Billy Donovan stopped short of saying directly whether college athletes should be paid

But at a speaking engagement at the Capital City Area Gator Club in Tallahassee, Donovan said he understood some frustrations athletes face in being unable to reap financial benefits that big-time college sports produce.

“There is a feel by a lot of families that here you have these huge athletic departments, you have arenas, stadiums filled up and these kids are told, you can’t go out and you can’t take a free meal, you can’t take anything,” Donovan said. “A lot of times for those kids, I think it’s very difficult to swallow that.”

Athletes at Florida are compensated in the form of a full scholarship, but for in-state students (about $12,000 for tuition and room and board), it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the $108 million in athletic revenue UF produced in 2010-11. The football program produced $68 million of that revenue, while men’s basketball made about $3 million.

Donovan said the landscape in college basketball has changed in the past 25 to 30 years. Before the one-and-done rule, starts like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and LeBron James proved you could go directly from high school to the NBA and become a star. Now, the most talented players leave after one year if they are ready. And players are even finding opportunities to make money overseas. For example, former Gator point guard Nick Calathes left UF after two years to sign a pro contract to play in Greece.

“What’s happening now is these kids look at the fact that I have a life expectancy athletically to play the game of basketball,” Donovan said. “And if I do my very, very best to get my degree and get my education, there is no way I can get an entry level job for any company or firm and ever make what I can make if I go overseas and play basketball. I mean, Nick Calathes didn’t even play in the NBA, he left early and went over to Greece, and they paid him a million dollars a year.

“I think kids’ attitudes today is, you know what, I only have this much time to play basketball, but you know what, I have my entire life to get my degree. I can always go back to school. I’m not saying it’s right or it’s wrong. But a lot of kids, coming from a situations or environments where financially, they don’t have the resources and they’ve struggled, it’s very difficult for them to bypass that kind of money knowing that, you know what, I’m going to have so much money, I don’t need a scholarship. I can pay for school myself.”