Fully funding scholarships remains divisive

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IOWA CITY — Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany wants league programs to fund athletic scholarships to fit the cost of attending a school.

Northern Iowa Athletics Director Troy Dannen doesn’t know how his cash-strapped department could pay for it.

Whether or not to fund scholarships to include incidental expenses, such as laundry money, as Delany likes to say, ranks among the most divisive issues for athletics officials. The opinions are split with many wealthy conferences — such as the Big Ten — promoting a $2,000 stipend for athletes. Programs with modest budgets, like Northern Iowa, believe spending more on athletes could actually decrease overall aid to a majority of athletes.

The average cost of an out-of-state Big Ten scholarship is $37,129, according to numbers submitted to The Gazette by all 13 public institutions (including Rutgers and Maryland) via the Freedom of Information Act. However that falls $3,410 short of providing minor expenses like campus transportation, telephone calls and supplies not covered by scholarships.

The $2,000 stipend initially received approval from the NCAA board of directors in October 2011, but 160 schools then voted to override the legislation.

“Our record has been pretty clear for a very long time and that is there should be as much assistance as we can provide to the cost of education,” Delany said. “We’re not there yet.”

Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta said he’s open toward increasing stipends toward need-based athletes.

“I have been, and continue to be, open to discussions about expanding the definition of the scholarship,” Barta said.

But for UNI, a program where none of the current sports are fully funded, adding a $2,000 stipend to its roughly 380 athletes financially would cripple the department.

“The problem with the full cost of attendance and going that direction is if you get outside the 55 schools, the rest of us are going to make this decision: Do I want to just not do it,” Dannen said. “Then there’s a significant difference in the value of scholarship. So there’s a competitive disadvantage.”

Some schools would cut sports or trim partial scholarships to save on costs with fully-funded scholarships.

“All I’m going to do is reallocate my existing scholarship pool. We don’t have the revenue streams to add to it,” Dannen said. “How am I going to reallocate that scholarship pool? Obviously I have equity balances but you’re going to have to reduce some scholarships and make some bigger, so basically you’re going to put more money in the hands of fewer people. That’s counter-intuitive.

“We may say, ‘All right, theoretically, you get 63 scholarships in football, but your total money stays the same. If you fully fund the cost of attendance to 20 kids, you may only have 57 scholarships to give instead of 63. That’s the choice you’ll be faced with.”

Fully funding scholarships eventually could resolve Ed O’Bannon’s lawsuit against the NCAA. O’Bannon claims football and men’s basketball players are exploited and should receive a cut from the NCAA’s media deals for using their likeness.

“If there’s a settlement in this case at any point, you can almost guarantee that allowing the full cost of attendance will be a central part of it,” said John Infante, a former NCAA compliance officer who authors the “Bylaw Blog” on NCAA-related issues.

It also could cause a split between the wealthier Division I programs — like Iowa — and schools like Northern Iowa, Dannen said.

“If O’Bannon wins, it basically changes whether we can hold amateurism up as a fundamental tenet of the organization,” Dannen said. “People sometimes lose sight because college athletics is more than 55 schools. There are 900 and some schools that play it from Division I down to Division III. There are 300 schools that play Division I athletics outside of the big money schools. There’s a lot of tipping points as to when does there become a fourth division.

“This could well be one of those tipping points.”

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