibility. Should they take an agent or go pro in a sport they are now ineligible for the College SEMI-Pro League in that sport and we wish you well.
This leaves the actual Student-Athletes a chance to go to school and work towards their degrees while playing for their schools. They unfortunately will be sanctioned under that inordinately obsessive NCAA but hey "them's the breaks". After all free room, board and a college education "ain't bad". Also although not in the College Semi-PRO League pro scouts will still take a look, I'm more than sure.
There are holes in this plan. There would need to be specific rules to govern what these semi pros can and cannot do with their free time. Also if an athlete wishes, how can he/she could go to another College Semi-Pro League. I would suppose the College Semi-Pros would play the College Semi-Pros of the same schools the student-athletes schedule followed, but who knows? Finally how much would they be paid? If one joins the College Semi-Pros can you quit, since you have now decided that being a Student-Athlete is more for you?
Yes many questions but this would answer the main one. We can get our rabid thirst for the up and coming out in the open. We can allow student-athletes to be just that. What do you think?