The outburst of opinions from high-profile administrators about adjusting Division I financial aid limitations has the news wires crackling.
So, what are we talking about, based on remarks made over the last several days?
Britton Banowsky, Conference USA: “Universities justify spending tens of millions of dollars on coaches’ compensation, with a seemingly insatiable appetite for more growth. At the same time, a small fraction of that amount is spent on all scholarships for all student-athletes. Unless the student-athletes in the revenue-producing sports get more of the pie, the model will eventually break down. It seems it is only a matter of time.”
John Swofford, Atlantic Coast Conference: “Could it be limited to only revenue-producing sports? I’m not sure we would want to do it. And from a legal standpoint, how does it mesh with Title IX? I think we’re a ways away from getting there. But it’s a student-athlete welfare issue. It’s a way to enhance the student-athlete experience and put a dent in some of the financial strains that some athletes have.”
Gene Smith, Ohio State AD: “The reality is that schools can afford it more than you realize…Just look at some of the television contracts that have come out recently.”
Mike Slive, Southeastern Conference: “I have long thought that we should revisit the current limitations on athletic scholarships by expanding to the full cost of attendance. This is a student-welfare issue that deserves full consideration at both the conference and national level. I look forward to that discussion.”
Jon Steinbrecher, Mid-American Conference: “The first question to answer is − is this the right thing to do? That is a worthwhile debate. As an association the NCAA strives to differentiate intercollegiate athletics from professional sports, and it is important that we continue to maintain the collegiate model.”
Tommy Bell, Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne AD: “There is a small percentage of the NCAA membership that has the financial wherewithal to even consider that. The overwhelming number of schools are not in a position to do that.”
Jim Delany, Big Ten commissioner: “There are some conferences and some institutions that have higher resources than others …. Forty years ago, you had a scholarship plus $15-a-month laundry money. Today, you have the same scholarship, but not with the $15 laundry money. How do we get back more toward the collegiate model and a regulatory system that is based more on student-athlete welfare than it is on a level playing field, where everything is about a cost issue and whether or not everybody can afford to do everything everybody else can do?”
Troy Dannen, Northern Iowa AD: “Television has already put certain leagues in a position where they’re playing a game that no one else can play. The cost-of-living component issue is a legitimate problem, and the NCAA is on-record saying that. I don’t think that’s any secret. I would much prefer the NCAA look for a way that all institutions across the board can address the problem as one.”
You don’t have to be Hercule Poirot to see that some of these men are more enthusiastic than others about the prospect of this change. Larger financial aid packages likely would broaden the competitive gap between the biggest programs and those that are struggling to make ends meet now. As a number of commentators noted, administrators from Division I’s “equity conferences” do not appear to be losing much sleep over that concern.
Dannen, the Northern Iowa AD, correctly alluded to the fact that discussions about full cost of attendance are not new. The late NCAA President Myles Brand had a dalliance with the topic, and Mark Emmert has been all about discussing the idea almost from the day he assumed the NCAA presidency last September.
Where this goes next isn’t exactly clear. As Delany said, there’s “a long way between the talk and the action.” Presumably, there’s going to be a lot of chatter at conference and NCAA meetings over the next several months.
Finally, I thought columnist Drew Sharp offered an effective contrarian view on the subject. Writing in Friday’s Detroit Free Press, he cautioned that what’s being discussed likely would not sanitize big-time sports: “The fallacy in paying scholarship athletes a regular stipend is the delusion that such practices would reduce the covert dirty dealing that too often turns big-time college sports into a prime-time-televised pig sty,” he wrote. “Even if you pay them all you want up front and in the open, it won’t stop some players from demanding even more from scurrilous boosters and sports agent ‘runners.’ ”