97 schools sign petition against stipend

INDIANAPOLIS -- The NCAA's plan to give athletes a $2,000 stipend may be in trouble.

The legislation, passed in October, now faces an override challenge at January's annual NCAA convention, a decision that could create an unusual discrepancy between recruits who have already signed national letters-of-intent and those who have not.

David Berst, the Division I vice president of governance, acknowledged Wednesday that about 1,000 players signed with schools in November, and those who did it with the promise of getting an additional $2,000 toward the so-called "full cost of attendance" would still get their extra money. Those who did not, may not.

"I would hope we don't end up with that, but it could happen," Berst told The Associated Press.

Berst said 97 schools have signed onto the override measure, more than the 75 needed for the NCAA board to reconsider the stipend. If that number hits 125 by Dec. 26, the legislation would be suspended.

Either way, the Division I Board of Directors has three options: Rescind the stipend and operate under previous NCAA rules, modify the rule or create a new proposal that would go back to the schools for another 60-day comment period, or allow members to vote on the override. It would a take 5/8ths majority of the roughly 350 Division I members to pass.

If the legislation is changed or rescinded, athletes who signed with the expectation of receiving additional money might bring legal action if they did not get it.

That puts the NCAA in the position of perhaps having to impose two competing rules this year.

"We would honor the agreements that have taken place," Berst said. "So even if you were to rescind the rule as of Dec. 26 and not operate under that rule in the future, we would honor those agreements. I think that causes the board to redouble its efforts at the January meeting."

NCAA president Mark Emmert has insisted over the past several months that the additional money is not pay-for-play and compares it to stipends non-athletes receive beyond the cost of tuition, room and board, books and fees. Until 1972, college athletes were permitted to receive a small monthly payment as laundry money.

Some critics contend $2,000 is not nearly enough and cite studies showing the average athlete pays roughly $3,000 to $4,000 out of his or her own pocket in college costs.

The board is moving swiftly to implement measures Emmert supports, including the stipend. A resolution next month could eliminate the possibility of a two-tiered system this year.

But the concerns among some schools go far deeper.

Their objections, Berst said, fall primarily into four categories -- the NCAA's philosophical change, the added expense required to compete with other schools, Title IX compliance and the immediate hit athletic department budgets would take.

Berst, who collects the complaints, said the opposition is coming primarily from Football Championship Subdivision schools and those that do not play football -- and not necessarily from low-budget schools.

Most of the Football Bowl Subdivision conferences, Berst said, have informed the NCAA they plan to expand their scholarship limits. A handful of others such as the Horizon League have already indicated they, too, will offer the $2,000 stipend.

Berst believes two modifications could eliminate most of the complaints.

"My belief is that if the board believes the $2,000 proposal is appropriate, I think they will modify the proposal to make it clear that we expect institutions to comply fully with Title IX. I think we've already done that, but we'll make that abundantly clearer in January, and then we'll have to talk about the implementation time," Berst said. "My job is to help everybody accomplish what they're trying to get done. I believe the board was sincere in trying to provide for the miscellaneous expense allowance, and my job is to find what alternatives may be more pleasing for them."