Starting next year, some University of Texas students will sure benefit from an endowment fund designed to help statewide families who make $65,000 or less.
However, the $160 million in scholarship money earmarked for tuition and fees for in-state students is unlikely to give the UT athletic department any competitive advantage in most major NCAA sports.
From a scholarship standpoint, the NCAA has two types of sports — head count sports and equivalency sports.
Football, men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball and women’s tennis are all head count sports at the Division I level. In those sports, a full scholarship covers tuition, books, room and board. It doesn’t matter if the athlete’s family makes more or less than $65,000.
All other sports, like baseball and softball, are equivalency sports. Baseball coaches must somehow divide 11.7 scholarships among 27 players. Softball coaches are allowed 12 scholarships. Typically, each athlete receives two-thirds of a scholarship to cover 18 players. Each athlete must somehow make up the difference on their own.
Texas A&M began a similar tuition program called “Aggie Assurance” in fall 2008. The program provides tuition assistance for those families with an adjusted gross income of $60,000 or less. During the 2017-18 academic year, a total of 6,726 A&M students received tuition assistance.
Delisa Falks, assistant vice president for scholarships and financial aid at A&M, said the annual number of athletes who receive assistance is anywhere from five to nine students. “It’s not very many,” Falks said.
If a baseball athlete were to receive a scholarship for books, Falks said, she would then determine how much the athlete could receive from the Aggie Assurance program. The total dollar amount cannot exceed the NCAA-mandated limit.
An athlete could receive money to help cover tuition and books, but that athlete — even those from lower-income households — would still be on the hook for room and board.
NCAA bylaws prevent schools from giving athletes scholarship money from the academic side and avoid having it count toward the athletic limits.
“When we pull our list, we have an indicator,” Falks said. “Are they an athlete and are they a scholarship athlete? That’s when we know they can’t exceed team limits.”
Texas spokesman J.B. Bird said the university’s new tuition assistance program “could affect a very small number of students.”
“If that’s the case, we’ll do what we have always done,” Bird said. “We’re going to work with the students individually to do what’s best for their best interest and get all the (financial) aid for which they are eligible.”
Texas athletics does not use any public funds. The athletic department is a self-funded enterprise, getting most of its revenue from television rights, ticket sales and donations. Still, the athletic department transfers money to academics to cover the cost of all scholarships.
So while few UT athletes will benefit from the new tuition assistance program, “it will hopefully make all student-athletes at UT-Austin feel great about their university,” Bird said.
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