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NCAA weighing $2,000 payments to student athletes

By Frederic J. Frommer
Associated Press / October 24, 2011

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WASHINGTON—NCAA President Mark Emmert backed a proposal to allow conferences to increase grants to student athletes by $2,000, "to more closely approach" the full cost of attending college, beyond the athletic scholarships athletes receive for tuition, fees, room, board and books.

Emmert told the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics on Monday that the proposal will be finalized this week and he'll ask the NCAA Division I Board of Directors to support it at their meeting Thursday. He noted that student athletes have limited opportunities to work outside the classroom and playing fields, and that the current model of athletic scholarship hasn't changed for 40 years.

Emmert says he'll also ask the board to allow colleges and universities to provide multiyear grants, instead of year-to-year scholarships.

"We are going to create a model that would allow -- probably ... up to $2,000 in addition to" tuition, fees, room and board, books and supplies.

Emmert said he expected all of the Bowl Championship Series conferences to adopt it -- at least those six that get automatic bids to BCS bowl games -- because they have the revenue stream to afford it.

"Will schools underneath that?" he asked. "I don't know. So you don't want to put a conference or a school in a position with a mandatory expense, and the only way to pay for it is to cut scholarships."

One university president on a later panel said he opposed the proposal. Boise State president Robert Kustra urged supporters of the plan to look at the support that Division I student athletes receive, and compare it to "the rest of our students, who are making minimum wage, collecting tips, trying to find their way into their next semester at the university ... Go back and examine the life of a student athlete in intercollegiate sports in America today, and see how privileged they are to be where they are and the opportunities they have."

Kustra also warned that the proposal will give some schools a competitive advantage over others.

"You just heard President Emmert say that some conferences will, some conferences won't. Well gee, I wonder who will, and I wonder who won't," he said to laughter. "I think I know the answer to that. The haves will, and the have-nots will try -- I'll try -- but many will not be able to. And so what you're doing, then, is fueling a little bit more of this BCS/anti-BCS debate." Bosie State belongs to the Mountain West Conference, which does not receive an automatic bid to a BCS bowl game.

Another panelist, LSU Chancellor Michael Martin, said in an interview after the meeting that he was undecided on the proposal.

"I think institutions like us could clearly afford it," he said. "I'm not sure all can. Also right now, we're very sensitive on our campus to the fact that the faculty have gone three years without any salary adjustment. And then to say that every student athlete gets $2,000 at the same time that we may have to go another year without one, only builds up that tension between faculty leadership and the administration and athletics. So I want to think carefully about the unintended consequences of expanding additional resources on athletes at a time when the rest of the institution has been so heavily taxed by budget cuts."

Emmert's proposal comes as momentum builds for providing student athletes with additional help in defraying the costs of college. The Big Ten, for example, has floated the idea this year of paying athletes to cover expenses, and last month, the National College Players Association, an advocacy group, said that players should receive a portion of new revenues, like TV contracts. The group calculated the average scholarship shortfall for men's basketball and football at the Football Bowl Subdivision level was around $3,200.

The group's president, Ramogi Huma, called Emmert's proposal "an important and positive step" but not far enough.

"With record TV revenues, the cap should be raised to the full cost of attendance and funding should be guaranteed," said Huma, whose group has collected 339 petitions from current athletes at five schools supporting that position.

Emmert said he would also bring a proposal to the board -- probably in January but possibly as early as this week -- for a freshman "academic redshirt" model where some students would receive athletic scholarships but not participate in sports. They would spend a year of academic preparation getting their grades up to where they need to be.

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Follow Fred Frommer on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ffrommer