Football players throughout the Mountain West Conference will be seeing extra money in their scholarship checks this year.
Many will spend it on food.
Charles Washington will spend his on family.
“I help my mom pay her cell phone bill — that’s a $100 a month — and also help her keep up with rent,” the Bulldogs senior cornerback said during MW Football Media Days at The Cosmopolitan. “So having a little extra money is really going to help.”
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The term “full-ride scholarship” has to be one of the biggest misnomers in college athletics. While scholarships pay for tuition and fees, books, room and board, they don’t cover miscellaneous expenses such as food, gas, phone bills and travel home. Let alone take a date to the movies.
That’s where cost-of-attendance stipends come in. They’re designed to fill that gap.
Living month to month is not easy. As a college student I’m already worried about classes and football. It’ll be nice not to have to worry so much about running out of money.
Fresno State cornerback Charles Washington
“Living month to month is not easy,” Washington said. “As a college student I’m already worried about classes and football. It’ll be nice not to have to worry so much about running out of money.”
Fresno State is among seven schools in the conference that have pledged to offer full cost-of-attendance stipends to all student-athletes during the 2015-16 academic year. UNLV, New Mexico and Hawaii are providing them for some sports but not all. Nevada isn’t awarding any stipends this year but plans to do so across the board in 2016-17. Air Force is not doing stipends; its cadets receive monthly paychecks that include travel allowances.
This is a good and necessary change. But it’s also a little confusing. Since the amount of every school’s stipend is determined by each institution’s financial aid office, in accordance with federal guidelines, there isn’t any uniformity between member schools.
Fresno State plans to add $3,500 to each scholarship, which is a little below the conference average of $3,813, according to Commissioner Craig Thompson. Boise State is reportedly the highest at $5,100 and Colorado State is the lowest at $2,400 for in-state students.
$3,813 Average amount of cost attendance stipends in the Mountain West Conference
While some schools are tapping university funds to cover the extra costs, Athletic Director Jim Bartko says Fresno State’s stipend money, estimated at $1.2 million, will be raised through donations.
“We’ve made good headway, and we’ve got nine more months to get there,” Bartko said. “We’ll get it done.”
Since student-athletes receive eight scholarship checks per calendar year, that averages to an extra $437.50 per check for each Bulldog on full scholarship.
“I’m an offensive lineman, so I’m going to spend the extra money on food,” senior right tackle Justin Northern said.
“My roommate and I, sometimes we don’t budget it out right and end up eating Top Ramen and peeling through things in the fridge going, ‘Is this expired? Dinner tonight!’ It’s going to be great not having to do that.”
I’m an offensive lineman, so I’m going to spend the extra money on food.
Fresno State right tackle Justin Northern
Universities aren’t doing this because they’re altruistic. These stipends are a result of decades of lawsuits over scholarship value and a 2008 ruling by a federal judge after three former athletes sued the NCAA for capping scholarship values below actual cost of attendance.
The Power Five conferences took the first step in January by passing legislation that included the 65 schools that make up the Pac-12, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC and ACC plus 15 student-athletes. The vote was 79-1.
To keep pace, schools in the Mountain West and other Group of Five conferences have little choice but to ante up.
Of course, it’s a lot easier for SEC schools to find room in the budget for stipends than one from the MW. The SEC distributed a record $455.8 million this year to its member schools — nearly 10 times the Mountain West’s $47 million.
But that’s the cost of doing business.
Predictably, the MW coach who voiced the loudest concerns over stipends is the one whose school isn’t offering them.
“What happens if a Mountain West school says we can’t do this? Forget it,” Nevada’s Brian Polian said. “You’ve got no chance to compete. Not only can you not pluck a recruit away from a Power Five, you can’t even compete in your own conference.
“You might as well be in the Big Sky, and that’s the harsh reality.”
When we start basing opinions and decisions and legislation off of what works best for the top 30 schools in the country, we’re creating a separation. And it scares me.
Nevada coach Brian Polian
Other coaches such as San Diego State’s Rocky Long expressed concerns that the larger amounts some schools will offer will lead to a recruiting advantage.
The colorful Long told an amusing story about a recruit he lost that lives 2 miles from the SDSU campus. Why? Because the Aztecs were offering only a $600 monthly stipend compared to the $1,200 a private school offered.
“It’s disappointing to me, because it’s becoming about dollars and cents,” Long said. “I don’t mind the idea (of stipends). … I’m all right with that. The problem is every school is getting to determine the amount of money themselves, so some schools are giving $5,000 and others $3,900 and everything in between. So in recruiting it is a huge advantage.”
The system isn’t perfect, but stipends are sorely needed and long overdue. In an age where 80 FBS football coaches earn salaries of $1 million or more, including five in the Mountain West, the players deserve a larger share.
So Northern won’t have to eat ramen noodles the day before a game.
And Washington can have something to send home to Mom.
Mountain West cost of attendance stipends
▪ 1. Boise State $5,100
▪ 2. Hawaii $4,000 (football only)
▪ 3. San Jose State $3,900
▪ 4. UNLV $3,800 (football, men’s and women’s basketball only)
▪ 5. Utah State $3,800
▪ 6. San Diego State $3,564
▪ 7. Fresno State $3,500
▪ 8. Wyoming $3,240
▪ 9. New Mexico $2,700 (men’s and women’s basketball only)
▪ 10. Colorado State $2,400 in state; $3,100 out of state
Note: Air Force is not offering stipends. Nevada plans to offer them in 2016-17.