Oct. 27, 2011


Olympic Sports to Suffer Under NCAA Plan?


By Sean Ryan

CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder


Twitter - @collbaseball


The NCAA on Thursday announced the approval of some impactful changes to the college sports landscape.


Questions abound for the “Olympic” sports, including college baseball.


It’s hard to fault the NCAA’s impressive recommendations on academics, which include a higher Academic Progress Rate (APR) – from 900 to 930 – and a higher minimum grade-point average (GPA) for incoming freshmen and transfers. The message is simple – if you want the privilege to play Division I college athletics, hit the books.


Where the debate should continue is over the $2,000 stipend some student-athletes will be eligible to receive. Some.


Regarding paying student-athletes in addition to their scholarships – USA Today’s Andy Gardiner quoting NCAA President Mark Emmert on the $2,000 stipends: “This certainly is not play for pay.” – I’ve always been among the group that has been opposition.


It’s not because it’s not a good idea; it’s because it’s impossible to treat all student-athletes the same. Right or wrong, I’m in the camp that believes that while football and men’s basketball players bring universities and the NCAA loads of money, a practically free college education helps make up for that. The majority of Division I student-athletes are not on full scholarships – an entire baseball team splits 11.7 scholarships and full scholarships, even for major programs, are few and far between – will go pro in something other than the sports they play as the NCAA reminds us in commercials.    


That said, what’s gone unnoticed by most today, is who would be eligible for the $2,000 stipends. Like all the conference realignment, this clearly is a move made for football and basketball.


Direct from the NCAA: Student-athletes who receive full athletics scholarships or get other school financial aid will have the opportunity to receive additional athletics aid (or other institutional aid, including use of the Student-Athlete Opportunity Fund) up to the full cost of attendance or $2,000, whichever is less. The figure will be adjusted according to the consumer price index, so the presidents will not need to approve new figures when the cost-of-living changes. The Board resolved to not revisit the $2,000 amount for three years. The new rule makes the additional aid available to student-athletes in head-count sports (football and basketball) and those in equivalency sports who reach the value of a full scholarship.


The key here is “full athletics scholarships.”


Full athletics scholarships barely exist in college baseball and other Olympic sports. So, college baseball players, who work just as many hours out of the classroom and can ill afford to get part-time jobs, won’t be eligible for the $2,000 stipend. Tennis? Fault. Swimming? False start. Soccer? Offsides. For those rare athletes in the Olympic sports who are full rides, it’s possible they would be eligible for the stipend while their teammates would not.


The perception of the football and basketball players getting everything only will grow in the minds of the “other” student-athletes on campus. Other than that, changes to college baseball and the other sports should be minimal.


Paying college athletes has always been a Pandora’s box issue. The NCAA has tipped the lid, which will be debated by talking heads across the country. But the Olympic student-athletes shouldn’t go unnoticed in the discussion. We can only hope that this might lead the NCAA to raise the number of scholarships for college baseball (and other sports) and assisting the schools in getting to those levels.