This is the abbreviated version of an article I did for the website CoachGeorgeRaveling.com. I encourage you to visit George’s website, not merely for the expanded version of my article, but for the entire experience, e.g. video interviews with giants of the sporting world (David Falk, John Calipari, Hubie Brown, Harry Edwards, etc.), me interviewing George, terrific articles (this is the fourth one I’ve done for his website), inspiring books to read, restaurants to visits and, simply, life lessons.
College football and men’s basketball teams make obscene amounts of money while student-athletes get only scholarships. It pays for room, board, books, tuition and fees but does not cover total cost of attendance. They need more.
How much more? Well, there’s a way for them to get over $6000 more each year. UConn star (and Final Four MVP) Shabazz Napier claimed there were nights he went to bed starving. If a student-athlete is that financially strapped, he would qualify for a Pell Grant, which can be up to $5645 for the school year or, if he stayed at school all 12 months, a payout of $470/month. Unless his place of choice for burgers is Ruth’s Chris, that should be enough to assuage any late night hunger. I know this pity party by players is absolute and complete BS because I worked for 30 years at 9 Division I schools (1972-2002). At each, I would help players and their, often single, parent(s) fill out the Pell Grant form. Nearly all qualified, most for the entire amount.
“Well, how about the kid who doesn’t qualify for full Pell Grant money?” you might ask. Hold on. The initial complaint – and the loudest one - was for the poor kid who couldn’t afford what his regular classmates could. The information above should sufficiently eliminate that concern.
As for the kids who don’t qualify for any Pell money, those parents can subsidize their child. My son is a scholarship basketball player at Division II Cal State Monterey Bay. He has a debit card and receives an automatic deposit from us into his account each Friday. This isn’t fun but is certainly not a hardship on us. Neither my wife nor I come from money. The maximum salary I ever made was $75K and my wife’s was in the same range as mine, so our disposable income is not unlimited. Yet, our son lives comfortably - as do we. However, just as is the case with Napier, there are some nights he might be starving. That’s not due to his not having enough money. The reason for his hunger is because he mismanages the money he gets.
I’ll go online to check his account and there are weeks when his balance is less than $5 – on Monday. He spends money like it comes from a bottomless pit. Pizza Hut, Chipotle, other eateries, even though he has the best meal plan the school offers. Basically, he’s learning about budgeting money, i.e. when he runs out, he has to wait until the next Friday to get more. I’m absolutely certain that if we gave him more, he’d still have the identical problem.
Student-athletes get their scholarship checks monthly, so they likely have longer to go without. Pell Grant money is given each semester. No wonder they have a problem! They receive a substantial amount of money and it’s burning a hole in their pockets. They have enough. It’s just that they want more. Shouldn’t college be the place where kids ought to struggle with money problems? It helps after they graduate, get a job and have to live on their own.
There are additional revenue sources to Pell Grant. One is called the NCAA Student-Athlete Special Assistance Fund. It covers basic or emergency expenses “for which financial assistance is not otherwise available.” Student-athletes can use this money, not to exceed $500, to pay their phone bill or buy some clothes. The NCAA has $10,868,000 in available money in this fund. Believe it or not, some schools are unaware this fun even exists. In addition, this fund also covers family emergencies, too, for which there is no monetary limit.
A fund that is more loosely restricted, i.e. available to all student-athletes, regardless of financial need, whether they’ve exhausted their eligibility, or no longer compete due to medical reasons, is the NCAA Student-Athlete Opportunity Fund. This one can be used for personal and educational needs such as travel home, computers and other school supplies, clothing, medical expenses for spouses and dependents, summer school, degree-completion programs and professional development. The NCAA has $57 million available in this fund. Anyone who is on scholarship qualifies for this award.
No one should complain. But not just for monetary reasons. There are additional perks student-athletes have access to that regular students don’t - and every student-athlete desperately needs to take advantage of them. Ask yourself the question, “Why does a person go to college in the first place – as opposed to immediately joining the work force?” It’s to get a better job!
Student-athletes are constantly in the media spotlight, be it on TV or radio, or in print – which today means newspaper, magazine, online or social media. Every player must realize that every time he opens his mouth, it’s akin to interviewing with his potential employer. Relationship building is paramount to obtaining gainful employment – and getting to know decision-makers is the best way to start. What better way for relationships to be built?
Nearly all business owners or their significant others - or their kids - want to know college athletes, because like it or not, athletes are celebrities. Maybe it’s an autograph session the media relations department set up, maybe it’s a request for a student-athlete to show up at the party of a booster’s kid (because he’s the youngster’s favorite player), maybe it’s a charity event. Each interaction with a president, CEO, HR person, whoever, is an opportunity to sell himself – an opportunity the regular student is not afforded. If the athlete takes advantage of this, it can lead to employment, or at least an interview – the major goal of the college graduate.
This advantage alone is worth more than any stipend the NCAA could allocate.
All of this – the assisting with Pell, explaining how to get money through the various NCAA funds that give money to student-athletes, the ability to meet influential people – are tools not available to the regular student.
Those who demand stipends for student-athletes fall into the category of:
“Some people know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.”