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Colleges shouldn't increase athletic scholarships to include "cost of attendance"
Playing major college sports borders on a full-time gig. Games, practice and travel. Conditioning, film study and community appearances.
Oh, and did someone mention academics?
But contrary to what some maintain, scholarship athletes are not modern-day indentured servants.
Their tuition, room and board are covered, a wonderful benefit considering the U.S. Census Bureau says the average annual salary for a worker with a bachelor’s degree is 72 percent higher than for someone with only a high school diploma.
Moreover, athletes eat well, often beyond their means, and receive first-rate medical care. At their disposal is virtually unlimited academic support — tutors, computer labs, study halls — of which regular students can only dream.
“I just sit here and scratch my head and wonder, how much is enough?” Old Dominion athletic director Wood Selig said. “It’s amazing what we’re doing for student-athletes these days.”
What also has Selig, among others, scratching his head is an ill-advised concept, most recently floated by Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, to do more, to add “cost of attendance” to Division I athletic scholarships.
Such an allowance, to cover expenses such as transportation, clothing and entertainment, would range from $2,000 to $5,000 annually, depending on the institution.
Thanks to new television contracts, schools in conferences such as the Big Ten, Pacific 12 and Southeastern might be able to absorb the expense. But a vast majority of Division I could not, especially Football Championship Subdivision institutions such as ODU, William and Mary, Hampton and Norfolk State.
Consider ODU. Selig said the Monarchs have approximately 440 scholarship athletes. Multiply that by $3,000 and you have $1.32 million in additional annual costs. This for a department with an annual budget of $32 million, $8 million of which is funneled to debt service.
“They are playing with house money,” Selig said of the Ohio States and Alabamas. “They just redid their TV deals, and with that financial windfall, the million dollars certainly isn’t as scary to them as it is to us.
“I really don’t know where we’d come up with a million new dollars every year to subsidize such an initiative. Sometimes I think those schools with $100-million budgets really look for ways to spend money.”
Indeed, with TV contracts that figure to net each school between $17 million and $21 million annually, the SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12 are newly flush and uniquely positioned. Even the ACC, with “only” $12.9 million-per-school in future television revenue, is willing to explore Delany’s trial balloon, commissioner John Swofford said.
For example, Virginia has 471 athletes on either full or partial grants, according to athletic director Craig Littlepage. A $3,000 cost-of-attendance allowance would then cost the Cavaliers $1.41 million.
And don’t even think about limiting the stipend to athletes in the revenue-producing sports — football and men’s basketball. Title IX lawyers would drive like Kyle Busch to the nearest courthouse.
“It might be worth looking at the structure of (Bowl Subdivision) football since the financial landscape is so much different compared to programs that aren’t playing (at that level),” Littlepage said. “I wouldn’t think the power conferences (would) separate from Division I, but I could see different rules or a different structure of some type being proposed for FBS-playing institutions.”
There’s the rub. The cost-of-attendance concept smells like secession. Since the 65 power-conference schools will never convince Division I’s 300-plus remaining members to approve the additional expense, they’ll need to play by different rules or divorce completely.
Delany and his supporters claim this is about student-athlete welfare and fairness. That sounds charitable, but let’s not forget, the NCAA already has special assistance funds.
So if an athlete of modest means needs a coat to stay warm or a flight home for a family emergency, the money is available. Plus, athletes are eligible for government-financed Pell Grants targeted for impoverished students.
Not to sound callous, but every college student doesn’t need a car and the latest droid. Hitch a ride home with a friend and cope with a flip phone. You’ll survive.
“I think sometimes too much is made about what (athletes) don’t get,” Selig said. “The NCAA is all about leveling the playing field, not blowing it up, and this would blow it up.”