If we are to examine the issue of paying the players in the NCAA, we should start at the beginning: what do their scholarships cover?
Athletes caught in the scandal crossfire often also use the excuse that they “had” to do it, citing many times that their scholarship doesn’t cover basic living costs. Why this argument even sees the light of day is beyond me, but let’s go ahead and take this step-by-step. We will specifically focus on section 15 of the NCAA bylaws for most of this. If you want to play along, you can find an entire PDF here.
First, let’s examine what a scholarship can cover and the limits placed on them as outline in bylaw 15.01.6:
An institution shall not award financial aid to a student-athlete that exceeds the cost of attendance that normally is incurred by students enrolled in a comparable program at that institution (see Bylaw 15.1).
Let’s follow the dots here. Bylaw 15.1 states:
A student-athlete shall not be eligible to participate in intercollegiate athletics if he or she receives financial aid that exceeds the value of the cost of attendance as defined in Bylaw 15.02.2. A student-athlete may receive institutional financial aid based on athletics ability (per Bylaw 15.02.4.1), outside financial aid for which athletics participation is a major criterion (per Bylaw 188.8.131.52) and educational expenses awarded per Bylaw 184.108.40.206 up to the value of a full grant-in-aid, plus any other financial aid unrelated to athletics ability up to the cost of attendance. (See Bylaw 15.01.6.1, 15.01.6.2, 16.3, 16.4 and 16.12.)
As that bylaw states, here is the definition of “cost of attendance” as defined by 15.02.2:
The “cost of attendance” is an amount calculated by an institutional financial aid office, using federal regulations, that includes the total cost of tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, transportation, and other expenses related to attendance at the institution.
Just so we are perfectly clear, here is the NCAA definition of “room and board” as outlined in bylaw 15.2.2:
An institution may provide a student-athlete financial aid that includes the cost of room and board, based on the official allowance for a room as listed in the institution’s official publication (e.g., catalog) and a board allowance that consists of three meals per day, even if the institution’s maximum permissible award allowance for all students represents a lesser cost figure.
And if the athlete decides to live off campus, that’s covered in 220.127.116.11:
If a student-athlete lives and eats in noninstitutional facilities, the institution may provide the student-athlete an amount equal to the institution’s official on-campus room allowance as listed in its catalog, the average of the room costs of all of its students living on campus or the cost of room as calculated based on its policies and procedures for calculating the cost of attendance for all students. The institution also may provide the student-athlete an amount that is equivalent to an on-campus 7-day or 21-meal board plan or the cost of meals as calculated based on its policies and procedures for calculating the cost of attendance for all students, excluding those meals provided as part of the training table. Meals provided on the training table shall be deducted at the regular cost figure from such a student-athlete’s board allowance.
And hell, if the university in question doesn’t even have dorms, a dining hall, or a training table, they are covered by 18.104.22.168.3:
If an institution does not provide an official dollar amount for room and board in its catalog and does not have on-campus student room and board facilities, the figure provided to student-athletes for off-campus student room and board shall be the amount determined by the institution’s office of financial aid as being commensurate with the average cost a student at that institution normally would incur living and eating in off-campus facilities.
Finally, to cover all of our bases, let’s cover the case of partial scholarships. As 15.1 states, there is another bylaw, 15.02.4.1 that covers exactly what a player is allowed to receive, and it’s just not an athletic scholarship:
The following sources of financial aid are considered to be institutional financial aid:
(a) All funds administered by the institution, which include but are not limited to the following: (Revised: 1/11/94 effective 8/1/94, 1/14/97 effective 8/1/97)
(3) Tuition waivers;
(4) Employee dependent tuition benefits, unless the parent or the legal guardian of a student-athlete has been employed as a full-time faculty/staff member for a minimum of five years; and (Revised: 4/26/01 effective 8/1/01, 10/31/02 effective 8/1/03)
(5) Loans. (Revised: 10/31/02 effective 8/1/03)
(b) Aid from government or private sources for which the institution is responsible for selecting the recipient or determining the amount of aid, or providing matching or supplementary funds for a previously determined recipient; and (Revised: 10/31/02 effective 8/1/03)
(c) For the student-athlete recruited by the institution, financial aid awarded through an established and continuing outside program (e.g., National Football Foundation) for the recognition of outstanding high school graduates in which athletics participation may be a major criterion, as outlined in Bylaw 22.214.171.124. This aid counts against an institution’s sport-by-sport financial aid limitations and also against the individual’s full-grant-in-aid limit. (Revised: 10/31/02 effective 8/1/03)
Now, yes I realize that is a load of nothing but quotes from the NCAA manual. The point of this though was to make it very clear that any student athlete on a full ride has all of their basic needs covered, even if they decide to live off campus, or even if their school doesn’t have proper facilities such as dorms or a dining hall. The bylaws are written in such a way to ensure that any time a school cannot provide meals per diem can be given as well.
Want an example of per diem by the way? As a student manager at Notre Dame, since the dining hall was closed in the summer, I got a check every week: just over $200 (for roughly $30/day). I don’t even spend that NOW on food.
Of course, all of this doesn’t even take into account the other benefits that athletes receive. Every athlete will receive athletic gear and gym clothes. Many schools offer special academic advising services and tutoring. Training tables are becoming the norm for many athletic programs. Some schools will allow athletes to stay in special dorms that would be premium housing in comparison to a regular dorm…this list could go on and on.
Finally, if an athlete is on a partial scholarship, the NCAA does allow for them to take loans just like any other student can, and usually is forced to do. That excuse doesn’t fly as well.
But what if a student athlete is really struggling, can’t afford gas, and somehow, through all the above bylaws, still needs more assistance? Well, 15.01.6.1 covers such extreme circumstances:
The receipt of monies from the NCAA Special Assistance Fund for student-athletes (see Bylaw 16.12.2) is not included in determining the permissible amount of financial aid that a member institution may award to a student-athlete.
Further examination of Bylaw 16.12.2 states:
A student-athlete may request additional financial aid (with no obligation to repay such aid) from a fund established pursuant to a special financial need program approved by the Leadership Council to assist student-athletes with special financial needs. The institution may provide reasonable local transportation in conjunction with financial assistance approved under this program.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit, I have no idea how hard getting this assistance would be or what the limits are to obtain it (hell, I didn’t even know it existed until I researched this). If this fund is hard to get for students truly in need, then the fault should like squarely on the NCAA and its member institutions for placing their players in such a hardship. However, it is clear that the NCAA has at the very least tried to plan out for these hardships. If players really are struggling, than work should be done to make these funds more accessible, or better educate their players on how to get such assistance.
The fact is, there is no student-athlete on a full ride that is going to be starving and homeless. Players do not need pay in order fulfill their basic needs, there are plenty of avenues available to them.