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Publish date: Mar 23, 2011

Cabinet continues discussion of financial aid classifications

By Michelle Brutlag Hosick

The Division I Awards, Benefits, Expenses and Financial Aid Cabinet is continuing its study of equivalency versus head-count designations with a review of data to assess the status of grants-in-aid throughout Division I.

At its meeting late last month, cabinet members reviewed data showing that Division I schools at opposite ends of the resource spectrum often differ not only in revenues and expenses but also in how they award athletically related financial aid to student-athletes.

Once a student-athlete receives financial aid countable toward a team’s financial aid limit, such as athletics aid, that student-athlete is considered a “counter.” A “head count” sport, such as basketball, is one in which the number of counters is limited. An “equivalency” sport, such as soccer, is one in which the value of the financial aid awarded to counters is limited. Some sports have both equivalency and counter limits. Baseball, for example, offers 11.7 equivalencies for a limit of 27 counters.

The data analysis conducted by the NCAA research staff found that many schools do not provide the full complement of equivalencies in most sports. For example, the study showed that although 87 percent of Division I schools offer some countable grants to women’s lacrosse student-athletes, only 16 percent awarded the full complement of the 12 equivalencies permitted.

Cabinet chair Sarah Bobert, senior associate athletics director at Marquette, said the cabinet is treading carefully in these discussions because of the potential cost to institutions.

“It’s a good discussion for the committee to have because these issues haven’t been looked at in a long time,” she said. “Where it will come out, I don’t know. If we make changes one way or another (on these topics), some of these could have big financial implications for the university. That has to be considered very carefully.”

Bobert said the group will continue to seek additional feedback from institutions, including sport sponsorship and participant information. She hopes the information will provide an even clearer picture of where Division I institutions stand on awarding financial aid.

The cabinet meets next in June, and although Bobert expects it could be several meetings before any proposed legislation is drafted, the cabinet plans to start examining potential alternative models for financial aid awards at that meeting. Throughout its review, the cabinet will continue to consider Title IX implications.

In other business, the cabinet agreed to sponsor two legislative proposals in the 2011-12 cycle. Both support student-athlete well-being – one by giving institutions additional flexibility to provide expenses for student-athletes to be present to support one another in situations involving a life-threatening injury or illness or in the event of the death of a student-athlete or his or her family member or legal guardian. The other provides schools additional flexibility when dealing with situations involving extreme circumstances.

Current legislation allows institutions to provide expenses to a student-athlete’s teammates to be present if a student-athlete or his or her family member or legal guardian suffers a life-threatening injury or illness or to attend the funeral of a teammate or his or her family member or legal guardian. The first of the cabinet’s proposals, if adopted, would allow institutions to provide those expenses to any of the institution’s student-athletes, not just to the student-athlete’s teammates. 

Bobert said current legislation is “a little restrictive.”

“It’s our experience on campus that you might have soccer student-athletes living with volleyball student-athletes or other similar situations, and (the affected student-athlete) is going to want whoever they are most comfortable with to be there in these instances,” she said.

The cabinet’s second proposal would allow proceeds from fund-raisers for student-athletes (or their immediate families) due to extreme circumstances beyond the student-athlete’s control (such as life-threatening illnesses or natural disasters) to be provided directly to the beneficiaries, instead of requiring the proceeds to be disbursed through or paid to another entity, such as the hospital that provided the medical care. Institutions would still be required to keep receipts on file to document the payments made, and any excess proceeds would still be required to be given to a nonprofit organization. Bobert said this change would reduce the burden placed on institutions, student-athletes and families of student-athletes when dealing with these situations, while maintaining institutional accountability for any payments made.