In March of his senior year, Shane Battier wrote a piece for Maxim in which he ruminated about his time at Duke, his life as a model scholar-athlete, and the abundance of money being tossed around in college athletics. The former Duke All-American recalled some of his experiences—“this heavyset guy” that chased Battier down while he was walking the streets of Birmingham just to give him a business card, the countless people that offered to buy him dinner or give him a store discount, the slithering agents who sent him letters every week, promising fortune.
Yet Battier, a man who resonates character and conviction, had more interesting things to discuss than just the many temptations that were piled on his 6-foot-8 shoulders.
“The way I see it, playing college basketball is a full-time job... with overtime,” Battier wrote. “And I ought to get paid for it.”
Such is an argument that many have made over the years, specifically for basketball and football players. The rationale varies, but the most compelling points are as follows: Football and basketball players raise massive amounts of revenue for their respective schools, yet they see none of it directly. By providing funds, individuals would be less inclined to leave college early for the professional ranks.
The latter assumes huge chunks of money would be hurled at the athletes, which is not what Battier was proposing. The former position was supported, however, by Nebraska State Sen. Ernie Chambers, who submitted a bill in 2003 that would allow football players at Nebraska to receive a stipend.
“They are unpaid workers, and in big-time college athletics, not just football, there are no amateurs,” he told USA Today. “Whenever you get something of value for performing athletically, you’re a professional. They call it a scholarship, fees, books, tuition and so forth. What I want is the athletes to have some spendable money.”
Similar initiatives have been pursued in Iowa, Texas and California, where legislators approved a bill in May that would bar the NCAA from governing its 47 colleges and universities unless schools gave more than they currently do for the welfare of student-athletes.
And this certainly is not about gobs of money (at least not individually) as Battier articulated in his op-ed piece. “I’m not talking about NBA money,” he wrote. “I’m talking about improving the quality of life for the players.”
On this point, NCAA President Myles Brand agrees. This would not have any semblance of a pay-for-play situation, which Brand says would “ruin the integrity of the college game.” Instead, Brand has publicly welcomed the notion of a sort of extended scholarship in which $2,000 to $3,000 more would be given to athletes. This money would cover the essential items not currently covered by scholarships—transportation, toiletries, groceries, etc.
“In my mind it would apply to all varsity sports,” Brand said to The New York Times. “That has to be decided. I don’t see any reason to make it exclusively to the two revenue sports, football and basketball. One way to close the gap would be to use the three-quarters of a billion that the NCAA provides to the universities through their conferences.”
NCAA is distributing the money Brand mentioned to schools over the next 11 years, and a projected $11.33 million will “cover clothing, emergency travel and educational and medical expenses” for needy students, according to USA Today. Another funding measure, tabbed at $19.2 million in 2004-05, is marked for “an array of personal needs” and is not limited to disadvantaged student-athletes.
These programs, plus the two currently in place—one that helps student-athletes in financial need pay for basic or emergency expenses, and another that covers academic supplies, medical and dental costs and “other essential expenses”—would all seem to be more than satisfactory.
But the paperwork involved in requesting such funds is, to put it euphemistically, a hassle. So those legalities aside, here’s where the stipend-debate gets really messy.
Who would be eligible for the stipend? All athletes, regardless of their sport or their scholarship status (full, partial or none)?
I’d contend that only student-athletes with full scholarships could be eligible. And beyond that, not everyone should receive funds—only those that need it ought to get it. This stipulation would prove difficult, as the NCAA would have to define some standard by which everyone could follow in terms of who would be eligible for money. Consider, it would be unfair for one school to provide a stipend for a student-athlete whose family made less than $40,000 a year, while another school could only provide for those whose families’ made $20,000 annually. And finally, every stipend would be of the same value, regardless of the sport or the school.
What of the non-athletes that are on full academic scholarships? Presumably, they would have the time to work and earn sufficient money, which the standard Division I varsity athlete does not have due to games and in/off-season practice and training. Making the time for a job is not an option for an athlete on a full scholarship—otherwise, they’d lose the scholarship altogether (which is another issue for another day). Granted, a student on an academic ride must maintain certain levels of academic excellence, which requires considerable time and energy. But an athlete must, in theory, accomplish this in addition to spending obscene amounts of time and energy on his sport. This defense is suspect to those on debating scholarships, and other such financial aid packages.
What of the athletes that are only on partial scholarships? Presumably, if the family was willing and able to cover the remaining costs of the school, it would also be willing and able to cover the costs of groceries, transportation, etc.
Being at college, regardless of one’s status, is a privilege in and of itself. So, too, is playing a college sport. But it is also—now more than ever—a job, as well. Other extracurricular activities, be they theater, dance, student government or student journalism, also have job-like demands on time and energy. But any of these activities could be dropped without risking one’s scholarship status. That is the clear distinction which must be considered. And while it is a student-athlete’s choice to participate in a sport in college, the funding of that education hinges on that participation. Writing for a school paper does not.