Archive for Friday, December 8, 2006

How much is enough for athlete stipends?

December 8, 2006

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Emily Brown has seen student-athlete life - and luxury - from a couple of different perspectives.

Kansas University's junior volleyball player, like all volleyball players on scholarship, gets a full athletic scholarship for her talents. That's tuition and books, and since she lives off campus, a monthly scholarship check for room and board.

"It's very fair," Brown said.

She feels she can be opinionated because of her older brother. Eric Brown - like Emily, a former Baldwin High athlete - was a track and field standout at Arkansas, though scholarship limits forced him and most others to get only partial rides.

Emily said Eric had just tuition and books taken care of while competing for the Razorbacks.

"Everything else is on his own," Emily said. "I (gripe) about money, and he's like, 'I don't even want to hear about it.'"

There is a stereotype that college student-athletes are poor and broke, slaves to the NCAA and all the money it makes.

That's not entirely false - the NCAA is wealthy, and a lot of college students are living off peanut butter, aren't they? But several KU student-athletes admitted that what they're compensated, particularly those on a full ride, isn't all that bad - even past the free college education.

The key is to be wise about spending, especially if you live off campus.

At KU, 199 of 369 student-athletes are receiving full athletic scholarships, including each scholarship athlete on the football, volleyball and men's and women's basketball teams. If an athlete enrolls as a freshman and stays in good standing, those scholarship last five years whether the athlete red-shirts or not.

The scholarship includes all tuition costs and all books, whether you're from Kansas or out-of-state. It also includes room and board, which is calculated based on average on-campus housing costs at KU from the previous year and the cost of 21 meals per week with the on-campus meal plan.

Many football and basketball players live at Jayhawker Towers, and some have the full meal plan. That's all covered.

Others, like Brown and football player Derek Fine, live off campus and don't elect to have a meal plan at KU. Those athletes are given a check to cover the costs.

"I think that it's close to fair. I wouldn't necessarily call it fair," said Fine, KU's starting tight end. "I think we should actually get more money. I know that might sound a little bit selfish, but if we only get a certain amount of money alotted for meals, what other kind of money do you have for anything else? There's really no money for anything if you use all your money toward food."

When former KU basketball player C.J. Giles was cited for delinquent child support payments, many wondered whether a student-athlete could afford such a financial burden.

The full-ride student-athletes are given 10 checks during the year. This year, eight are for $801.32 during each month in the middle of the school year, and two are for $460.22 - one in August and one in May, when school is only in session for a couple of weeks.

Because all the money is designated toward room and board, off-campus athletes find a way to squeeze some spending cash out of it. Others find that the dough disappears quicker when it's a slow time of year.

"It doesn't go by as fast during the season," Fine said. "We get more meals and family comes up and you really don't have to pay for near as much stuff. But it goes by faster in the spring."

Brown, meanwhile, can't save up to buy a private jet or anything, but she does have enough to get by. Living with two roommates in an off-campus duplex, her rent is close to $300 per month. Her bills total about $120 per month.

That leaves plenty for food and whatever else she can afford, which she said usually goes toward insurance, gas and maintenance for her car.

"We finally figured out a little budget plan for myself," Brown said with a smile. "Maybe I can save a little bit."

There's more perks to being a student-athlete than just the scholarship amount, such as:

¢ Medical costs related to on-field competition. For example, many athletes have their contact lenses paid for.

¢ Team-issued apparel, such as shoes, jackets, shirts and warmups.

¢ Access to free tutoring.

¢ A spacious computer lab adjacent to Allen Fieldhouse with free printing.

Most of the athletes rely heavily on the academic assistance during their first couple of years on campus, then slowly drift away from it as they become more comfortable as students.

"I don't use tutoring anymore," said Fine, a junior, "but I always took advantage of it whenever I was younger and had it."

There's also access to two different funds set up by the NCAA. The first, a special assistance fund, is a need-based fund if an athlete is eligible for a pell grant or is an international student. Money from that fund can go toward family emergencies, health expenses or clothing.

Another, the student-athlete opportunity fund, provides similar assistance on an emergency basis for anyone. For example, if a student-athlete needs a root canal.

Those funds are set up, in part, because employment is difficult - and sometimes impossible - for student-athletes to pull off. Athletes are allowed to hold jobs, but many can't except for the two summer months because of time demands for both academics and athletics.

That leaves the off-campus student-athletes to live off of about $200 per week if they get a full ride. That amount isn't unlike many non-athletes enrolled at KU working part-time jobs.

It's all a matter of how you handle it, which many of the athletes soon start to realize.

"As I've gotten older, I've learned how to stretch it out a lot better and preserve my money and find different places that have deals or whatever where you can eat and save money," said Fine, who lives off campus with two roommates. "It does go by pretty fast, though."

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