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Division I institutions divided on athlete perks

Student athletes cannot be paid but the NCAA permits “cost of attendance”
University Business, November 2015
Nayef H. Samhat, president of Wofford College, believes cost of attendance would limit athletics program options for students at schools like his. The Wofford’s men’s basketball team emerged from the 2014-15 season as Southern Conference regular season champions and Southern Conference Tournament champions.
Nayef H. Samhat, president of Wofford College, believes cost of attendance would limit athletics program options for students at schools like his. The Wofford’s men’s basketball team emerged from the 2014-15 season as Southern Conference regular season champions and Southern Conference Tournament champions.

A resolution to the now-standard debate over college athlete compensation was reached, and measures of opposition were quick to follow.

While student athletes cannot be paid for their efforts in a paycheck, as of Aug. 1, the NCAA permits “cost of attendance”—a $2,000 to $5,000 yearly stipend given in addition to scholarships, intended to cover travel, cell phone bills and other costs of living.

Several prominent Division I conferences (including the American Athletic Conference and Conference USA) have expressed support for cost of attendance, and Division I schools such as the University of Virginia and The University of Alabama now provide it; but not all member schools are on board.

In September, nine of these institutions (including James Madison University, Hofstra University and the University of New Hampshire) drafted a letter explaining why they would not offer cost of attendance to their athletes. Concerns ranged from professionalizing their students’ university experiences to perpetuating a certain misconception around college-level athletics.

“The widely held public opinion that athletic programs at every institution are ‘profit centers’ for the institution and that the athletes are being taken advantage of in the quest for revenues is simply not true,” reads the letter, titled “Another presidential perspective on college athletics.”

Nayef H. Samhat, president of Wofford College in South Carolina, explains how cost of attendance would most likely hurt his institution.

“Traditionally, athletics scholarships are ‘need blind,’ meaning they are awarded based on athletic ability, with little—if any—consideration of financial need. These scholarships are often the largest and best non-loan student financial aid on campus,” he says.

“Spending more money on stipends for certain high-profile sports could lead to pressures to eliminate other varsity sports on campus, limiting the athletics experiences available to many of our students and/or causing an increase in tuition and fees for all students.”

Tracking cost-of-attendance spending is difficult as well—currently, there is no system in place to do so.

“In theory, an athletics department could create rules about how and where athletes could spend money,” says Scott Schneider, a higher education lawyer with New Orleans-based Fisher & Phillips. “But as a practical matter, most of these departments have enough on their plates, as they do a fair amount of athlete babysitting already.”

Many college athletic departments, he points out, follow academic progress as well as disciplinary reports of its students, and it is doubtful these staff have the manpower to add financial tracking to their rosters.

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