Tuesday, April 21, 2015


By Ronald Fox

Power 5

Feeling much heat for its policy of limiting athletic scholarships to the basics, such as tuition and room-and-board, on a year-to-year basis, the NCAA appears to have fully relented in allowing Big Five power schools to cover the “full cost of attendance” throughout an athlete’s college career. Under growing pressure from athletes, Congress and a critical media, NCAA President Mark Emmert first indicated in a Senate Commerce Committee hearing last summer his willingness to consider raising scholarship amounts and ending the standard year-to-year stipend. Now power conference schools will have a green light to go forward with their long held desire to offer more attractive scholarships.  Where this leaves less wealthy colleges is anyone's guess.

The Big 12 announced on December 1 that beginning in August 2015 it will guarantee multiyear scholarships and, pending NCAA authorization, give athletes the full cost of attending, an amount typically several thousand dollars higher than current scholarships. In doing so the Big 12 joins the Big Ten and Pacific-12 in guaranteeing full-cost scholarships for athletes’ throughout their eligibility. The Southeastern Conference and the Atlantic Coast Conference are expected to soon follow suit. (They will have to if they want to stay competitive.)

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, Announces Full Cost Scholarships
As I stated in a previous post (The NFL Under Siege), I have mixed feelings about this development. Providing fairer compensation for college athletes is certainly a good thing, given that many struggle to make ends meet during their college years, but I worry about the broader implications. Freed of scholarship limits, what’s to prevent bidding wars for high school talent resulting in the rich getting richer? What about schools that can’t afford financing the full cost of attendance?

Since the full cost of attendance can be variously defined, it’s likely wealthier schools will be able to offer a higher amount than less wealthy universities can afford. Middle tier schools striving to be competitive in the Power Five arena, like Boise State, Louisville and San Diego State, will be particularly hard-pressed to keep up.

The least wealthy schools will find meeting higher scholarship demands especially difficult. Already the University of Alabama Birmingham dropped its football program, citing rising costs of college athletics, including pressure to pay the full cost of attendance for athletes.

New NCAA scholarship rules could lead to the formation of a new tier of big power schools atop the current NCAA structure. From their lofty perch, they could set their own rules, further enhancing their competitive advantages. This is not a happy prospect for most fans across America.

Such is as it is in corporate America: the rich get richer, ultimately reaching the rarified air of plutocracy. Is this the future of the increasingly corporatized world of college sports? I don’t know. What I do know is that plutocracies are not competition-friendly. I wonder if sports fans will accept such a state of affairs in intercollegiate sports. We may just find out.

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