Sunday, September 29, 2013

Straight Talk from Rutgers AD on NCAA Stipend Proposal

Rutgers University Athletic Director Julie Hermann was interviewed in the local press about the challenges of helping college athletes cover the true cost of education.  Last year, the NCAA voted to allow Division I institutions to award $2000 cost-of-living stipends to those athletes already receiving a full scholarship, to cover the kind of incidentals outside of tuition, room and board.  The plan was later rescinded but the concept is still under consideration.  

As Hermann notes, the original stipend plan was inequitable from the start in terms of gender, given that far more male athletes (those in so-called "headcount sports") than female receive full scholarships and would be eligible for the stipend.  Counting the scholarships awarded in the headcount sports of men's football and basketball, Hermann notes, " you have $200,000 you can now award to your men, which is great. But that only gives you $60,000 that you can award on the women’s side [in volleyball and basketball]. You’re automatically $140,000 off.”

There's not an obvious fix, it seems.  Simply expanding eligibility to include equivalency sports, Hermann explains, would tremendously increase the total cost to institutions of funding the stipend.  People view the stipends as a way to share the profits with the athletes whose efforts generate those funds.  But most university athletic departments, even those with football programs, are not profiting on athletics.  Hermann notes that many football programs don't even turn a profit.  So the money for the stipends is coming from the university (tuition) or elsewhere in the athletics budget. So the possible consequence is that universities will cut equivalency sports in order to be able to pay out stipends to everyone else -- something Hermann doesn't want to see. 

Another challenge with the stipends, it appears, is that there's some evidence suggesting the students who received them didn't spend them as intended: "They’re buying a $500 pair of jeans that you and I don’t spend money on. So yes we could make them a card, but you have to teach them financial management. We’re trying to feed and clothe you, give you everything you need (via the stipend), but we’re not trying to make you into fashionistas."

Hermann's right that there's no easy answer to the fundamental questions of fairness that underlie this issue.  It's good to know that athletic directors like Hermann are cognizant of the gender equity implications as well as the potential implications for equivalency sports. Her remarks suggest that for most schools, stipends are not the answer, and will only drive an additional wedge between athletes in some sports that happen to be  popular with the public and others that are not.  It's becoming increasingly difficult to imagine an NCAA that governs the handful of profit-earning institutions along with everybody else.