Category Archives: Scholarships

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.

Which Schools and Conferences Support Multi-Year Scholarships?

Recently, NCAA Division I institutions and their conferences voted on whether to overturn a measure enacted by the NCAA Board of Directors in October 2011 which allowed Division I institutions to offer student-athletes multi-year scholarships.  The effort to overturn the measure was narrowly defeated.  Of those eligible to vote, 125 voted to uphold the measure, 205 voted to overturn it, 2 abstained and 35 did not cast votes.  To overturn the measure, 5/8 of those voting (or, 62.5 percent) were required to vote in favor of overturning the measure.  Thus, the vote to overturn the measure was short by 0.38 percent of votes.

Given how close Division I institutions came to overturning the right to offer multi-year scholarships, one may wonder how votes were split on the issue.  First, consider those BCS automatic qualifying conferences and schools which voted to continue to allow Division I institutions to offer multi-year scholarships:

BCS AQ Conferences & Schools Voting to Allow Multi-Year Scholarships
Arizona State
Atlantic Coast Conference
Auburn
Big East Conference
Big Ten Conference
UCLA
Connecticut

DePaul

Duke
Florida
Georgetown
Georgia
Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Kentucky
Maryland
Miami
Michigan
Michigan State
Minnesota
Mississippi
Mississippi State
Missouri
Nebraska
North Carolina State
Northwestern
Notre Dame
Ohio State
Oregon
Oregon State
Pac-12
Penn State
Pittsburgh
Purdue
South Carolina
Southeastern Conference
Stanford

UCLA

USF

Utah
Vanderbilt
Villanova
Wake Forest
Washington
Washington State

Most notably, the only BCS AQ Conference which voted to overturn the multi-year scholarship measure was the Big 12.  The ACC, Big Ten, Big East, Pac-12 and SEC conferences, on the other hand, all voted in favor to continue allowing schools to offer multi-year scholarships.  The only Big 12 member to vote to uphold the multi-year scholarship measure was Missouri.  However, it should be noted that Missouri will join the SEC later this year.  Many of the SEC’s member institutions voted similarly to continue to allow multi-year scholarships.

Of those 125 conferences and schools voting to allow schools to offer multi-year scholarships, 36.8 percent were BCS automatic qualifying conferences or schools.  This is a significant number, especially when considering that the majority of schools casting a vote on the issue were non-BCS AQ schools.  It further demonstrates that a majority of BCS AQ institutions are in favor of granting multi-year scholarships.  This is important, as whether a school offers multi-year scholarships may greatly affect recruiting and athletic department budgets going forward.

Next, consider which BCS AQ conferences and schools voted to overturn the NCAA’s measure allowing multi-year scholarships:

BCS Conferences and Schools Voting to Disallow Multi-Year Scholarships
Alabama

Arizona

Arkansas

Baylor

Big 12
Boston College

California-Berkeley

Cincinnati
Clemson
Colorado
Florida State
Georgia Tech
Iowa State
Kansas
Kansas State
LSU
Louisville
Marquette
Oklahoma
Oklahoma State

Providence

Rutgers

USC
St. John’s
Tennessee
Texas A&M
Texas Tech
Texas
Virginia

Virginia Tech

WVU
Wisconsin

Of the 205 conferences and schools which voted to override the NCAA’s measure allowing schools to offer multi-year scholarships, only 25 were BCS AQ conferences and schools.  Thus, BCS AQ conferences and schools only accounted for 15.6 percent of those wishing to disallow multi-year scholarships.  Most interesting, however, is that the Big 12 and its member institutions accounted for 31.25 percent of the BCS AQ schools and conferences voting to disallow multi-year scholarships.

The question to be raised given these numbers is, what competitive disadvantage does the Big 12 believe it faces if multi-year scholarships are allowed to be granted?  Opponents of the multi-year scholarship measure have made the reasons as to why they do not support the measure clear.  First, granting multi-year scholarships binds schools and athletic departments to student-athletes who may not be able to perform up to required standards either on the field or in the classroom.  Additionally, granting multi-year scholarships may impose a greater financial burden on athletic department budgets and may provide those schools offering multi-year scholarships with a recruiting advantage over those which do not offer multi-year scholarships. 

These factors may have been relevant in the Big 12 voting in large measure to not support multi-year scholarships.  In 2010-11, the Big 12 only had one school (Texas) which broke into the top-10 in terms of its recruitment expenses.  Likewise, in terms of the top-50 most profitable NCAA programs, the Big 12 once again only placed one of its teams (Texas football) into the top-10.  Given these factors, it is likely that the Big 12′s largest concern with offering multi-year scholarships rested upon a cost-benefit analysis of the measure, and what its teams would be able to offer budgetary-wise in terms of multi-year scholarships.

One thing is certain:  because NCAA Division I institutions and conferences voted to uphold allowing multi-year scholarships, it will be interesting to see the recruiting advantages those schools offering them receive going forward.

Should Division I Schools Vote to Overturn the NCAA’s Multi-Year Scholarship Measure?

Today, NCAA Division I institutions will begin voting to decide whether Division I schools can offer student-athletes multi-year scholarships.  In October, the NCAA’s Division I board of directors voted to allow schools the option to grant their student-athletes multi-year scholarships.  Previously, coaches and athletic departments could only offer student-athletes one-year renewable scholarships.  This practice was criticized by student-athletes and some members of the general public, after some student-athletes’ scholarships were not renewed for the course of their entire education.  However, the NCAA has frequently defended the practice, arguing that athletic scholarships are merit-based scholarships, and If a student-athlete doesn’t perform at the level expected, then the school should have the option to not renew the scholarship.

Numerous schools voiced disapproval of the multi-year scholarship measure.  Largely, this disapproval was based upon these schools’ findings that the measure would provide athletics departments with bigger budgets with an additional bargaining chip to sway recruits’ commitments.  Essentially, dissenters argue that the measure would create an unfair balance of power, since some schools would be able to offer multi-year scholarship offers, whereas schools with smaller budgets would be unable to present the same multi-year scholarship offer.  Opponents argue that this would create a recruiting windfall for wealthier athletic departments, as a recruit would be more likely to sign a National Letter of Intent with a school offering a multi-year scholarship, as opposed to a school offering a renewable one-year scholarship.  The strong opposition to the measure ultimately led to this week’s vote.  If 5/8 of Division I members vote to overturn the proposal, Division I schools will return to the single-year scholarship rule and will not be allowed to offer multi-year scholarships. 

The NCAA board of director’s initial approval of the multi-year scholarship plan arguably was put into motion by a 2010 Department of Justice antitrust investigation into the single-year scholarship rule.  However, neither substantial legal movement nor recommendations were made by the Department of Justice is this regard.

Also in 2010, the NCAA faced an antitrust lawsuit filed by former Rice football player, Joseph Agnew, after his football scholarship was not renewed.  The lawsuit filed by Agnew against the NCAA was ultimately dismissed with prejudice (meaning that he cannot refile it) in September 2011 by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.  The court granted the NCAA’s motion to dismiss the case, because Agnew’s amended complaint “. . . failed to allege anti-competitive effects on a discernable market.”  

Given the court’s rationale for dismissing Agnew’s amended complaint, proponents of multi-year scholarships may say that the lawsuit only failed because of pleading errors on the part of Agnew’s attorney.  Thus, they would argue that single-year scholarships in fact violate antitrust law, and a properly plead complaint would demonstrate such. 

While that argument may be raised by future plaintiffs seeking to prove that single-year scholarships violate antitrust law, future plaintiffs were arguably given another tool when the NCAA granted Division I institutions the right to offer multi-year scholarships.  Previously, the NCAA dictated that schools could only offer single-year scholarships.  Thus, even though it had the resources to, School A’s top football program could not offer a student-athlete a multi-year scholarship.  Similarly, School B, a regional school with lesser resources, only offered a renewable single-year scholarships during the recruiting process.  Thus, because the former rule was applied equally across the board, it was arguably more difficult for student-athletes to assert their opportunities for receiving the most competitive scholarship offer were thwarted by the single-year scholarship rule.  This is due to the fact, that under the rule, the only “compensation” available to student-athletes was single-year, renewable scholarships.

With the adoption of the multi-year scholarship plan by the NCAA board of directors last fall, that argument likely flew out of the window.  This is due to the fact, that some Division I football coaches made multi-year scholarships part of their recruiting package this year.  Reports indicate that top football programs, including, Auburn and Ohio State, offered recruits from the class of 2012 multi-year scholarships.  In offering multi-year scholarships, the point has been proven that there is competition for student-athletes’ on-field performance outside of single-year, renewable scholarships.  Namely, student-athletes this year found that they could also receive multi-year scholarships in exchange for signing a National Letter of Intent with a given school. 

Should Division I members vote to rescind the NCAA’s multi-year scholarship plan, the multi-year scholarship offerings which have transpired may be used by future plaintiffs to argue that a single-year scholarship rule violates federal antitrust law.  Because multi-year scholarships have now been rewarded, if the NCAA membership revokes the multi-year scholarship plan, potential plaintiffs have a factual basis to argue that their ability to compete for the best scholarships available to them has been harmed.  Now, future plaintiffs can point to instances where certain schools were willing to offer multi-year scholarships over single-year scholarships.  Clearly, a multi-year scholarship is of greater benefit to a student-athlete.  As such, if a school is willing to offer multi-year scholarships, but is not allowed to because NCAA membership decides to revoke the multi-year scholarship plan, future plaintiffs may potentially assert successful antitrust claims.

When determining whether to rescind the NCAA’s multi-year scholarship plan, voting Division I members should consider how the legal nature of the conversation has changed as a result of some member institutions offering multi-year scholarships this year, with the approval of an NCAA measure.  These schools must consider if this factual basis is such that in the future, plaintiffs may be able to successfully assert antitrust claims against the NCAA for a single-year scholarship rule.  If they find that it is, Division I membership should think twice before voting to overturn the NCAA board of director’s measure.

NCAA Tables Stipend for Student Athletes

The NCAA announced yesterday that over 125 schools have called for an override of the legislation that would give schools the ability to provide a $2,000 stipend to student-athletes, which is enough to suspend the legislation until the NCAA convention in January.

The NCAA’s press release on the matter says the main reasons schools cited were: “how quickly it was implemented, perceived impact on competitive equity, application of the allowance for student-athletes in equivalency sports, and implications for Title IX.”

In January, the Board can proceed in one of three ways. First, it can choose to do nothing, which would keep the suspension in place until an override vote. Second, it can choose to eliminate the rule. Or, third, it can alter the proposal, which would create new legislation that would require a vote and would be subject once again to a 60-day override period.

Nearly 10,000 prospective student-athletes signed National Letters of Intent during November’s early signing period. Any allowances offered in writing to those prospective student-athletes will be honored. However, prospective student-athletes signing during signing periods in February and April cannot be offered the additional monies unless action is taken at the January meeting that allows the legislation, or similar legislation, to go forward.

Are African Americans Underrepresented in College Baseball?

If you’ve read this site for a while, you may have seen my post about a young man named Mendez Elder who plays in the inner-city baseball league I’m involved with. Mendez did attend The Perfect Game National Showcase and I hear he made the most of his opportunity. He was 2-for-4 with a standup triple, a single and two stolen bases. His arm was rated as above average Major League arm playing both Right Field and Catcher. He really made us all proud!

Without organizations like L.E.A.D., however, I fear the number of African-Americans playing baseball at the collegiate level will continue to dwindle. On the rosters of this year’s eight College World Series teams there were just 11 African-American players out of 275 – that’s only 4 percent of players. Why?

We hear a lot of debate about whether college scholarships are sufficient compensation to college athletes or if they should be paid for their performance on the field. What we fail to discuss is the blockade many young men face trying to earn one of these coveted scholarships.

Most of the guys I know who played college baseball spent years playing travel baseball and taking private pitching or hitting lessons. They have the latest gloves, bats, cleats, and custom baseball uniforms.Their parents will tell you they spent thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars over the years getting their son to a level where he could compete for a college scholarship. The last time I posted on this I received responses pointing out the fundraising that is done by most travel teams. However, these teams are not located close enough to the inner-city for most of the young men I work with. Many come from broken homes. Many live on very tight budgets. Their parents can’t drive them out to the suburbs where the travel teams are concentrated because they are working multiple jobs or don’t have a reliable vehicle. That’s not to say they are the only youth with disadvantages to overcome, I’m simply explaining why there was a need in this community for an organization like L.E.A.D.

Back to why the number of African-Americans playing collegiate baseball is dwindling….

Collegiate baseball scholarships are getting harder and harder to earn. The NCAA limits the  number of full scholarships in baseball to 11.7, however, the typical team roster is between 25-45 players.  In 2008, new rules were adopted that limited the number of players on aid to 30 for the 2008-2009 season and 27 for the 2009-2010 season.  Scholarships used to be split into amounts that allowed most, if not all, of the roster players to receive some sort of financial aid.  Unfortunately, there was some abuse that caused the new rules to be implemented.  Coaches were giving out “tryout scholarships” which lured the player to campus with a small scholarship.  The amount was small enough that the coach could cut the player during fall practices without if effecting his bottom line.

Sometimes rules aimed at one problem make way for a new kind of problem.  Under the new rules, only 27 players can be on scholarship and each scholarship must be for at least 25% of the tuition, room and board.  Compare that to football where 85 full scholarships are available for about 87 roster spots (active and inactive), or basketball where 13 full scholarships are available for 12-15 roster spots.  Which sport would you choose to play if you were a young African-American athlete who could only get a college education through an athletic scholarship?

Consider this: the champions of the 2009 College World Series, the LSU Tigers, had two African-American players, neither of whom were on baseball scholarships.  Instead, Chad Jones and Jared Mitchell were both on football scholarships.

African-American young men who, like Mendez, grow up in the inner-city simply cannot afford to play travel baseball or take private lessons. Without participation on travel teams or being part of top-notch high school programs, these young men do not develop on the baseball field and/or go unnoticed.

For the young men who participate in L.E.A.D., a revolutionary inner-city baseball organization, college isn’t just a fairytale. It’s something they’re taught they can achieve with dedication to their studies and fine-tuning of their skills on the diamond. These young men aren’t playing baseball to become the next major leaguer. They’re playing baseball to earn a college scholarship – the only way most of them will ever set foot on a college campus as a student.

L.E.A.D. has changed that for quite a few young men in Atlanta by creating the first-ever inner-city travel program that doesn’t cost the participants one dime. The L.E.A.D. Ambassadors play against elite travel teams like nearby East Cobb, a perennial contender in AAU and Baseball America’s “Most Outstanding Youth Baseball Program in the Nation” for the entire decade of the 1990s. In addition to the baseball opportunities, scholarship and community service are emphasized, with 100% of the L.E.A.D. Ambassador graduates being accepted to college since the program’s inception and over 2,000 hours of community service being performed. Since being formed in 2008, 87% of the participants in the program have gone on to earn college scholarships to play baseball while pursuing higher education.

I don’t know the best way to address the shrinking population of African American collegiate baseball players, but I do know I was shocked to learn that they made up just 4% of CWS team rosters. Certainly the story would be different if we looked at rosters for teams in BCS bowls or March Madness. What I do know is that L.E.A.D. is an amazing organization making progress in this area, so I encourage you to check out their website and support their efforts or similar efforts in your community.

How Title IX Relates to Paying Players

I’ve previously written about some of the impediments to paying college athletes. One of the roadblocks I mentioned is Title IX.

Most of you know Title IX requires comparable treatment of women when it comes to collegiate athletics, and a great many of you also know about the so-called three-prong test for compliance. What some of you seem to not know, however, is that the three-prong test only covers one of three requirements for Title IX compliance.

The three requirement areas are Participation, Athletic Financial Assistance and Treatment of Athletes.

Let’s start with the three-prong test many of you now, which falls under Participation. This area basically measures the opportunities for female vs. male athletes. Institutions can show they comply with this area by meeting one of the following prongs:

  • Proportionality: the institution can show that it offers opportunities for females and males based on their respective enrollment numbers at the university.
  • History and Program Expansion: the institution can show that it has continued to offer new and additional opportunities as the needs of the underrepresented sex have risen.
  • Full accommodation of interests and abilities: the institution can show that the current offerings fully meet the interest level of the underrepresented sex.

The second requirement for compliance deals with Athletic Financial Assistance. The only express requirement under this section is that scholarships be allocated proportionately in accordance with the number of female vs. male athletes. There are two things to discuss here: (i) cost-of-attendance increases for scholarships, and (ii) other types of payment.

Here’s the bottom line for increasing scholarships to cover cost-of-attendance: if scholarships are increased to cost-of-attendance, as suggested recently by Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney and SEC Commissioner Mike Slive, they’ll have to be increased for all student athletes in order to stay in compliance with this requirement.

Ohio State already pays over $15 million back to the university for grants-in-aid. Could they afford a larger number? Sure, although it would mean pulling even more money than they already do from boosters or interest on their endowment, or it could even mean choosing to cut some of the non-revenue sports, most likely men’s sports. 

But what about a school like Western Kentucky? They already spend $5.6 million on grants-in-aid, and it takes $8.2 million from the University to balance their budget. How do they afford to pay players?

I use Western Kentucky as an example because I have their budget in front of me, but there are plenty of programs in AQ conferences who rely on assistance.  Virginia, for example, relies on over $12 million in student fees to balance their budget. Florida State? $6.9 million. How do those programs afford to pay players? And if they can’t find a way to afford it, how do they recruit against the programs who can?

Another wrinkle with increasing scholarships to cover cost-of-attendance is that it might actually disadvantage the student athlete financially. I recently spoke with a member of a compliance department who explained the situation like this:

If you took the federal guidelines for financial aid, schools are not allowed to award a student beyond their COA.  

But currently, a full scholarship student-athlete with an COA of say $20,000 and a full athletic grant-in-aid of $17,000 would be able to receive an additional $5500 in Pell Grant (if eligible) bringing his/her total scholarship/financial aid package to $22,500 without being in violation of federal law. Pell Grants are excluded and can allow a student to go over COA. Now if schools offered a 100% COA athletic scholarship, the same student would only be able to receive $20,000. They would have a shortfall of $2,500. In order to maximize this for the “good of the student-athlete” you would have to reduce the 100% scholarship in order to award the student his/her entitled Pell Grant.
 
This works differently with other grants, scholarships or loans. Under the same scenario but with a student who is not Pell Eligible, they would only be able to receive additional financial up to the COA.

For those who aren’t familiar with Pell Grants, they do not have to be repaid by the recipient.

What if players are paid in some other fashion outside of their scholarship? In the eyes of Title IX, it’s all really the same. The Office of Civil Rights has previously offered this interpretation with regards to boosters or other donors who donate funds for specified sports: a school cannot use earmarked funds as an economic justification for discrimination. The school can honor the sport-specific designation for such donated funds, but it still must comply with the proportionality requirement. It cannot dedicate  those funds to say football, throwing the proportionality out of whack, and then say they had to do so because the funds were earmarked. The excess funds that cannot be applied simply have to be put aside for the future. 

Similarly, those types of funds cannot be used to provide greater benefits to male athletes than female athletes under the next requirement: Other Program Areas.

Other Program Areas basically looks at how athletes of both sexes are treated in terms of facilities, support and benefits. The following eleven criteria are looked at in their totality for each sex:

  • Locker Rooms, Practice and Competitive Facilities: this factor is pretty self-explanatory. It looks at the facilities provided for both practice and competition from the locker room to the playing surface to practice facilities.
  • Equipment and Supplies: again, pretty self-explanatory. The quality, amount, availability, etc. of equipment and supplies will be reviewed.
  • Scheduling of Games and Practice Times: this factor looks at everything from opportunities provided for practice, competition, pre- and post-season to the time of day practices and competitions are held.
  • Publicity: this covers everything from the publications produced for each sport to the resources devoted to promoting each sport.
  • Coaching: this factor encompasses everything from the number of coaches for each sport to the expertise of those coaches, their compensation, etc. When compensation is considered they look to a number of factors, so don’t get carried away with the fact that football and men’s basketball coaches tend to make more. Not only are there a number of things considered under just this factor, but this factor is only one of eleven that are viewed in their totality.
  • Travel and Daily Allowance: this factor is another one that comes into play in the debate over whether athletes should be paid. Not only are the monetary figures considered, but also the length of stay before and after a game or competition.
  • Academic Tutoring: this factor considers the availability of tutors for men’s and women’s programs, the qualifications of those tutors, the compensation provided to them, the number of athletes tutored per session, etc.
  • Provision of Medical Training Facilities and Services: everyone from medical personnel to athletic trainers are considered under this factor. Also included is weight training and conditioning facilities. Expenses and the qualifications of such personnel are all reviewed. 
  • Provision of Housing and Dining Facilities and Service: this one is self-explanatory but covers everything from the type of housing provided, the number of people per room, the laundry services available, parking spaces allotted and housekeeping services.
  • Recruitment of Student Athletes: under this factor there must be equal opportunities to recruit for coaches of both male and female athletes. Monetary expenditures are reviewed as well as the overall treatment of athletes in the recruiting process.
  • Support Services: this factor reviews the administrative-type services provided to each men’s and women’s sport. 

Hopefully you can now see why Title IX provides an enormous road block to paying college athletes. Let me remind you that Title IX is a federal law, not an NCAA regulation.

Cost of Attendance and USC’s Penalty

USC Football - Flickr by @jshyun

There are two things I wanted to touch on today, neither of which merited an entire post. Since they’re somewhat related in that USC may have ended up in their current predicament because players aren’t compensated fairly and thus lured by outside offers of assistance, I’m going to combine them into one post.

Increasing Scholarships to Include Cost of Attendance

College football commentary is abuzz this week with the news that Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney and SEC Commissioner Mike Slive have both made public that they are considering cost of attendance scholarships. Athletic scholarships currently cover room, board, books and tuition. Many claim there is a gap of several thousand dollars where players struggle to be able to do things like take their girlfriend to dinner. Non-athlete students can cover these costs with a part-time job, while athletes already have a part-time job with their athletic involvement. Proponents of paying players, or at least increasing scholarships levels to include cost of attendance, say it’s this gap that allows agents and other outside influences to lure players into breaking the rules.

The first issue I see in allowing athletic scholarships to include the cost of attendance is that it may widen the gap between the have and have nots. If University of Georgia can afford to offer these scholarships but Mississippi State cannot, will this

into a player’s decision?

Also, if you provide these scholarships to some athletes, I think you have to offer them to all athletes. As we’ve discussed here many times before (most recently in this post: Problems with Paying College Athletes), only 14 programs are turning a profit without institutional support. That means going to more costly scholarships is likely to produce an increase in institutional support and even more pressure put on sports who do not generate enough revenue to support themselves.

Cost of attendance is included in some academic scholarships, so on that basis I have trouble saying athletic programs shouldn’t consider it. However, I simply don’t see how they can afford it without creating other problems. I also don’t think it will suddenly resolve the issue of agents and other outsiders luring players with money and benefits. For guys who are willing to cross that line, a few thousand dollars in extra scholarship money is not going to stop them.

USC’s Penalty

Here’s another fairness argument invading every piece of college sports commentary I read. You know how I feel about the fairness discussion. Yesterday all the chatter was about whether or not USC’s penalty is fair.

Many think it’s not fair to punish current players who weren’t around when the violations occurred. I’ve only seen one other solution, however, which is fining USC. I’ve seen several commentators propose that USC should be stripped of all gate receipts, television revenue and BCS revenue from the 2004 season.

Who will this really punish though? It’s unlikely that USC is operating their athletic department in the black without any institutional support. Therefore, those millions of dollars would be taken from the University’s general coffers. Does the rest of the student body deserve this? Would the University pass on this loss to the athletic department by limiting their budget? Perhaps, although I’m not convinced. And if they did pass it on, who would suffer? Sports other than football, I’m sure. Athletes who certainly shouldn’t be punished for misdeeds on the football team.

This is simply an unfortunate situation where the penalty cannot be directly aimed at those who were in the wrong. Instead, it’s aimed at the football program as a whole. It’s severe and certainly meant to be a deterrent. It’s a message to the rest of college football that the NCAA can and will inflict damage to programs thumbing their nose at, or at the very least choosing to remain blissfully ignorant of, NCAA regulations. It sets a scary precedent for programs like UNC and Ohio State who are currently under investigation.

Do you have a better idea for a penalty? Would love to hear them!

The Real Value of a College Athletics Scholarship

Mendez Elder, the teenage boy pictured below, changed my life and he doesn’t even know it. For that reason, I want to talk to you about college athletics scholarships and ask you to help this young man achieve his dreams.

Me and Mendez in 2009 (left) and 2011 (right)

On this blog I focus on the finances of colleges and conferences as it relates to sports. Today, however, I want to focus on the finances required for an athlete to get to those colleges.

Did you dream of going to college? Maybe you were like many and it was simply expected of you. Where I come from, no one who wanted to go to college was denied. Yet only 35 miles from where I was raised there are numerous young men and women who haven’t dared to dream of going to college. They can’t afford it.

For the young men who participate in L.E.A.D., a revolutionary inner-city baseball organization, college isn’t just a fairytale. It’s something they’re taught they can achieve with dedication to their studies and fine-tuning of their skills on the diamond. These young men aren’t playing baseball to become the next major leaguer. They’re playing baseball to earn a college scholarship – the only way most of them will ever set foot on a college campus as a student.

We hear a lot of debate about whether college scholarships are sufficient compensation to college athletes or if they should be paid for their performance on the field. What we fail to discuss is the blockade many young men face trying to earn one of these coveted scholarships. 

Most of the guys I know who played college baseball spent years playing travel baseball and taking private pitching or hitting lessons. Their parents will tell you they spent thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars over the years getting their son to a level where he could compete for a college scholarship.

Collegiate baseball scholarships are getting harder and harder to earn. The NCAA limits the  number of full scholarships in baseball to 11.7, however, the typical team roster is between 25-45 players.  In 2008, new rules were adopted that limited the number of players on aid to 30 for the 2008-2009 season and 27 for the 2009-2010 season.  Scholarships used to be split into amounts that allowed most, if not all, of the roster players to receive some sort of financial aid.  Unfortunately, there was some abuse that caused the new rules to be implemented.  Coaches were giving out “tryout scholarships” which lured the player to campus with a small scholarship.  The amount was small enough that the coach could cut the player during fall practices without if effecting his bottom line.

Sometimes rules aimed at one problem make way for a new kind of problem.  Under the new rules, only 27 players can be on scholarship and each scholarship must be for at least 25% of the tuition, room and board.  Compare that to football where 85 full scholarships are available for about 87 roster spots (active and inactive), or basketball where 13 full scholarships are available for 12-15 roster spots.  Which sport would you choose to play if you were a young African-American athlete who could only get a college education through an athletic scholarship?

Consider this: the champions of the 2009 College World Series, the LSU Tigers, had two African-American players, neither of whom were on baseball scholarships.  Instead, Chad Jones and Jared Mitchell were both on football scholarships.

African-American young men who, like Mendez, grow up in the inner-city simply cannot afford to play travel baseball or take private lessons. Without participation on travel teams or being part of top-notch high school programs, these young men do not develop on the baseball field and/or go unnoticed.

L.E.A.D. has changed that for quite a few young men in Atlanta by creating the first-ever inner-city travel program that doesn’t cost the participants one dime. The L.E.A.D. Ambassadors play against elite travel teams like nearby East Cobb, a perennial contender in AAU and Baseball America’s “Most Outstanding Youth Baseball Program in the Nation” for the entire decade of the 1990s. In addition to the baseball opportunities, scholarship and community service are emphasized, with 100% of the L.E.A.D. Ambassador graduates being accepted to college since the program’s inception and over 2,000 hours of community service being performed. Since being formed in 2008, 87% of the participants in the program have gone on to earn college scholarships to play baseball while pursuing higher education.

Now my friend Mendez Elder has the opportunity to be the first L.E.A.D. player to receive a Division 1 college scholarship. He is only the second player from Atlanta Public Schools to ever  be invited to the Perfect Game National Showcase, which features the nation’s top 150 high school baseball players.

Did you ever dream of playing college athletics? Were you ever told you just didn’t have the money to get there? That’s the situation Mendez is facing right now. Attending the Perfect Game National Showcase takes airfare, several nights of hotel stays and other miscellaneous expenses. L.E.A.D. not only wants to send Mendez to the showcase, but his mother as well. Can you imagine your mother not being there to see you perform and cheer you on? I cannot.

Please take the time to go read some short blogs on L.E.A.D.’s website. The founder of L.E.A.D., CJ Stewart, will briefly tell you about L.E.A.D. and why Mendez Elder is the epitome of what L.E.A.D. hopes to achieve with each and every young man involved. Mendez also answers a few questions about what attending the Perfect Game National Showcase means to him. (Links are at the end.)

If you are moved by Mendez’s story, I encourage you to donate anything you can to help us send Mendez and his mother to the showcase. L.E.A.D. is a 501(c)(3) organization and your donations are tax-deductible.

I’ll leave you with the exchange I had with Mendez that changed my life by getting me involved with L.E.A.D. It was the fall of 2009 and Mendez and I were both attending a luncheon put on by L.E.A.D. for donors and those interested in getting involved. Mendez was a freshman and quiet like most of the young men. The luncheon was in a conference area at my law firm’s office, which was in a brand new high rise. I was introduced to Mendez and soon found myself standing alone with him, unsure of what to say. He surprised me by speaking first.

“What kinds of jobs do people have who work in a building like this?”

It was a simple question, but not one I’d ever received from a teenager. It was asked with the naivety of a child. One who’d never before been in a high-rise office building.

It turned out Mendez had indeed never been in a high-rise office building. Where he grew up, most parents don’t work in high-rise office buildings like my parents and my friends’ parents. He honestly had no idea what sort of businesses were contained inside and what the people within them did every day.

It was Mendez’s simple question that cemented my place in L.E.A.D. I had only recently learned about L.E.A.D. and the luncheon was my first experience. Since then, I’ve joined the Advisory Board and have made it a permanent part of my life. Nothing would bring me more joy than for Mendez, the perfect example of what it means to be a L.E.A.D. Ambassador, to earn a Division 1 college baseball scholarship.

Help me give Mendez the opportunity to make his dreams come true!

Check out blogs from Mendez himself and the founder of L.E.AD., CJ Stewart, here. If you’d like to make a donation, you can do so here (you can designate that your donation is for Mendez’s trip by indicating it in the Comments section of the donation form).

If you have any questions whatsoever, leave them in the comments here and I will get you answers.