Clarifying Big Ten's scholarship upgrade plan

There has been a bit of confusion in the past week about the Big Ten's proposal to make full athletic scholarships go further than they currently do.

Since commissioner Jim Delany mentioned the proposal to reporters last Tuesday, you've probably heard a lot about pay-for-play, stipends, salaries and the like. It's not what the plan actually entails.

I checked in with Big Ten associate commissioner for compliance Chad Hawley to get a clearer picture.

Here are some key points:

  • This is a scholarship structural issue; it's not about stipends or salaries for athletes. The Big Ten is proposing whether a full scholarship (grant-in-aid) should cover more costs than it already does. Scholarships currently cover tuition and fees, room and board and books. The proposal would have scholarships potentially cover "cost of attendance," a dollar figure set by each institution according to federal regulations for financial aid. The difference between the current scholarship cost and one that covers cost of attendance has been estimated at an average of $2,000-$5,000 per athlete per year.

  • If the proposal is adopted at the NCAA level (more on this later), it would affect every athlete on a full scholarship. A women's soccer goalie would have the same scholarship structure as a quarterback. "What we're talking about is not limited to football and men's basketball," Hawley said. The proposal wouldn't impact athletes on partial scholarships.

  • This wouldn't be a case of the Big Ten going out on its own to adopt a new policy. An NCAA bylaw would need to be changed, Hawley said, for anything to go into effect. Any NCAA insituation or league then would have the option to change its scholarship structure or keep the status quo. "To think this is something we could do on our own and leave everybody else behind, it's not reality," Hawley said.

  • Keep in mind that cost of attendance figures represent maximums. The proposal would allow schools to have the option to reach the cost of attendance. "It wouldn't be a mandate," Hawley said. Schools also could structure their scholarships so more costs are covered but the full cost of attendance isn't reached. This is akin to some schools not using the maximum number of allowed scholarships for a given sport.

  • Hawley said the proposal had been brewing for a bit but wasn't brought up in a league-wide forum until the spring meetings last week in Chicago. The discussion hasn't reached a phase in which every school evaluates its ability to restructure scholarships in this way. "The reality is it would cost more money," Hawley said. "There's certainly a presumption that institutions with more resources would be able to do it."

I'm sure we'll be talking much more about this topic, so stay tuned.