College recruits cash in, blur line between amateur and pro

Posted Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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$236,300 That's the total four-year estimated compensation, including tuition, room and board, (including four summer school sessions), books and additional financial aid, including conditional Pell Grants, offered to TCU student-athletes with a full ride. Here's a look at some of the financial support and aid available to athletes:

Tickets: Up to four free admissions to each home or road game in the sport in which the athlete competes.

Medical expenses: Access to medical care related to participation, eye-wear including contacts, prescription medicine, dental, free medical examinations and counseling related to the treatment of eating disorders.

Meal money: $15 for meals after home games. Bagels make an odd addition to the NCAA bylaws, which state that schools "may provide fruit, nuts and bagels to a student-athlete at any time."

Movie night: Schools are allowed to pay for pay-per-view movies in hotel rooms, DVD rentals or a night at the movies before a home game. Rules don't indicate whether concessions are included.

Need more money? The Special Assistance Fund is available to athletes with special financial needs, including transportation costs to fly home for a holiday.

New threads: Through the Student-Athlete Opportunity fund, a clothing allowance of $500 per year is available.

Pell Grants: Up to $5,550 in Pell Grant aid is available to students per year. The $2,775 checks come at the beginning of each semester.

Room and board: TCU athletes living off campus receive a check for $975 a month for rent and living expenses. The amount is an average of on-campus housing costs.

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TCU introduces a new class of recruits today, including about 20 football players who will receive full scholarships.

To be a Horned Frog for four years means much more than money to most of these high school all-stars, who have dreams of college football glory. For most, the price tag for a full scholarship is hard to comprehend, although it has been laid out for them by recruiters selling the prestige of a private school such as TCU.

After a four-year full ride at TCU, many of the athletes in the class of 2012 will have been afforded an education and NCAA-regulated perks worth more than $236,300. Of course, that's not including rising tuition costs and additional increases in financial aid that are likely to continue to rise with the times.

Tuition, books, room and board at TCU is about $43,860 a year. Add the cost of summer school, which has become the norm for big-time football programs, other financial aid including Pell Grants and a clothing allowance, and the figures are staggering.

But student-athlete compensation is still too low, many believe. At the NCAA convention in January, the Division I Board of Directors reaffirmed its call for an additional $2,000 stipend a year for student-athletes on a full scholarship.

The board will consider a modified proposal in April after more than 80 Division I schools objected to the proposal in October. Officials from smaller schools, including Boise State President Bob Kustra, are concerned it gives unfair advantage to schools rife with extra cash. Furthermore, Kustra equates the increased stipend to paying amateur athletes like professionals.

"The scholarship athlete on any Division I campus is really a privileged person by virtue of having a weight and conditioning coaching available, a training table and academic support, including individual tutoring," Kustra told marketplace.org. "Not all Division I programs are created equal, but my point is that this extra $2,000 is really what takes you over the threshold from being an amateur athlete to being a professional athlete.

"I don't know where you stop. I think from there then you open up the fact that you're now paying students to play. And once you pay students to play, why does it have to stay at $2,000? Why don't you call this what it is? Why don't you open up the whole discussion? Why don't we take a look at Division I football and men's basketball and really ask ourselves how you can continue justifying these sports as amateur athletics."

Former TCU receiver Curtis Clay knows both sides of the debate. He was a walk-on and didn't receive a scholarship or financial aid until his junior season when he earned a full ride.

"I went from having to pay my tuition and everything, where I had to decide what books I really needed -- I wouldn't even buy all my books because I didn't want to spend money on them -- to having the athletic department having every single book from my classes ready for me at the beginning of each semester," said Clay, who now teaches English and language arts to third- through fifth-graders. "They took care of you completely."

On top of the full tuition and housing aid, some students (not just athletes) receive Pell Grants up to $5,550 a year.

"In a lot of cases that takes you over the cost of attendance but the NCAA and the federal government say you can keep that," said John Infante, author of the Bylaw Blog on NCAA.org and assistant director of compliance at Colorado State. "The Pell is for the neediest of the needy athletes. They never want to take away from kids."

Additional aid comes in the form of the Student-Athlete Opportunity Fund, which was created in 2003, and helps athletic departments furnish study labs with computers and other academic support. But athletes can also purchase clothing or other essentials for up to $500 per year through the fund as long as they turn in receipts. Transportation expenses to travel home for the holidays are also available. Other perks include meal per diems, trips to the movies and, according to NCAA bylaw 16.5.2 (h), an unlimited supply of bagels.

"They're not getting the full cost of attending school paid for so when schools calculate that to send in to the federal government -- clothing, transportation, entertainment -- all that stuff is included in there," Infante said. "So it's partially a way to provide those expenses and services for athletes without just handing them the cash."

Clay, who graduated last year and owes about $70,000 in student loans from his first two years at TCU, thinks more financial support for college athletes is good. But, he said, budgeting skills should be required for freshmen, like those 20 football players who are becoming Frogs today.

"I think it's plenty of money if you're responsible with it," he said. "But if you've never been taught how to spend wisely I could see how it easily dwindled away, and toward the end of the month you're just dying for that next check."

Stefan Stevenson

817-390-7760

Twitter: @FollowtheFrogs

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