From athletic directors all the way down to college sports fans, many have debated for years whether a student-athlete’s full scholarship should cover more than the cost of tuition, room and board, books and fees.
Now it will.
The NCAA announced two major reforms in college athletics last week to go into effect for the 2012-13 academic year — one that toughens academic standards for student-athletes, and one that now allows universities to pay a $2,000 stipend per full-scholarship athlete to help cover what the NCAA calls the “full cost of attendance.”
The NCAA’s Division I Board of Directors announced the reforms Thursday and adopted stricter academic standards for freshman athletes and athletes that transfer in from two-year schools. It also raised the minimum four-year Academic Progress Rate that a team must meet in order to compete in postseason play.
“The NCAA is trying to improve student-athlete preparation entering college and improve their retention and graduation rate,” Director of the McNamara Academic Center for Student-Athletes Lynn Holleran said, calling it a positive development.
The newly raised APR of 930, which equates to a 50 percent graduation success rate, would have kept last year’s basketball national champion Connecticut from competing in the NCAA tournament.
Paying amateur players?
College athletic conferences can now allow their member schools to provide up to $2,000 on top of the amount of an athlete’s full scholarship in spending money. The new rule only applies to student-athletes who receive full scholarships from universities.
“We’re not certain how much this will cost [the University of Minnesota],” athletics director Joel Maturi said. “We think it will approach the $450,000 mark, since I estimate us having about 225 full scholarships.”
The Big Ten and other major conferences are expected to uniformly dish out the additional financial aid.
“If you’re going to be a part of the Big Ten, and the Big Ten decides to do it, I don’t know how you say ‘no’ to it. It would become a distinct recruiting disadvantage if we didn’t,” Maturi said.
Full scholarships at the University primarily go to football, men’s and women’s basketball, women’s gymnastics, tennis and volleyball, as they are the “head count” sports — those for which the NCAA limits the amount of scholarships given, but allows each scholarship to be a full ride.
There are various concerns surrounding this stipend: Is it enough money? Where will the money come from? Can every school afford it?
The $2,000 amount averages a little more than $220 per month for athletes over the nine-month academic year.
At the Big Ten’s basketball media days in Chicago last week, Commissioner Jim Delany said studies have shown the average athlete pays roughly $3,000 to $4,000 annually out of his or her own pocket in college costs.
The NCAA announced with the reforms, however, that it will not revisit the figure until three years after its implementation.
“Indirectly, the [Big Ten and NCAA] will help,” Maturi said. “The monies we get from the NCAA basketball tournament, football bowl games and television contracts will all serve as significant resources for us. But that’s the concern surrounding student-athletes who feel they have earned this [money] and that they aren’t receiving their rightful share.”
Even though NCAA President Mark Emmert refuses to “pay players,” he was vocal in the support of this $2,000 stipend, a fix that has not ended the talk of paying amateur athletes.
An advocacy group called the National College Players Association released a petition last week with 300 signatures from football and basketball players at Arizona, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Purdue and UCLA.
These athletes called for a share of the revenue from new NCAA television contracts as well as those of the football Bowl Championship Series conferences.
They also asked for insurance against sports-related medical expenses and an “educational lockbox” with money available to graduated athletes that abided by NCAA rules.
The NCPA said it plans to circulate the petition to more schools.
There is also a growing concern, which Maturi said he shares, on whether this sweeping financial reform is fair across all athletic departments.
“Not all Division I schools are going to be able to afford this,” Maturi said. “It is a significant amount of money, especially with the immediacy of it. You can’t plan for it if it is going to be in place as early as next year.”
Many fear the wealth gap will increase and the recruiting scale will tip if upper, non-BCS automatic qualifying programs like the University of Nevada-Las Vegas can’t afford the stipend when low-end BCS automatic-qualifier schools like Washington State can.
The basis behind the fear is that student-athletes searching for a school to compete at will be more likely to choose the one that offers them more money.
The NCAA also raised eligibility standards for incoming freshmen and junior college transfers.
High school seniors will now need a 2.3 GPA and 10 of their 16 core courses completed before the beginning of their senior year. Previously, they needed a 2.0 GPA in 16 core courses altogether upon high school graduation.
“Those core courses are the best indicator of a student’s success,” Holleran said. “The more students in our incoming freshmen classes that are well prepared, the better.”
Junior college transfers will now need a 2.5 GPA to be eligible, up from 2.0.
The raised Academic Progress Rate from 900 to 930 would have left seven men’s basketball teams and eight football teams ineligible for the postseason last year, according to NCAA President Mark Emmert.
The Gophers’ closest ineligibility comes from the football team, which had an APR of 928 last year.
“We absolutely have some issues,” Maturi said. “Coach [Jerry] Kill has inherited some challenges.”
The Gophers’ football team still has a four-year APR of 935, but along with others, Maturi cited the coaching turnover as a primary reason for the decreased APR last year.
“Whenever you have a change in coaches, some kids buy in and some kids don’t.” Maturi said. “Because of that, we’ll end up losing some points due to kids transferring.”
The APR is structured in a way such that universities lose points if student-athletes transfer, even if they are academically eligible to play at the time.
Kill’s new contract can award him a bonus of $30,000, $50,000 or $75,000 for reaching a one-year APR of 940, 950 or 960, respectively.
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