LSU System President John Lombardi wants to give student-athletes more money to cover more general expenses, wants to pay for their health and “catastrophic injury” insurance and wants to guarantee their scholarships for a full four years if they meet the academic standards.

Lombardi also wants to develop a system for compensating some student-athletes for their “performances, images or other individually identifiable attributes,” after their eligibility expires, as a form of revenue-sharing.

That would keep them from “becoming professionals” or keep from paying them for “celebrity athletic performance” while they remain student-athletes, Lombardi argued.

Lombardi can more easily push these plans “in the spirit of proposing what I cannot implement” because he does not represent LSU in the NCAA or Southeastern Conference. That job falls to LSU Chancellor Michael Martin.

Lombardi weighed in on the ongoing, pay-for-play debate on the Inside Higher Ed website, where he has an occasional “Reality Check” blog. Lombardi, who often advocates a more free-market approach to higher education, admitted his plan would expand the gap between the wealthy college athletic programs and the poorer ones that rely more on state funding subsidies, such as every other public university in Louisiana.

“It will cost money. It will place a hardship on those institutions struggling to stay in the Football Bowl Subdivision and compete with the rich institutions, but the truth is we are in the middle of a major shift in college athletics reminiscent of the changes that produced the current divisional structure,” Lombardi stated. “Not everyone can compete in the celebrity conferences, not everyone can or should afford to absorb even larger losses to stay in the Football Bowl Subdivision.”

University of Louisiana at Lafayette President Joseph Savoie said he supports more fairly treating student-athletes. But he also noted the gap is expanding between major conference teams, such as LSU and the rest.

“Unless and until the TV money being poured into college athletics (particularly football) gets spread around among NCAA institutions to support college athletics broadly, then the haves will continue with the arms race, the have-nots will try, with increasing difficulty, to stay in the game and the interests of student athletes will be talked about but never really addressed,” Savoie said in an email response.

Others, though, argue that college football and basketball players — and maybe other sports — should be paid more like their professional counterparts.What an LSU football player receives in total university scholarship aid:

  •  The cost of LSU’s total in-state tuition and fees: $6,350 a year.
  •  The total amount an in-state LSU football player receives on average: $21,000 a year.

LSU Associate Athletic Director Miriam Segar said that amount includes the tuition and fees, housing, meals and textbooks.

LSU currently estimates its total cost of attendance for an undergraduate living on campus at about $23,000 annually, an amount that tacks on transportation costs and miscellaneous expenses such as shopping.

But an LSU football player who qualifies for federal need-based aid also can get up to another $5,500 annually in Pell grant aid.

So those football players who come from lower-income backgrounds, on paper, always could have extra dollars in their pockets.

The reality, though, is that football — and to a lesser extent men’s basketball — is driving the debate. And it would be unusual to find many marquee LSU football players on partial athletic scholarships. So maybe football players are better off than the pay-for-play advocates would have people believe.

And maybe the $3.751 million salary — not counting bonuses — of LSU football coach Les Miles and the pay rates of other top coaches throw every argument about the value of a student-athlete’s scholarship out the window.

Jordan Blum reports on higher education for The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau. Email him at jblum@theadvocate.com.