Is a Full Ride Really A Full Ride?
Johnny Manziel. Dez Bryant. OJ Mayo. The entire University of Miami athletic department. These are all recent college scandals that have made headlines for student athletes taking extra money than they receive through their scholarships. But these are major conference schools that receive national media attention. Some will look at these incidents and say the NCAA is just using amateurs to make a profit without having to pay them. What about at small schools like the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee? Do those students ever feel they need more money than the NCAA gives them?
Do most athletes deserve to be paid almost like professional athletes? UWM Senior soccer player James Ashcroft believes only in one fashion:
“They should only get paid if their school is selling merchandise with the athletes name on it,” Ashcroft said. “Why should the NCAA and Texas A&M get all the money off a Johnny Manziel jersey and he doesn’t get anything?”
As for athletes getting paid to play in college, Amanda Braun the athletic director at the UWM does not think so.
“If they want to go be a paid professional athlete, they have the opportunity to go do that,” says Braun. “If you followed them around for a week, they live a pretty nice life as it is. They don’t want for much. If you’re talking about need, there are mechanisms in place for that through Pell Grants, through the NCAA’s Assistance Fund.”
The Lowdown on NCAA Scholarships
Kathy Litzau, who at the time of this interview was UWM’s interim NCAA compliance director, says that the NCAA’s “full” athletic scholarship covers the following costs of college: tuition, certain course-related fees, room and board, and the value or provision of books. However, the NCAA has two designations for sports. There are “headcount” sports and “equivalency” sports. We’ll look at what these mean later. .
In a recent study by the National College Players Association, there were some alarming discrepancies in major college programs between the worth of a full scholarship, and the cost of living while in college. While athletes do receive compensation for tuition, books, room, and board, their scholarships do not cover additional food expenses, clothing, and other daily life funds.
At UWM, there are only three headcount sports: men’s basketball and women’s basketball and volleyball. Members of the other athletic teams, such as junior baseball player Mike
Porcaro, are looking for a piece of their equivalency scholarship pot. Porcaro, an All-American and the 2013 Horizon League Player of the Year, only receives enough money to cover his tuition.
“We train every day, and I take a full courseload,” Porcaro said. “It gets pretty hectic. I’m able to work a job on campus. Fortunately for me, my family is also able to support my finances if I ever need it.”
Headcount sports, such as men’s and women’s basketball, football, and women’s tennis, gymnastics, and volleyball is where each athlete on scholarship counts toward the maximum headcount the school can have on scholarship. So whether a player is given a full athletic scholarship or given only one dollar, s/he is counted toward the headcount for that sport. In these sports, usually every scholarship is a full ride.
Every other sport falls under the category of equivalency sport, where that sport is given a certain amount of money, and it is usually up to the coach to decide which athletes get what. Numerous equivalency sports feature many players only receiving tuition.
Here you can see the numbers of scholarships allotted to each sport by NCAA, the number of athletes in each sport at UWM, and the average amount each athlete would receive in each sport.
The 99% Of College Athletics
As compared to some of the gross extremes the NCPA attempts to portray, Porcaro is a representative of the majority of college athletes. With more than 400,000 student athletes participating at more than 1,000 schools over three divisions, the majority of NCAA players are not like Reggie Bush and Johnny Manziel. In fact, according to Braun, most of them are no different than normal tuition paying students, in that they also have to work extra to afford college.
“Our institution is similar to most where the vast majority of our student athletes don’t get a full scholarship,” says Braun. “So they have a gap they need to fill, yet they’re spending lots of time with us, by choice, much like if you’re involved with a club or involved with projects.”
Ashcroft, an international student from England, works in the offseason to keep up his finances.
“During the season we get the team meals,” he said. “But during the off time, I work to be able to pay for food and rent. Get’s kind of tough, but it works.”
Parts of the NCAA have flirted with the idea for a stipend for athletes. In 2011, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors approved the option for conferences to add up to $2,000 each a year for athletic scholarships for Division 1 men and women’s basketball. This measure had a unanimous vote of approval from the Horizon League, including UW-Milwaukee.
One of the problems with NCAA sports is that many fans have a perception that every athlete wants to go pro and should get out of school as soon as they’re eligible. The NBA requires that athletes be one year removed from high school to be eligible for the NBA draft. The NFL requires three years. However, most other sports allow athletes to join straight from high school. So most athletes have the option to go pro, but decided to go college to get a proper education instead.
“Especially in Division I, people have this myth that all of these athletes want to go on and become professional athletes, and that’s their primary goal. That’s really not it. They love their sport. They love it, they love their teammates,” Braun said. “That’s where the real conversation should be. Are we giving athletes enough of an opportunity to get an education and earn their degree.
The small percentage of student-athletes who move onto the professional ranks has actually prompted some startling numbers. According to an NCAA research, only 47 percent of NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball players graduated in a six-year study. The NCAA notes that high-profile sports such as men’s basketball and football traditionally have the lowest graduation rates amongst all sports.
The NCPA concedes that most of these athletes fail to realize the opportunity of a lifetime of a free college education. In this past June’s NBA draft, only three of the 30 first-round selections were seniors and only seven others had just finished their junior year.
“If you’re playing a college sport, I’m sure everyone wants to go pro. If you’re not going to get a full ride, I mean why stay when you can go ahead and pursue a professional career,” said Porcaro.
UWM however, has done very well. The school graduates the majority of its student athletes. For example: last spring, senior Demetrius Harris, starting forward on the basketball dream, graduated with his degree in information sciences before joining the Kansas City Chiefs practice squad as an undrafted free agent.
As for the future of the NCAA scholarships, one can only speculate on what can change.
One thing to consider to change on a school by school basis is what is considered an equivalency sport and what is a headcount sport. UWM is one of the many schools that does not have a football program. Could the NCAA ever consider putting money most schools give in scholarships to football athletes to their equivalency sports?
While the NCAA will never implement a revenue-sharing model like the NFL does, they do receive a large amount of money in television revenue and video game deals. The upcoming FBS playoff contract with ESPN is said to be worth more than $500 million per year according to Sporting News. That is in addition to their existing bowl game television contracts worth near $300 million per year. The NCAA also has a contract with Turner Sports and CBS to broadcast the March Madness basketball tournament for over $700 million per year. While some of that money can go to the schools that bring in the money, the NCAA should consider setting aside extra funds from the larger revenue contracts to help support student athletes at the smaller schools.