The NCAA's new $6 billion Division I men's basketball tournament television agreement with CBS quickly re-ignited discussion among college athletic officials around the nation about the possibility of increasing the value of athletic scholarships--in essence, paying cash to college athletes.

Currently, a full athletic scholarship consists of room, board, books and tuition. Students who receive athletic scholarships are limited by time constraints of their sports and by NCAA rules in their ability to obtain spending money. Meantime, at the top level of competition, some athletic departments appear to be awash in money being generated by the games--especially after Thursday's agreement. Under the deal, which goes into effect in 2003, the NCAA will receive an average of $545 million a year through the 2013 season.

"There already are signals being seen that institutions expect a high percentage of [the additional rights fees] to be returned to the campus rather than invested in new NCAA programs at the national level," Pacific-10 Conference Commissioner Tom Hansen said. "Yet, there also is a fairly unanimous feeling in Division I that there needs to be a significant program for the student-athletes. There needs to be a good direct tie back to student-athletes. Increasing the value of a scholarship is one consideration that would be prominent in any discussion."

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Commissioner Richard Ensor, a member of the NCAA Division I Management Council--a panel of faculty athletic representatives and athletic administrators from the association's top competitive grouping--said yesterday that during a meeting of that panel last month, NCAA President Cedric Dempsey discussed the possibility of adding $2,000 in cash to athletic scholarships. Dempsey was not available to comment yesterday.

Said Ohio State Athletic Director Andy Geiger, chairman of the Division I financial aid committee: "It's time to discuss the concept seriously and not just dismiss it out of hand."

But it is a complex discussion. For example, under Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination at educational institutions receiving federal funds, it seems almost certain that any redefinition of the value of an athletic scholarship would have to include all eligible men and women.

In addition, some NCAA officials are concerned about the possible legal consequences of limiting enhanced athletic scholarships to athletes who receive full scholarships or to Division I athletes. An NCAA spokesman said there are about 40,000 men and women on full scholarship at Division I schools, but more who receive partial scholarships, and about 335,000 men and women athletes participating in NCAA athletics at any competitive level. Giving $2,000 to each of 40,000 athletes would cost the schools $80 million, or $20 million more than the amount by which the NCAA's revenue from CBS will increase in the first year of the new contract.

"This is not a simple issue," said Big East Conference Commissioner Michael Tranghese, a member of the NCAA negotiating team. "Everybody will say, 'We've got all this money. Let's give it to the kids.' But it's not that simple. It's not that simple. This is a very complicated situation, and the people above me will have to decide what's fair and what's right. It's the presidents who will decide. The good news is we have the money, which gives the presidents the opportunity to evaluate and decide what should be done."

University of Kentucky President Charles Wethington, who chairs the NCAA Executive Committee--a panel of presidents who form the association's top rules-making group--said he opposes the outright payment of a stipend.

"Personally," he added, "I'm interested in giving opportunities for student-athletes [through improving current programs and giving more scholarships], not by raising [the value of] scholarships for athletes who do participate."

Ohio State's Geiger, who oversees the largest athletics budget in college sports--nearly $60 million a year--said that, with a $600 cash addition to scholarships, a school that awards 300 scholarships would spend an additional $180,000. "I don't think that is exorbitant and it would help a lot of students," he said.

During a news conference Thursday night, Wethington and Dempsey said 78 of the NCAA's more than 1,000 schools annually take in more than they spend on intercollegiate athletics. They said the additional money should go toward the benefit of student-athletes and to help schools defray the costs of their programs. Exactly how the money will benefit the athletes will be determined through a political process and does not have to be decided for nearly three years.

"We must be careful at the NCAA level because of the impact the decision may have on institutions," Wethington said. ". . . Institutions that have trouble supporting their programs have to be concerned about driving up the cost of the programs generally."

In Ensor's Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, a relatively modest-sized Division I conference, none of the 10 schools operates its athletic programs at a profit, said Ensor. But he said he would favor a cash component in a full scholarship because his member schools do not give a high number of "full rides."

Where the Money Goes

This is how the NCAA has distributed its revenue this year.* The organization has not decided how additional revenue from the new contract with CBS will be divided.

Distribution to Division I conferences and schools. School distributions are based mainly on the number of teams sponsored and number of athletic scholarships awarded the previous academic year. Conference distributions are based, in part, on the collective performance of each conference's teams in the men's basketball tournament over a rolling six-year period; this portion of the conference distributions generally are divided among the conference's members, although not always equally: .................$140,650,000

Division-specific expenses, such as operation of Division I championships, annual allocations to Division II schools and Division III schools: .......$54,911,000

Programs for, and services provided to, the member institutions, such as marketing, licensing and promotions; outside legal services; rules enforcement and eligibility appeals staffs: ........$33,659,000

Operation of national office: .......................................$18,268,000

Governance/Committees: .......................................$3,750,000

Funds used in settlement of litigation involving restricted earnings coaches: .......................................$17,300,000

Student-athlete welfare and youth programs and services, such as catastrophic injury insurance premiums, drug testing and research, the NCAA Initial-Eligibility Clearinghouse: ...................$14,452,000

TOTAL: $282,990,000

* Figures are projected

Sources: NCAA; George Washington, Maryland, George Mason officials

Where the Money Comes From

The NCAA budgeted $282,990,000 for operating expenses in 1999.

Most of that money comes from CBS for the right to televise the men's basketball tournament. The rest is from sources such as ticket sales, licensing and royalty fees and investments.

How Much Schools Get

The NCAA uses a complex formula to distribute money to each school and conference. Amounts received by some schools of local interest:

George Washington (Atlantic 10):

about $250,000

Maryland (ACC):

about $1,200,000

George Mason (Colonial Athletic Assn.):

$240,971

Other sources

$56,590,000

TV revenue

$226,400,000