Opinions, Editorials

BC Should Cover The Incidentals For Full-Scholarship Athletes

The ACC released a statement on Tuesday that might help expand financial aid packages for athletes on full scholarships. Within the list of priorities the conference submitted to the NCAA as a part of the organization’s new allowance for autonomy among the five major conferences was the goal to meet the full cost of attendance for college athletes who receive full scholarships. Although the ACC and the NCAA are not expected to mandate that universities within the conference change the amount of scholarship money they give, it is highly probable that schools will be allowed to offer scholarships that meet the full cost of attendance for the first time since 1975. Should this come to pass, Boston College ought to increase the financial aid packages of its athletes on full scholarship to meet the full cost of attendance.

In 1975, the NCAA voted to prohibit universities from providing students with money for “incidentals,” which includes expenses such as toiletries, laundry, local travel, and school supplies. This limited the maximum scholarship—called full grant-in-aid—to tuition, required fees, room, board, and required textbooks. According to BC’s financial aid website, the amount for “books and miscellaneous” is $2,200 a year. This $2,200, less what the University estimates is $1,000 for books—according to BC’s Associate Athletics Director of Compliance, Carly Pariseau—leaves BC athletes on full scholarships $1,200 short of receiving the full cost of attendance.

Sparked by O’Bannon v. NCAA, as well as the ruling by a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in favor of Northwestern football players trying to unionize, the NCAA is reconsidering this prohibition and will likely vote to allow universities competing in the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC to pay for incidentals, if it is not required by the courts. The decision in the O’Bannon case—which has been stayed, pending appeal—would prohibit the NCAA from capping the amount of financial aid schools provide to athletes at any amount below the full cost of attendance. The ruling in favor of Northwestern athletes is also being appealed, but it is within this framework that the NCAA has begun to give schools with the highest revenue more autonomy to set their own rules.

Given the changes that are likely to be coming in the near future, BC should make plans for how it will structure the financial aid that it gives to athletes. The problem with the current system is that, when BC recruits an athlete and offers him or her a full scholarship, it is effectively saying that his or her potential contribution to the University’s goals is so great that it is worth paying for his or her education in full—yet, at the same time, it is not covering the full cost that the athlete will necessarily incur as a student at BC. For the University to continue this practice even if it is legally allowed to cover the full cost of attendance would be disingenuous. If BC values the athlete’s potential contribution to the extent that it will distribute a “full” scholarship to him or her, it should not leave the athlete to come up with that remaining sum on his or her own.

Although it can be argued that the amount of additional money that the athlete will get in this arrangement is trivial and something that could be earned through a part-time job, this stance becomes problematic because of the time commitment required for the sport. Between that and classes, athletes in the highest-intensity sports do not always have time for a part-time job. Additionally, for some athletes and their families, the money is not a trivial amount.

With respect to the athletic department’s budget, though, the maximum possible cost of covering the gap is easily manageable. According to data provided to The Heights by the athletic department, there were 351 athletes receiving any athletically-related financial aid in the 2012-13 season. Assuming that they all received full scholarships, the maximum cost to the University for covering the gap and meeting the full cost of attendance would have been approximately $420,000. Given that not all athletes on scholarship receive full grant-in-aid, the actual cost to BC would have been less than that. In comparison to the approximately $2.6 million that made up the combined salaries of then-head football coach Frank Spaziani, then-head basketball coach Steve Donahue, and head hockey coach Jerry York in that period, it is in fact a trivial sum of money. BC also paid former men’s basketball head coach Al Skinner more than $500,000 in 2012, according to the University’s IRS Form 990, even though he was fired in 2010.

Although the athletic department does receive institutional support from the University, it generates substantial revenue itself, primarily through a lucrative television contract secured through the ACC. The latest television deal is reportedly worth at least $20 million per year per school, according to ESPN. Many of the full-scholarship athletes are members of teams, such as football and men’s basketball, that allow the school to generate that revenue. The full-scholarship athletes in non-revenue sports also have a role to play, as their teams allow BC’s athletic department to be expansive and developed enough to compete within and contribute to the quality of the ACC.

Aside from the cost itself, BC athletic director Brad Bates raised another concern—that giving full-scholarship athletes the additional money to cover the full cost of attendance would further separate them from the student body. Given that non-athlete students have always been allowed to apply for and receive financial aid that covers the full cost of attendance, this is a specious argument. Simply by virtue of being athletes, they are in a public position at BC both on and off the field through promotion by the athletic department. A little additional money would not have any adverse effect on their relationship with the student body.

This year has already proven to be a year of upheaval for the NCAA. In the spring, after University of Connecticut star and Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four Shabbaz Napier caused a stir by publicly claiming that he went to bed hungry because he could not afford food, the NCAA reformed its regulations on the food colleges could provide athletes. Now, universities are free to provide any food desired during meetings and events related to their athletic program. The BC athletic department has used this opportunity to increase the food offered to athletes before and after practices and during team meetings. If BC is willing to support athletes in basic nutritional needs, it should also be willing to support them in the incidentals that are necessary for an education.

Although the legal cases have yet to fully unfold and the NCAA has not yet approved the ACC’s plan for allowing scholarships that cover full cost of attendance, it is highly likely that BC will face a different situation for scholarships in the near future. If other schools take the opportunity to cover the personal expenses for athletes on full scholarship and BC does not, the athletic department could see its ability to attract top talent diminish. Even if that is not the case, the University should still do right by these full-scholarship athletes and cover the true cost of an education at BC, incidentals included.

Featured Image by Emily Fahey / Heights Editor

October 2, 2014