Category Archives: Academics

Multiple Options for Former Student Athletes Who Want to Complete Degree

Degree CompletionA student athlete who fails to complete his or her degree prior to exhausting eligibility is out of luck, right? Fail to graduate in five years or suffer an injury that prevents future competition and you’re on your own, right?


Despite congressmen questioning the ability of student athletes to complete their degrees and recent letters penned by the presidents of the Big Ten and Pac-12 that mention degree-completion goals for student athletes, the issue here isn’t about the lack of programs. At best, the issue is a lack of awareness of all of the existing degree-completion programs.

Click here to keep reading my SportsBusiness Journal piece on degree completion programs.

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Major Credit Rating Agency says Power 5 Autonomy Could Depress Applications for Others

Power 5 Autonomy and Student AppsCould autonomy for the Power 5 mean fewer applications to universities in other conferences? Fitch Ratings, a global agency which issues credit ratings to companies (similar to the way Equifax issues you a credit score), indicated in its latest release today that it expects schools with major sports programs who fall outside of the Power 5 to experience a decrease in applications.

Fresno State in the Mountain West is called out specifically as a likely victim. From the Fitch Ratings release:

There is much anecdotal evidence to suggest that success in sports has a positive impact on the number of applications received by colleges and universities. Most schools that enjoy unpredictable success in basketball or football often see a one-year bump up in their applications. In our view, the proposed changes are unlikely to have any effect on the number of applications received by the “Big Five,” as the recognition their sports teams already provide would not change significantly. If these rules were adopted, we would also expect few changes to schools with smaller or less successful sports programs, as they make smaller contributions to their schools’ brands.

However, there could be some modestly negative effect on the number of applications to schools that have successful sports teams but are not included in the “Big Five.” As an example noted in a recent New York Times story, Fresno State is one institution that has invested in and expanded its athletic successes. But it is in the Mountain West Conference and, if the proposal is approved, could lose the publicity it gains from performing well against the best teams.

Indeed, numerous studies have found a correlation between success in football or men’s basketball and new student applications. Most studies focus on the impact of winning a national title or a BCS bowl game, but one study I detailed in my book Saturday Millionaires found mere membership in Division I increased out-of-state applications at a university by 2-4 percent. It wouldn’t be surprising then that membership in the Power 5 might also have an impact.

Here’s an excerpt from Saturday Millionaires on some of the studies that have found a positive correlation between football or men’s basketball success and new student applications:

On average, the most recent study by the Popes shows winning the national championship in football results in a 7-8 percent increase in applications. Finishing the season in the top 20 in the AP poll results in a 2.5 percent increase in applications the following year and a 3 percent increase if the team is ranked in the top ten.

As was stated previously in the chapter, the Popes study found that in order to achieve the same results, a 2-24 percent adjustment would have to be made to tuition/financial aid.

At an even more basic level, increasing the team’s winning percentage from one season to the next has been shown to increase application rates. A 1998 study found teams whose winning percentage increased by .250 over the previous season saw an average 1.3 percent increase in applications. A more recent study in 2005 found that number to be larger when in-conference winning percentage increased. A .250 increase in conference winning percentage was associated with a 6.1 percent gain in applications the following year. A decrease in winning percentage was found to produce a 0.4 percent decrease in applications.

A new study, released in mid-2012, found a large increase in wins, such as three wins to eight, was followed by a 5 percent increase in applications.

Some of the largest impacts found by many researchers were in relation to out-of-state students. The Popes 2012 study concludes, “While a sports victory for a given school may not change the awareness of in-state students regarding its existence, the sports victory may present a significant shock in attention/awareness for out-of-state students.”

One study showed mere membership in NCAA’s Division I increased the number of out-of-state students at a university by 2-4 percentage points.

[Footnotes have been removed for this blog post]

Check out Saturday Millionaires for an entire chapter on the intersection of athletics and academics, which details other areas of a university that have been shown to benefit from athletic success.

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Will California Mandate Cost of Attendance Scholarships and Stipends?

Whether student-athletes should be allowed to receive full cost of attendance (“COA”) scholarships has been a frequent topic of discussion in the college sports world over the past few years. First, an antitrust lawsuit brought in 2006 by former college basketball and football players—White v. NCAA—asked the courts to allow full cost of attendance scholarships. Although the case settled, it did not result in changes to the NCAA’s scholarship rules. Then, the issue appeared to be settled nearly two years ago when the NCAA Board of Directors approved a proposal to allow universities to give student-athletes $2000 stipends on top of their athletic scholarships. But the proposal never went into effect after more than 160 Division I members voted to override its implementation.

Now, a current bill winding its way through the California legislative process (assembly Bill 475b) seeks to end this debate for certain California universities. And not only does the bill require full cost of attendance athletic scholarships for certain athletes: it also requires that athletic scholarships be guaranteed for five years and that a “full” athletic scholarship include a stipend.

Before getting into the details of the new bill, a refresher on California’s Student Athlete Bill of Rights is in order. The Student-Athlete Bill of Rights, which was passed last year, requires California universities making at least $10,000,000 in annual income from the sale of athletics-related media rights to continue providing scholarships to athletes who suffer career ending injuries or who exhaust their athletics eligibility before they graduate. Assembly Bill 475b proposes that the $10,000,000 per year threshold be increased to $20,000,000 per-year and include money made from licensing fees (for things such as video games, jersey sales, etc.), not just the sale of media rights.

For now, this would be an insignificant change. The only California universities making $10,000,000 per year from media rights are Cal, UCLA, USC, and Stanford. And, due to the Pac-12’s new media deals, these universities are also making $20,000,000 per year from media rights and licensing fees. So, this amendment would not affect who the law applies to. It only gives other California universities (San Diego State, Fresno St, etc.) more of a buffer from having the law apply to them.

The important changes are Assembly Bill 475b’s scholarship-related amendments. First, the bill would require all athletic scholarships to be guaranteed for five years, or until the completion of the student-athlete’s eligibility, as long as the athlete is in good standing with the school and continues participating in his or her sport. This is a big change in the way scholarships are usually awarded. Currently, NCAA members are allowed, but not required, to offer multi-year scholarships. In the year and a half since the NCAA began allowing multi-year scholarships, the vast majority of athletic scholarships are still awarded for one year and are renewable at the school’s discretion. It is also important to note that this provision would apply to all athletic scholarships, not just full athletic scholarships. So it would apply to scholarships awarded in sports like baseball and track where partial scholarships are the norm.

Second, the bill would require that all full athletic scholarships cover a university’s full cost of attendance. Pursuant to NCAA rules, a full athletic scholarship only covers tuition, room and board, and books. This leaves a gap of around $3,000 between the value of a full athletic scholarship and the full cost of attendance at most schools. For example, the yearly cost of tuition and fees, room and board, and books at Stanford is $57,362. But, according to its own calculations, the total cost of attendance at Stanford is $60,749. This leaves a difference of $3,387 between the value of a full athletic scholarship and the total cost of attendance. And this number does not include transportation to and from a student’s home, which varies by student. When transportation is included it pushes the difference closer to $4,000. Assembly Bill 475b would require that Stanford cover this difference for all of its athletes receiving full athletic scholarships (football, basketball, volleyball, etc.).

The bill does not stop with mandating cost of attendance scholarships. It also provides that all full athletic scholarships must include an additional $3,600 stipend. Called a “student athlete participation stipend,” this is money that is intended to be used for expenses that fall outside of those included in the definition of cost of attendance. Stanford’s cost of attendance calculation includes amounts for clothing, toiletries, incidentals, and dorm activities. So, an athlete receiving a full athletic scholarship could use the stipend to cover expenses he has beyond these categories.

If the bill is signed into law, it sets the stage for a major fight between California and the NCAA, as it would require UCLA, USC, Cal, and Stanford to violate NCAA rules. With all of the criticism currently coming its way, the NCAA is likely rooting for the bill to die in order to avoid that showdown.

Division II Academic Proposals Need Careful Review

NCAA Division II student-athletes graduated at a 55% rate in the most recent (2012) NCAA report (A student-athlete is counted as graduated if they complete their degree requirements within six years of initial enrollment).  The overall student-body graduation rate for the same time period was 48%.  This seven percentage point difference in favor of the student-athletes is slightly better than the most recent four years combined, so the trend is student-athletes are putting some distance between themselves and the general student-body.

This is good news right?  Apparently not good enough.  This month the Division II Presidents’ Council approved a report from the Academic Task Force recommending a number of changes to the academic requirements for Division II student-athletes.  These changes will go to the membership for a vote at the January 2014 NCAA Convention.  As a whole these recommendations reflect a dramatic change to the standards that, according to the recent numbers, have been working well.

The most significant change is an increase in the number of credit hours required each year to maintain “progress-toward-degree,” or eligibility.  The current rule is a student-athlete must earn 24 credit hours over the course of one academic year; the proposed rule would increase that number to 27. At the same time, the concept of “averaging” would be eliminated.  The Averaging Method says that if, for example, you earn 27 hours your freshman year and 21 your sophomore year, the average of 24 meets the eligibility requirement.  Eliminating that option would mean that same student-athlete would be ineligible due to only passing 21 hours in the most recently completed academic year (three short of the required 24).

There are serious questions I have with this.  First, what problem is Division II attempting to solve?  Graduation rates are significantly better than the general student-body and getting better.  So with everything else going on within the NCAA right now it’s hard to see why this is at the top of the priority list.  My best guess is its not so much trying to solve a problem as it is trying to improve the graduation rates of student-athletes above and beyond what they already are.  That’s a worth cause to be sure, but is withholding student-athletes from competition the best way to promote it?  A quote cited in the NCAA’s own story about these proposals is concerning:

“One, states are increasing(ly) tying a portion of a public university’s appropriation to persistence and graduation rates,” he said. “Those institutions with higher persistence and graduation rates, holding all other factors constant, are provided higher levels of funding than are those institutions with lower persistence and graduation rates.

“Two, components of the rating often utilized to rank universities are persistence and graduation rates.  The higher the rates, holding all other factors constant, the higher the ranking and, presumably, the easier it is to recruit students.” – Pat O’Brien, West Texas A&M University President and President’s Council Chair

It seems borderline outrageous that student-athletes who already graduate at a higher rate than the student body are being threatened with their eligibility for what appears to be more state funding and a better ranking in U.S. News.  The fact universities have leverage over student-athletes they don’t have over any other student shouldn’t be a license to place the entire burden of a campus’ graduation rates on their shoulders.  Are benefits or privileges  being withheld from non student-athletes who don’t pass 27 hours in a year?  Are there increased investments in programs to assist student-athletes in attaining these new standards?  The answer to both questions in most cases is of course no.  The phrase for this in government is “unfunded mandate.”

The other major question I have about these proposals is the financial impact on the student-athletes.  The Division II scholarship model is not like Division I where the number of hours you enroll in is irrelevant.  Many Division II student-athletes are receiving stipends which do not even cover the cost of the 24 credit hour year that satisfies the current rule, let alone the additional hours they will now have to enroll in to satisfy the proposed standards.  Will scholarship funds be increased to cover the new requirements?  I highly doubt it.  Sure if all goes well and the student-athlete graduates in four years instead of four and a half or five they will save some money on the back-end.  But in a month-to-month financial situation many student-athletes won’t be able to afford the additional funds needed to cover the extra hours they must now take each term.

University staff members, coaches and student-athletes should read all the new academic proposals very carefully, and review them with each stakeholder group on campus before voting takes place in January.  Raising academic standards may sound like a reasonable method of improving graduation prospects for student-athletes.  However, I submit that the quickest way to push student-athletes out of school (and thereby negatively affecting the graduation rates) is to remove their ability to compete, and make it less affordable for them to attend.  These proposals have the potential to do both, if they are not complimented with new investment and support in the way of both academic and financial assistance.  And nothing so far suggests that assistance is coming.

Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanielHare.

Connecticut Follows California’s Lead With Proposed Student-Athlete Scholarship Bill

Last year, I wrote about California’s groundbreaking Student-Athlete Bill of Rights.  The legislation, which becomes effective during the 2013-14 school year, requires California universities receiving at least $10 million annually from the sale of athletics-based media rights to, among other things, continue providing scholarships to athletes who (1) suffer incapacitating injuries, or (2) have exhausted their athletics eligibility prior to graduating.  Universities covered by the law are only required to provide scholarships to athletes that fall into the second category if they are a member of a team that has a graduation success rate of less than 60%.

Now, Connecticut may soon be joining California in passing similar legislation.  A bill introduced by Connecticut State Senator Martin Looney requires public Connecticut universities receiving at least $5 million in media rights revenue to provide academic scholarships to athletes (1) whose athletic scholarships are not renewed due to incapacitating injury or illness resulting from participation in the school athletic program, or (2) who have exhausted their athletic eligibility, but are still in good academic standing and pursuing a degree.

While the Connecticut bill and the California law are similar, there are a few key differences.  For starters, the California bill covers all California universities, public or private.  The Connecticut bill only covers public universities.

Second, the California law covers universities that receive $10 million from the sale of athletics-based media rights.  As currently drafted, the Connecticut bill does not contain the same limiting language.  It takes into account revenue earned from the sale of all media rights when determining which universities would be covered by the bill.  While I doubt this lack of limiting language ever expands the bill to cover any university besides UConn (let’s face it, Central Connecticut State isn’t receiving $5 million in annual media rights revenue, athletics-based or otherwise, anytime soon)*, it is something that the Connecticut legislature could tweak on the bill’s journey through the legislative process.

Lastly, the California law only requires universities to continue providing scholarships to athletes who have exhausted their athletic eligibility prior to graduation if their team has a graduation success rate of less than 60%.  This severely limits this portion of the California law.  Based on recent NCAA data, only basketball and/or football players at Cal, USC, and UCLA would be able to take advantage of the California scholarship continuation provision.  This leaves out athletes on revenue producing teams such as Stanford’s football team.  The Connecticut bill, however, allows any scholarship athlete (in good academic standing) who has exhausted his or her athletic eligibility prior to graduation to continue receiving a scholarship.

The Connecticut bill still has a few hurdles to pass before it becomes law.  But, if it does pass, it could be the beginning of a movement of similar laws being passed in other states.

*And with the rapid deterioration of the Big East, and its decreasing value to TV networks, UConn might not even be receiving $5 million in annual media rights revenue in the future.

Does Athletic Success Lead to Academic Failure?


It is no secret that on-field success leads to an increase in national awareness and student applications. Whether it’s a winning season or an upset, America’s obsession with football runs deep.

Blame it on the 24/7 media bombardment or the laziness of today’s college students, but one thing is certain: football glory leads to academic short-comings.

A recent study published in the October issue of American Economic Journal: Applied Economics found a direct correlation between male non-athletes increased partying and decreased studying in the fall semester and the success of their football program.

The study, conducted by University of Oregon researchers Jason M. Lindo, Isaac D. Swensen and Glen R. Waddell, revealed male students dedicate less time to studying and more time to drinking and “risky behaviors” when their collegiate team plays well.

Although the study was conducted at the University of Oregon, the results reflect the attitude of students nationwide. No longer are academics at the forefront of the mind. Now, more and more undecided high school seniors are swayed from one institution to another based on athletic superiority.

A national championship season or a Rose Bowl victory can entice and persuade students to apply and enroll in a college they never expected to attend. But to the horror of parents and university faculty, academics take a back seat to the celebration of athletic success.

Twenty-four percent of males said their study time was reduced “definitely” or “probably” based on the team’s success on the field. Both in absolute terms and relative to females, male grades tend to decrease significantly when the football team succeeds.

Nearly half of the males surveyed admitted to partying more when the team won.

The effects trickle down to female non-student athletes as well. The researchers found that females whose GPA’s improved alongside the success of the football team were less likely to drop out of college following a winning season, although the exact reason for the decrease is unknown.

The study begs the question, “How do you encourage on-field success while maintaining an emphasis on academic excellence?”

Left up to their own devices, students are going to choose the easy route every time. It is up to the schools to teach them that while athletic success is great, education is the key to real-world achievement.

Study Shows Athletic Success Impacts Academics Positively

A recent article in the Journal of Sports Economics co-authored by economists Devin and Jaren Pope has confirmed what many anecdotally believed to be true:  success in Division I men’s basketball or FBS football leads to increased interest from potential high school applicants.  The article, titled “Understanding College Application Decisions: Why College Sports Success Matters”, shows that between 1991 and 2001 the number of SAT scores sent by high school students increased for a 1-2 year period after a school’s men’s basketball team made the NCAA men’s basketball tournament or its football team ended the season in the AP Top 20.  Where students sent SAT scores is used as a proxy for where students actually sent applications.

And, as would be expected, the number of SAT scores received was higher for the schools which were most successful in the basketball tournament or finished higher in the AP football poll.  Schools received 2.2% more SAT scores when their men’s basketball teams made the NCAA tournament, 3.8% more if it made the Sweet 16, 5.7% more if it made the Final Four, and 9% more if it won the national championship.  A top 20 finish for the football team resulted in a 2% increase, a top 10 finish resulted in a 5.2% increase, and a (pre-BCS) national championship resulted in an 11% increase.

Besides proving that successful men’s basketball and football programs do play a part in some high school student’s college decisions, the article bring up another issue:  the allure of maintaining a Division I men’s basketball program and/or a FBS football program.  Most schools are looking for ways to increase their applicant pool and to expand their brand.  If a school is not in Division I for basketball or FBS in football, it is missing out on one of the ways to do these things.

In fact, there may not be an easier way for a school looking to grow enrollment and its brand than through success in men’s basketball and football.  This is demonstrated by one of the most amazing statistics in the Pope’s article: the effect of making it to the Final Four in basketball or the top ten in football is approximately equivalent to the effect of a school improving its academic rank by half (e.g. 100th to 50th or 50th to 25th)!  I have no idea how hard it is for a school to improve its academic rank by half, but I have to assume it’s a difficult task.  In many cases, it may be easier for a school to make its way into the top ten in FBS football than to improve its academic rank by half.

Let’s look at Old Dominion University as an example.  After a 68 year hiatus, ODU football took the field again in 2009.  It played as an independent FCS team during its first two seasons.  In 2011, the ODU football team became a full member of the Colonial Athletic Association football conference.  ODU finished that year second in the CAA (regarded as the SEC of FCS football conferences), hosted and won a FCS playoff game, and finished 10th in the final FCS poll.  All of this was accomplished in three seasons.  And it gained ODU entrance into the FBS (ODU will become a member of Conference USA in 2013), where it has the chance of finishing in the AP top ten.

While there is no guarantee that ODU will ever make the top ten in football, its chances of doing so before it improves its academic rank by half seem good.  We can look to Boise State as an example of what is possible.  Boise State moved up to what is now the FBS in 1996.  It first finished in the AP’s top 10 in 2006, when it was ranked number 5 after its memorable Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma.[1] Boise has finished in the AP top 10 three times since then (2009, 2010, and 2011).  So, it took Boise 10 years to make its way from FBS newbie to top ten finisher.

Can ODU improve its academic ranking by half in ten years?  Not likely.  In the latest US News rankings ODU received a “Rank Not Published” (RNP) designation in the National Universities category, signifying it resides outside of the top 200.  Let’s be generous and assume that ODU’s rank is 201.[2]  That means it would have to improve its ranking to 100 to see the same type of application bump that comes along with a top ten FBS football finish.  Again, I don’t have any data on how quickly a school can improve its academic ranking, but I have to assume it would take longer than 10 years to move from 201 to 100.  Perhaps the Pope brothers can look into this next.


For a look at how the study could predict multi-million losses for Arkansas thanks to their defeat at the hands of Louisiana-Monroe, check out this piece on by founder, Kristi Dosh.

[1] Statue of Liberty, anyone?

[2] This bit of generosity is hard for me.  I played basketball at William and Mary, which is in the CAA with ODU.  Let’s just say that the alumni/fan bases aren’t too fond of each other.

California Proposes Scholarship Extensions for Student-Athletes

Guest author: Mit Winter

A groundbreaking bill known as the Student Athlete Bill of Rights is close to becoming law in California.  The California Senate and Assembly both recently passed the bill and it currently awaits Governor Jerry Brown’s signature.  Brown has not publicly given any indication as to whether he intends to sign it into law.

If Brown does sign the bill, beginning with the 2013-14 school year student athletes at California universities that receive at least $10 million annually from the sale of athletics-based media rights will be entitled to a number of benefits.  The most prominent are as follows:

1) If a student athlete’s athletic scholarship is not renewed due to an incapacitating injury or illness resulting from participation in an intercollegiate sport, the university must provide the student athlete with an equivalent scholarship that, when combined with the athletic scholarship, provides for up to five academic years or until the student athlete graduates, whichever comes first.

2) Scholarship student athletes who are members of teams with a graduation success rate of less than 60%, and have exhausted their athletic eligibility before graduating, must be provided with an equivalent scholarship for up to one year or until the student athlete graduates, whichever is shorter.

One thing to note up front before diving into an analysis of these two provisions (which I call the injury scholarship continuation and graduation scholarship continuation rules):  because the law will only apply to California universities receiving at least $10 million annually from the sale of athletics-based media rights, it will initially only affect USC, UCLA, Stanford, and Cal.  San Diego State may become a member of the $10 million club soon, but that will depend on how well Mike Aresco can sell the new version of Big East football.  No other California universities are currently likely to be affected by the law, but, as we have seen with the realignment frenzy over the past few years, anything can happen.

Now that we know which schools will be affected by the injury scholarship continuation and graduation scholarship continuation rules let’s take a closer look at them.  At first glance, each of the rules makes sense.  Student-athletes at USC, UCLA, Stanford, and Cal play a big part in those schools receiving large media rights checks.  So, it seems fair that student-athletes should continue to receive scholarships after they are injured participating in a sport or if they have not yet graduated when their athletic eligibility is exhausted.

But, when the reach of each rule is considered, much of the revenue generation argument disappears.  Why?  Because the law does not apply only to student-athletes participating in revenue generating sports:  generally football and men’s basketball, with some limited exceptions.

The scholarship continuation rule applies to any student-athlete who received an athletic scholarship.  Using Stanford as an example, this means that scholarship athletes such as men’s and women’s fencers, men’s and women’s gymnasts, men’s wrestlers, and women’s rowers will maintain their athletic scholarships if they are injured while participating in their sport and can no longer compete.[1]  Not that there is anything wrong with this.  But, if the argument is that scholarship student-athletes should continue to receive scholarships after an incapacitating injury because of all the money they generated for their school while competing, the law shouldn’t reach this far.  Fencers, gymnasts, wrestlers, and rowers are not producing revenue for Stanford.

If all of Stanford’s scholarship student athletes are entitled to a scholarship continuation after an injury, why shouldn’t a scholarship football or basketball player at Fresno State be entitled to that benefit as well?  Those student athletes are generating some revenue for Fresno State.  Again, there is nothing wrong with providing all scholarship student athletes with scholarship continuations after injuries.  But those who are generating revenue, regardless of school, should have the same rights to a scholarship continuation after an injury.

While Stanford will be affected by the injury continuation rule, it won’t have to worry about the graduation continuation rule.  This part of the law only applies to teams that have a graduation success rate below 60%.  The most recent available Graduation Success Rate (GSR) data (2010-11 academic year) shows that all of Stanford’s teams had GSRs well above 60%.

The same cannot be said for Cal, UCLA, and USC. Cal’s men’s basketball team had a GSR of 33% while its football team had a GSR of 54%.  USC’s men’s basketball team had a GSR of 38%.  UCLA’s football team had a GSR of 59%.  So, if they have not already graduated, scholarship members of these teams will be entitled to a continuation of their scholarships for up to one year after their athletic eligibility has expired.  Again, the rule makes sense.  Especially when the student athletes receiving the scholarships are members of revenue generating teams.

What doesn’t make sense is the limitation of the rule to members of teams that have a GSR below 60%.  The intent of the limit appears to be to increase graduation levels for football and men’s basketball, as those two sports generally have lower graduation rates than other sports at most schools.  This is a worthy goal.  But, why should a member of the USC football team not be entitled to a continuation of his scholarship after his athletic eligibility expires when a basketball player is?

The football player likely brings more value to USC than a basketball player.  But, despite the football player’s role in generating a substantial amount of revenue for USC, the football player is not entitled to a scholarship continuation because the program has done a better job of graduating players than the basketball program.  This doesn’t seem fair.  If the goal is to reward members of these teams for their part in generating revenue, then the continuation rule should cover those teams generating a certain amount of revenue, regardless of GSR rates.

To link the injury scholarship and graduation scholarship continuation rules more closely to revenue generation, they could be changed to be team specific as opposed to school specific.  One potential fix would apply the two rules to any team at a California school that generates revenue of at least $2 million.  The actual number isn’t important for this entry.  And there would have to be some discussion about how to calculate how much revenue a specific team generates.  But, amending the bill in this way would reward all of the California student athletes who are generating revenue for their schools.

[1] Question: What types of injuries do fencers get?  Triceps strains from all of the thrusting?  Groin pulls from the quick lunges at your opponent?

The Debate over Stipends for Student Athletes

Guest author: Mit Winter

Division I student-athletes are currently only allowed to receive financial aid based on athletics ability up to the value of their tuition and fees, room and board, and required course-related books.  In October of 2011, the NCAA Board of Directors approved a proposal to allow Division I members to give student-athletes a stipend of up to $2000 on top of the items listed above.  The idea is that the money will help cover the difference between the value of a full athletic scholarship and the actual cost of attending college.  As anyone who has attended college knows, students have everyday expenses that go beyond their tuition and fees, room and board, and books.  Things like laundry, transportation, toothpaste, and clothes (and cheap beer – my preference in college was Natty Light). An athletics scholarship is not allowed to cover these expenses.

But, the stipend proposal was tabled in January after more than 160 schools requested an override. These schools argued that the proposal was too expensive for them, that it would give the wealthier schools another advantage in recruiting, and that it equals “pay for play.”  Despite this opposition, the Board of Directors recently reiterated its support for the stipend proposal.

The activity summarized above brings up two areas of discussion.  1) The proposal itself, and 2) the opposition to the proposal.

First, let’s address the proposal.  While it moves things in the right direction, it doesn’t go far enough.  Here’s why:  non-student-athletes can receive merit based scholarships that cover their full cost of attendance.  As one example, the Charles Scholarship at Davidson College includes the recipients’ room and board, tuition and fees, books, a travel allowance that covers three round trip flights to Chicago (it’s a scholarship specifically for students from Chicago), a personal expense allowance, and special study opportunity funds.  Why shouldn’t student-athletes be able to receive scholarships that cover all of these expenses?

One of the usual arguments is that providing student-athletes with athletics-based money for personal expenses equals “pay for play.”  How can that argument be reconciled with the fact that schools are already providing non-athletes with merit-based money for personal and travel expenses?  It can’t be.  When a trombone player receives a full cost of attendance scholarship no one calls that pay for play.  No one complains that Davidson is paying the Charles Scholarship recipients to study.

Another argument that has been made against athletics-based cost of attendance scholarships is that schools will artificially inflate the cost of attendance figures for athletes.  But, federal regulations and NCAA bylaws already prevent this from happening.  Federal regulations only allow certain categories of expenses to be included in the cost of attendance calculation.  And NCAA bylaws mandate that the cost of attendance for student-athletes must be calculated in accordance with the cost of attendance policies and procedures for general students.

Those who argue against athletics-based cost of attendance scholarships also overlook their potential to address a big issue in college sports: third party influence.  It is well-known that agents, runners, and other third parties looking to gain influence with student-athletes often offer them money or other gifts.  Take the recent case ofKansasState’s Jamar Samuels.  Samuels was suspended the day that K-State played Syracuse in this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament.  His crime was accepting $200 from his former AAU coach.  Samuels allegedly needed the money for food.  The suspension forced Samuels to miss the last game of his college career.  Samuels likely would not have needed the money if he had received a full cost of attendance scholarship.

There are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of transactions like this occurring every year between third-parties and student-athletes.  Taking money from third parties is very tempting to those student-athletes whose families do not have the means to provide them with money for personal expenses.  Full cost of attendance scholarships won’t end third-party influence, but they will help.

Now, let’s go back to the stipend proposal.  The schools opposed to the proposal are generally the Division I members outside of the BCS conferences.  These schools mainly argue that they cannot afford to pay the stipends and, as a result, the schools with wealthier athletic departments will have yet another recruiting advantage.  While the argument does have some merit, the non-BCS schools are making this a bigger issue than it is.

The reason: non-BCS schools are not currently winning recruiting battles with BCS schools.  Even the worst BCS schools usually win in head to head recruiting battles with non-BCS schools.  The BCS schools already have many other recruiting advantages that are more significant than any advantage that would be gained by offering a $2,000 stipend.  Things like history and tradition, media exposure, fan support, facilities, and schedules filled with games against the traditional college basketball and football powers.

A good way to look at this is to assume that the non-BCS schools are the only schools allowed to offer the stipend.  How many student-athletes currently attending a BCS school would have gone to a non-BCS school instead?  Probably not many.  Would Matt Barkley have gone to Fresno State instead of USC?  No.  WouldOklahoma’s third string running back have gone to UTEP?  Not likely.  Would Kansas’ back-up point guard, Naadir Tharpe, have gone to Boston University(near his hometown)?  Negative.

Another thing to keep in mind in this debate is that the stipend proposal is not a novel idea.  NCAA members were allowed to give student-athletes $15 a month for personal expenses until the early 1970’s.  The stipend was eliminated in an attempt to trim the costs of running an athletic department.  But, the enormous media rights contracts that Division I conferences are signing and will sign (I’m looking at you football playoff), will bring in more athletics-based revenue to Division I schools than at any time in the past.  With this new money rolling in, schools should have the option of sharing some of that money with the student-athletes who play a large part in generating it.  The stipend proposal is a good start.  Once the Division I members give the proposal a try they will hopefully continue on to the logical end place:  the ability to award athletic-based cost of attendance scholarships.

Howard University’s Suspension of Student-Athletes

Yesterday, the Washington City Paper reported that Howard University, a Division I school which competes in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, “. . . suspended all of its intercollegiate athletics teams for what appears to be a violation of the NCAA rules.”

The magnitude of this announcement surprised many, as the suspension of an entire athletic program seemed drastic.  When it was announced that the entire athletics program had been suspended, one Division I compliance official who spoke to on the condition of anonymity said, “I would speculate that the potential problems are department-wide and not necessarily limited to specific teams.”  This person further explained that, “Schools are supposed to police themselves and hold out student-athletes who are believed to have been involved with NCAA violations.”

Given this, I contacted Howard’s communications Director, Kerry-Ann Hamilton.  Hamilton responded as follows:

“Howard University is conducting an internal investigation of possible NCAA rules-violations. As a result of this process, the University temporarily withheld a number of student-athletes from competition as a self-imposed action.  Most teams will compete as scheduled. We are working diligently to fully resolve this matter as quickly as a possible. In order to protect the integrity of this review, we are unable to share additional details at this time.”

Thus, contrary to the Washington City Paper’s initial report, Howard did not suspend its entire athletics program.  Rather, it appears that Howard’s actions in this matter run the typical route of NCAA compliance, which requires internal investigations and self-policing.

Later yesterday afternoon, the Washington City Paper reported that a bowling team member said that the investigation was the result of textbook vouchers given to student-athletes.  Given that Howard is unable to share additional details, this has not been confirmed by

NCAA Bylaw 15.2.3 provides, “A member institution may provide a student-athlete financial aid that covers the actual cost of required course-related books.”  Per NCAA Bylaw, “There is no dollar limit for books a student-athlete may receive, provided each book is required for a course in which the student-athlete is enrolled. The institution may provide the student-athlete with cash to purchase books, as long as the amount of cash provided is equal to the actual cost of the books purchased.”

Thus, a potential NCAA violation may arise, if a student-athlete who is given a voucher to purchase books for classes he or she enrolls in, drops one of the classes for which he or she obtained a book using that voucher and then returns the book and holds onto the cash received. 

If book vouchers are given to every student-athlete, this is a situation which could potentially cause a large majority of student-athletes to be in violation of the NCAA bylaws.  Hence, this may provide some insight as to why it was initially reported that Howard had suspended its entire athletics department.

Ultimately, it is to be seen what the investigation unearths.  If the investigation was the result of student-athletes obtaining money from selling books, expect there to be large public outcry against the NCAA, and also further pushes for student-athletes to receive a higher cost of living allowance.