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NCAA Student-Athlete Speaks Up for Financial Aid Measures

Aug. 13, 2001

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - The next big push in a comprehensive effort to deregulate the Division I Manual is trying to make Bylaw 15 (financial aid) more student-athlete friendly. The group most logically positioned to determine whether that goal is being met -- the Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) -- is applauding the effort so far.

The SAAC met July 20-21 in Monterey, California, just before the Division I Management Council conducted its summer meeting in the same locale. Primary on the SAAC agenda was a presentation from representatives of the Division I Committee on Financial Aid, the group that has spent the last year developing new financial aid models that would allow student-athletes to benefit from more flexible legislation.

From the SAAC's reaction, the Committee on Financial Aid is meeting its goal of developing student-athlete-friendly proposals. SAAC members supported the main elements of the financial aid committee's preliminary package, especially proposals allowing student-athletes to accept academic or nonathletic-related awards above and beyond a full athletics grant-in-aid, and proposals loosening restrictions on student-athlete employment. Both are designed to treat student-athletes more like the general student body in how they are able to afford their college experience.

Under the first part of the proposal, instead of a university's academic grant being countable and a student being able to receive up only to a full athletics grant-in-aid, that student could go ahead and receive that university grant -- or others -- up to the cost of attendance.

The part of the package that would loosen restrictions on student-athlete employment includes proposals that would allow student-athletes to:

  • Delete the $2,000 earnings cap,

  • Exempt employment earnings from his or her individual team limit whether working on or off campus,

  • Allow first-year student-athletes to work,

  • Allow academically ineligible student-athletes to work, and

  • Allow student-athletes to work in any department (including athletics).

    The employment part of the Bylaw 15 deregulation package is an important one for student-athletes, but it's seemingly a sticky one for athletics administrators. The current rule was a struggle to implement, and administrators have long thought the rule was open to abuse and difficult to monitor. The idea of removing the earnings cap and allowing student-athletes to work in athletics departments might rekindle some of those fears.

    Yet, SAAC Chair Bola Bamiduro from Columbia University-Barnard College said SAAC members cited a number of what they believe are valid reasons to deregulate the employment rule.

    First, SAAC members believe the athletics environment has changed enough in the past decade or two to alleviate some of the trust issues. Most colleges and universities, they said, have upgraded compliance programs to prevent would-be abuses in the types of jobs that student-athletes might have in an athletics department and/or the likelihood of inappropriate booster involvement.

    Plus, student-athletes make up a large part of the potential grass-roots candidate pool for future athletics administrative positions. The NCAA has wanted to develop a diverse pool of candidates. The SAAC believes student-athletes, many of whom are likely to want to establish careers in college athletics positions, can help accomplish that goal.

    "We think schools are beyond giving student-athletes a 'phony' job as some sort of incentive," Bamiduro said. "We think the rule ought to allow student-athletes to develop meaningful careers in athletics, which is something many student-athletes want and many institutions want to be able to provide.

    "Deregulating the work rule is a way to allow that to happen."

    Summer financial aid

    Another component of the deregulation package that the SAAC discussed is the issue of summer financial aid. The SAAC posed several questions regarding the issue, including:

    Should student-athletes be awarded financial aid only in proportion to the amount of countable aid they receive during the academic year?

    Should student-athletes be awarded financial aid up to the value of a full grant-in-aid without proportionality restriction?

    Are the current regulations relating to summer financial aid hindering student-athletes who may wish to take additional coursework to get ahead or to graduate on time? Also, the SAAC expressed concerns about whether summer financial aid was being used as a mechanism to keep student-athletes on campus during the summer in order to participate in voluntary workouts. SAAC members, however, did not believe those concerns should keep financial aid from being awarded.

    Finally, the SAAC discussed issues related to renewing financial aid awards, particularly whether the grants should be awarded on a year-by-year basis or whether they should be four-year agreements. Generally, SAAC members believe most student-athletes would support the four-year agreement, but most would also be reluctant to abandon the paperwork assuring them of annual aid. In other words, the SAAC believes student-athletes like the security an annual renewal offers, but would support any legislation that would reduce the possibility of student-athletes being "run off" from the original commitment.

    "There is the potential now for that financial aid commitment to be broken for inappropriate reasons," Bamiduro said. "There also are instances where institutions use the annual renewal as an 'incentive' to dangle in front of student-athletes as a reward for performance.

    "The whole renewal issue is a delicate one to balance."

    The Bylaw 15 deregulation package is still in the development stage, and the Committee on Financial Aid is making presentations to NCAA groups such as the SAAC to obtain early feedback so that the proposals can be shaped accordingly. The package likely will be discussed at the NCAA Convention in January, and the Division I Management Council is scheduled to consider the package for the first time in October 2002.

    Other highlights
    Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee
    July 20-21/Monterey, California

  • Recommended to the Division I Management Council that the following SAAC representatives be appointed to NCAA committees: Derek Sparks, University of Tulsa, Western Athletic Conference (Olympic Sports Liaison Committee), Amy Barr, Eastern Illinois University, Ohio Valley Conference (Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports), Ashley McGee, Oakland University, Mid-Continent Conference (Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee), Ben Foster, Wofford College, Southern Conference (Football Issues Committee), and Gabriel Ribas, Northwestern University, Big Ten Conference (Academics/Eligibility/Compliance Cabinet).

  • Supported recommendations from the Committee on Women's Athletics regarding homophobia education initiatives and creating a safe environment for student-athletes.

  • Agreed to contact the leaders of the Collegiate Athletes Coalition to open dialogue about how the SAAC can assist in addressing that group's concerns.

  • Discussed the issue of postseason bowl games in football and noted that bowl experiences generally are positive for student-athletes. However, the SAAC also noted that the proliferation of bowls might diminish the recognition deserving of institutions and student-athletes participating in "major" bowl games. The SAAC also expressed concerns with the large number of teams from the equity conferences that participate in bowl games.

  • Reviewed various legislative proposals relating to student-athlete welfare that will be on the Management Council's October agenda.