What's a College Football Scholarship Worth, Anyway?

Kay Jennings@KayJenningsPDXContributor IIIMarch 9, 2012

What's a College Football Scholarship Worth, Anyway?

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    The great debate rages on: Should college football players—particularly at the Division IA level—be paid for their services on the field every Saturday in the fall?

    After all, their "work" generates millions of dollars for institutions. Try to get a hotel room or a restaurant reservation in Baton Rouge, Eugene, Ann Arbor or Austin on a home-game weekend, and you will understand how the trickle-down effect generates even more millions across the country.

    No matter how you play with semantics, however, the players are paid for their performances. At least most of them. At this level of college football, most of the players are on full-ride scholarships. I suspect that parents of college-bound students everywhere will tell you that athletes who get full rides are indeed paid.

    The amount of the scholarships vary, as does the tuition at different universities. Private schools like USC generally cost more than public schools like the Universities of Texas, Oregon or Michigan.

    Let's take a look at some averages. Sources for actual dollar figures came from the individual university websites that I used as examples. All costs are for the 2011 school year.

Comparing Tuition at Four Universities

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    Let's say that the University of Texas recruits a running back from neighboring Oklahoma. Non-resident tuition at Texas starts at $11,003. If Mack Brown had recruited Texas resident LaMichael James (sorry, Mack) from Texarkana, that tuition scholarship would have been worth approximately $4,673 for an in-state kid.

    Without his scholarship, James would have paid non-resident tuition at the University of Oregon of $27,738.

    If Matt Barkley was better at, say, deciphering Jane Austen than he is at throwing a football, he would pay $42,162 annual tuition at USC, a private university.

    An in-state recruit at the University of Michigan is looking at $12,634, while an out-of-state undergrad's tuition scholarship would be $37,782.

    An average for non-resident undergrad tuition based on these four fine universities would be $29,671. I would venture that most students LaMichael's age don't have part-time jobs that pay $29,671. And that's just tuition.

    Next, let's compare room and board costs at these same four schools.

Room and Board

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    Room and board generally includes housing rent and standard meal plans. I have no idea what football players eat on a daily basis, but I'm guessing it's not "standard."

    At Texas, students pay $5,211 for room/board.

    At Oregon, the average is $9,510.

    Michigan's is almost identical to Oregon's, at $9,468. 

    USC room and board for one year will set Mom and Dad back $12,078. (I'm starting to feel really happy for Mr. and Mrs. Barkley that their son plays football.)

    So, to put a roof over our student-athlete's head and some food in his belly, the four-school average in our examples is $9,067.

    For the sake of argument, we're going to assume that our student-athletes go to class occasionally and need some books. Next slide, please.

Books and Supplies

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    At Michigan, books/supplies average $1,048 annually.

    Oregon comes in at $1,050.

    Texas averages a low $437. (I'm sure I spend more than that annually on books, don't you?)

    USC estimates $1,500 for books and supplies.

    Our four-school average is $1,009.

    Let's recap. So far, counting tuition, room/board and books/supplies, our average for one year at one of these universities is $39,747.

    But wait—we're not done.

Personal and Miscellaneous Expenses

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    Some universities, like Texas and USC, break out transportation costs for their prospective students. Oregon and Michigan do not—I guess you're not supposed to go anywhere at those two schools.

    But every school gives an estimate for personal/miscellaneous expenses that can include such items as local transportation, clothing, laundry, going to a movie, cell phone bills, student insurance (more on that in the next slide) and personal hygiene.

    Here's how our examples break down this category:

    USC estimates $1,480 for personal, miscellaneous and transportation costs. Surely, local transportation in Los Angeles would amount to more than that number all on its own—have you driven in L.A?

    Texas values miscellaneous/personal expenses and transportation at $1,812—interesting compared to their books number.

    Michigan estimates a whopping $2,054—it must include extra heating expense for their cold winters or something.

    Oregon, while saying that costs vary depending on personal spending habits, estimates $2,412. That seems like a lot of pizza to me.

    The average for the four universities in this category is $1,939. That brings our total for an average year at a Division IA school to $41,686. Let's see how that breaks out on a pie chart next.

Pie Chart Category Breakdown

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    In addition to the totals in this pie chart, student-athletes on full-ride scholarships receive other benefits that are more difficult to quantify.

    Athletes have access to special tutoring. In some cases, the athletes have their own fancy-schmancy facilities such as the University of Oregon's incredibly opulent Jaqua Academic Center for Student Athletes. Even I would happily study in that stunning building.

    Student-athletes on scholarship are also covered by basic medical insurance, disability insurance and catastrophic injury insurance. The NCAA requires that all student-athletes participating in certified events and leagues are provided with financial protection if they are injured.  

    But wait, there's more.

Direct Financial Assistance

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    Here's where it gets a little murky.

    Have you heard of the NCAA Student Assistance Fund? In August, 2010, according to the NCAA website, a total of $53,946,000 was sent to Division I conference offices to provide direct benefits to student-athletes or their families with unmet financial needs as determined by conference offices.

    The NCAA goes on to say that this fund shall be used to "assist student-athletes in meeting financial needs that arise in conjunction with participation in intercollegiate athletics."

    Furthermore, "responsibility for the oversight and administration of the fund, including interpretations, rests solely with the conferences."

    Conferences and schools are required to report annually to the NCAA the fund recipients by sport and gender, along with how the money was used and the amount for each use.

    Almost $54 million. And that amount is set to increase in value at 13 percent annually, subject to approval by the Division I Board of Directors.

    $54 million.

What About Pell Grants?

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    Pell Grants, a federal program, is yet another avenue that low-income, disadvantaged student-athletes can use. Unlike the NCAA Assistance Fund, which can be used for any student-athlete and for any purpose, the Pell Grant program is based on financial need. 

    Unlike federal student loans, Pell Grants do not have to be repaid. They are designed to help cover additional everyday living expenses like gas, personal hygiene, entertainment and cell phone bills.

    For low-income student-athletes who qualify, there are virtually no strings attached, and the grant is in addition to their scholarship. Many football players qualify for Pell Grants based on the lack of wealth from their parents and no expected financial contribution to their college education from their family.

    A full Pell Grant is worth $5,500 a year and never has to be repaid because it is a grant, not a loan. Football players who qualify get $5,500 each year to do with what they want.

    Pell Grant spending on all post-secondary education is projected to be $31.7 billion in award year 2012-13.

There's Still More

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    Throw into the mix equipment, uniforms and supplies that athletic departments get for free.

    Add in access to strength and conditioning coaches, athletic trainers and special athletic facilities.

    How do you quantify the "job interview" that players get for performing 11 or 12 times a year in front of the hiring decision-makers in their chosen profession? A computer science major doesn't get that visibility.

    Last but not least, what impact does the student-athlete scholarship have on future earnings? Study after study has proven that even some college education leads to higher wages in life.

    Those student-athletes who take full advantage of their scholarships and earn a bachelor's degree will likely reap the salary benefits for their lifetime.

    Where do you come down on whether or not we should pay Division IA football players?


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