Is it me or is the NCAA flexing its compliance muscle a little bit more lately? Perhaps that is not the case, but rather the appearance of such is a result of many high profile schools popping up on the NCAA's radar along with the severity of the punishment recently handed down on Southern Cal. Most of these inquiries and investigations deal with players receiving money and other incentives beyond the scope of what is acceptable under the organization's rules. I am left wondering, however, if the ambiguity of many of the NCAA's bylaws has caused these problems in the first place.
In the first part of a series of columns in which I will look at some of these bylaws, I would like to take a quick look at how much it actually costs to attend college and the maximum dollar amount a school can provide for a grant in aid, commonly referred to as a "full scholarship".
Full scholarships fall short of the total cost of attendance leaving the student-athlete responsible for the balance.
NCAA Bylaw: 15.01.6 Maximum Institutional Financial Aid to Individual. An institution shall not award financial aid to a student-athlete that exceeds the cost of attendance that normally is incurred by students enrolled in a comparable program at that institution.
According to the University of Georgia's website, the total cost per-year for an undergraduate for a single year of attendance is $19,736.00. According to Assistant Athletic Director for Compliance at UGA Eric
Baumgartner, student-athletes receive $17,816.00 towards this cost via their scholarship. The difference between the two amounts is $1,920.00.
This is not a problem only at Georgia, but rather a problem across college sports, and this is why groups like the National College Players Association have called for changes to the rules.
"Rather than receiving an all expenses paid college education, athletes who are the recipients of a full scholarship still have bills to pay associated with their schooling," reads the NCPA website. "What this means is that the formula on which the athletic scholarship is based predicts that athletes, even the most highly visible and most successful, will not receive a full ride during their collegiate careers because of a gap between what the scholarship covers and what the cost of attendance at a given school is."
In all, the average Southeastern Conference football player will pay just over $3,200.00 per-year or $16,000.00 over the course of a five-year career, out-of-pocket in costs not covered by an athletic scholarship.
According to Baumgartner, scholarship funds "consists of tuition, room, board, books, and required fees."
In addition to the nearly $2,000.00 per year not covered by an athletic scholarship at UGA, funds for such things as trips home or dinner at a local restaurant or a night at the movies are tough to come by for student-athletes that lack family financial support.
"It is a real problem, but one that most people do not want to know about," said one former player.
Without breaking down the numbers of student-athletes that come from homes that are at or below the poverty line it is safe to assume there are many.
The answer? Get a job.
NCAA bylaw 12.4.1 states that student-athletes can only be compensated for "work actually performed; and . . . At a rate commensurate with the going rate in that locality for similar services." Furthermore, the "compensation may not include any remuneration for value or utility that the student-athlete may have for the employer because of the publicity, reputation, fame or personal following that he or she has obtained because of athletics ability."
I would venture to guess that most 18-22 year olds do not qualify for employment that pays much more than minimum wage based solely on their qualifications.
"Most of our student employees work less than 20 hours a week for about ten dollars an hour," said one UGA employee that asked not to be named in this story. While that pay rate is nearly $3 above the minimum wage, it would equate only about $700 or so each month.
But there is more to the equation--student-athletes do not have 20 hours per week to work.
"It's a year-round gig," UGASports.com's Anthony Dasher explains in regards to the athletic responsibilities of a student-athlete. "The winter weight program typically begins the second week of January, continues through February with Mat Drills, and then there is spring practice that lasts until mid-April. Players get May off, and many go home, but pretty much everyone keeps working out before arriving back in early June to start summer workouts."
Beyond athletic responsibilities, there is practice, meetings, games, and travel that occur between August and the end of the year.
Identifying this issue will not be popular with college coaches. The NCPA, which enlisted the aid of college professors to review this situation to determine the difference between scholarship payments and actual costs, feels the same way.
"Will this information make the recruiting process more difficult for coaches? Potentially," reads their Examination of the Financial Shortfall of Athletes on Full Scholarship. "However, in a college sport marketplace where college coaches are increasingly using sales approaches to persuade highly recruited athletes to commit to their institution, empowering athletes with information that will allow them to ask questions and realistically understand what the financial obligations of being a scholarship athlete are seems only fair. "
According to the NCAA's total revenue distribution by conference, the association paid out $388,901,904.00 to member institutions for the 2008-2009 season. Of that, $103,124,994.00 went to grants in aid for student-athletes. Presumably, the remaining $285,776,910.00 goes to payroll and other overhead.
I am not an accountant, but, if we just took the average cost per year of an SEC student-athlete and multiplied that by 120, which is the number of Division 1 schools, the NCAA would still have $266,192,910.00 to cover their costs.
I do not champion players accepting money from outside sources such as agents or boosters, but, so long as student-athletes are expected to operate under this arrangement, is it any wonder that some might choose to take the easier path?