NCAA Weighs Changes to $2,000 Stipend Based on Financial Need

Updated 2/9/12 at 5:42 p.m.

Fewer major-college athletes may be eligible to receive extra money toward their cost of attendance, under a new proposal being considered by Division I colleges, according to an NCAA document obtained by The Chronicle.

The plan, which is to be voted on next week by an NCAA working group and would still need the endorsement of the NCAA’s Division I Board of Directors to go into effect, would require athletes to prove financial need before they could qualify for an extra $2,000 stipend. An earlier proposal, approved by the board last fall but revoked after strong pushback from more than half of the Division I institutions, would have allowed colleges to provide the additional $2,000 to any full-scholarship athlete, not based on need.

“The idea of students’ getting the money who may not need it just did not sit well with a lot of people,” said Percy Bates, the faculty athletics representative at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. “Now we’re saying, ‘There’s extra money available—but only if you qualify.’”

That could help allay cost concerns from the more than 160 institutions that voted to override the earlier policy. But it will still be too costly for many colleges, said Portia Shields, president of Tennessee State University.

“Our athletes already get free room, board, tuition, books, and fees,” she said. “I’m not trying to keep athletes from getting money they need. But the only way to get more money to them would be to raise fees on all students.”

Sidney A. McPhee, president of Middle Tennessee State University and chair of the Student-Athlete Well-Being working group, said he hoped the changes satisfy more colleges that complained they could not afford to give the extra money, as well as those that expressed concerns over gender equity and the stockpiling of athletes at rich institutions.

Unlike the earlier proposal, the new plan would allow athletes on partial scholarship to qualify for a proportionate share of the extra money, if they could prove they needed it. An athlete on a half scholarship, in other words, would be eligible for an extra $1,000, if she had financial need.

“That was an important change,” Mr. Bates said, “because students on partial scholarship are often the ones who need it the most.”

The new proposal, if approved by the board, would most likely not go into effect until the 2013-14 academic year, Mr. McPhee said. That would allow colleges additional time to budget for the added costs.

It’s unclear how many fewer athletes would be eligible to receive the extra money. Under the proposal, student need would be partly based on each college’s published cost of attendance. At some institutions, the gap between that cost and what athletes receive for their athletics aid is more than $4,000.

“When you consider that, I’m not so sure that you will see a significant drop in terms of the students who will be eligible,” Mr. McPhee said. Over the next few weeks, he said, financial-aid officers around the country will be helping to weigh how many students would be affected by the new proposal.

The new plan would cap the amount students could receive at $2,000.

One added challenge under the new proposal: recruiting. “Before, you could take this $2,000 and give it to any full-scholarship athlete,” Mr. Bates said. “Now you would have to say, ‘We can give you the money, but you have to prove you need it first.”

An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that the Student-Athlete Well-Being working group had already approved the new cost-of-attendance proposal.  The group is set to vote on the proposal next week.

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