The NCAA has long defined the college athletic scholarship as nothing more than tuition, books, room and board. As anyone who has ever been to college can attest, unexpected expenses tend to happen. Like pizza.
Beginning Saturday, athletes can receive a few extra thousand dollars annually to cover what’s known as the full cost of tuition. The money is intended to cover unexpected things, like weekend trips home, random school supplies and, yes, late-night food runs.
What may be surprising is how athletes plan to spend it.
“I might put mine toward a Benz or a Lexus,” Texas senior Johnathan Gray said with a laugh. “Nah, I might save it. It’s good to have some money in my pocket. My parents spent all the money they saved for a scholarship. So I’ve got to support my own.”
Texas Tech lineman Brandon Jackson said all his money will go toward food. “A lot of us are away from our parents for the first time, and learning how to cook and make things other than ramen noodles and cereal,” he said.
Kansas’ Ben Goodman, a senior linebacker, said he’ll spend his stipend on his son. “That’s where all my money goes. I’m not really concerned about it, but if I do get a little extra, I’m going to spend it on him.”
At $1,971, West Virginia has the lowest stipend amount in the Big 12, while Texas Tech’s $5,100 is the highest. The figures are determined by a formula set by the U.S. Department of Education, and the stipends apply to all college athletes and all sports. Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said airfare is factored into the formula.
“You can get a pretty cheap ticket to L.A.,” Bowlsby said,”but you can’t get a cheap ticket to Starkville.”
Texas men’s athletic director Steve Patterson has determined it will cost UT approximately $1.5 million annually. But can smaller schools afford to pay as well?
“It’s a different problem for institution X than for institution Y,” Bowlsby said. “But they all have to deal with it in their own ways. Would they rather not have to come up with the money? Yeah, they would. But philosophically, everybody believes it’s the right thing to do.”
Several Big 12 coaches said they have a responsibility to advise their players to spend it wisely. TCU’s Gary Patterson is encouraging his players to save money for life after graduation. Of course, these are multimillionaires talking to 18- to 22-year-olds who might never have had this much money in their lives.
The message must be sinking in, though. TCU’s James McFarland said he’s thinking about mutual funds. The upperclassmen will know how to handle the $4,700 they’ll receive at TCU, the senior defensive end said. “As for the freshmen, they’re going to go wild. But it’s all a part of the learning experience. They’ll live and learn.”
“You don’t just take it and go to the mall to buy eight pairs of tennis shoes,” Texas coach Charlie Strong said. “It’s that old saying: It’s burning a hole in your pocket. And some of them are going to go spend it as fast as they can.”
Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said he’s concerned about where athletes will spend their money. “Will they use it for what we intended to use it for, which is food, housing, clothing and bettering their experience as a college student-athlete and not on frivolous things?” Kingsbury asked.
Baylor coach Art Briles didn’t seem too concerned and said he purposely won’t talk to his players about the issue.
“We have capable people in compliance that understand it a lot better than I do,” Briles said. “I don’t want to understand it. I want to play football. So I’ll let people who care about that talk about that.”
With any new rule comes the fear of abuse. Some administrators have expressed concern that the varying amounts can be used in recruiting.
Recruits “haven’t asked. We present it, since ours is one of the highest ones,” Kingsbury said. “But if they’re deciding their entire college career based on $300 or $400, that’s probably not a smart move.”
Kingsbury, like other coaches, said he wants to observe this year to see how things go.
“Finally, we did something good that’s going to help the student-athlete,” Gary Patterson said. “But if they spend it wrong… To me, you didn’t do that right if you get through your career and don’t have something to show for it.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957.