Those struggling to pay for higher education might find it hard to shed a tear for athletes on full scholarships.
But a new study shows many don’t get the “free ride” they may have been promised — even as colleges and coaches reap the rewards of their athletic prowess.
Even with a scholarship covering tuition, fees, room, board and books, a Division I student-athlete can expect nearly $3,000 a year in other school-related expenses, says the study by Ithaca College professor Ellen J. Staurowsky and the National College Players Association. Out-of-pocket expenses can include parking, software, medical care and more.
Depending on the school, the estimated uncovered expenses for last year ranged from $200 to almost $11,000. The study found a gap of $1,500 a year at Villanova, $2,345 at Rutgers, $3,924 at Penn State, and $4,436 at Temple.
Meanwhile, many head football and basketball coaches get six — or seven-figure compensation packages. The NCAA has signed an $11 billion, 14-year contract with CBS and Turner Sports to televise its men’s basketball tournament.
The scholarship gap was calculated by comparing the full cost to attend these institutions, as reported by the federal government, to expenses covered under NCAA rules. Some college officials disputed the extent of the gap, but didn’t deny its existence.
Of course, the costs borne by elite athletes are dwarfed by those facing most students and their families. But the players’ association notes that the idea of a “free ride” for talented athletes has become so ingrained that many expect just that.
Moreover, the shortfalls exist across institutions and sports, so most of the athletes involved are not headed for lucrative pro careers. And, having expected a free education, they may be especially ill-equipped to pay for it.
Nickel-and-diming makes top athletes more vulnerable to unscrupulous agents. Several told Sports Illustrated they took illicit payments because scholarships didn’t cover all their expenses.
There have been some halting steps to address the issue. The NCAA reportedly considered changing its rules so scholarships could cover the full cost of attendance, but it ultimately dropped the idea. It should reconsider taking that step.
Last month, California began requiring colleges to disclose more information about the total cost of attendance. Making at least that much clear to prospective students, whether they’re athletes or not, should be standard practice everywhere.