By Joe Scalzo
Imagine you’re a Division I-caliber football player trying to decide between a full scholarship offer from Kent State or Youngstown State.
YSU offers you a chance to play sooner, and likely win more, at a school with comparable facilities and superior tradition.
Kent offers you a chance to play FBS football, and possibly make a few national TV appearances, at a school with a strong recent history of producing NFL players.
The Golden Flashes probably have the edge, but it’s at least close, right?
Now imagine that Kent can give you an extra $2,000.
“That would definitely help them,” said YSU quarterback Kurt Hess. “That would play a huge role in recruiting, along with all the other factors. You’d say, ‘OK, if I go here, I can get $2,000 along with everything else.’”
That could be the scenario soon facing the Penguins in wake of last week’s decision by the NCAA Division I Board of Directors to allow conferences to provide up to $2,000 in spending money to athletes, part of what the NCAA calls the “full cost of attendance.”
“We sit in a region where we compete against Mid-American Conference schools and if our conference [the Missouri Valley Football Conference] decides not to [pay the stipend], there’s another regional conference that could,” said YSU athletic director Ron Strollo. “It could definitely affect us.”
The stipend, part of several significant reforms approved last week, would also affect YSU in other sports, where it competes in the mid-major Horizon League — especially since the money must be spent equally on men’s and women’s sports to fulfill Title XI requirements.
Major conferences such as the Big Ten, SEC and Big 12 have the financial resources to supply athletes with the extra money, but since most Division I schools across the country lose money on athletics, the measure could stretch already tight budgets at smaller schools and create an even bigger division between the haves and have-nots.
“I don’t think this was enacted for our type of institutions,” said Strollo. “I think this is a reaction to the pressure that other schools are receiving.”
That pressure is being felt most at schools such as Ohio State, which is still reeling from the infamous “Tattoogate” scandal that cost Jim Tressel his job, and Miami (Fla.), which is facing serious NCAA sanctions after a booster admitted providing hundreds of thousands of dollars in improper benefits.
“As far as the $2,000, I think it’s probably a good move,” said YSU football coach Eric Wolford, who coached at Illinois of the Big Ten and South Carolina of the SEC in the three years before taking the YSU position. “Hopefully, it will curb some of the problems we’re seeing across the country with players doing things that the NCAA deems not legal. Specifically, selling things that are yours, like [jerseys] and those types of things.”
Wolford has spent most of his coaching career at the FBS level and played four years at Kansas State of the then-Big 8, where he remembers needing to work extra jobs to earn spending money.
“What happens is this — you go to college with a lot of kids that have more means than you,” said Wolford. “You want to take a girl to a movie or a nice place to eat or buy some nice jeans or a nice new laptop and you don’t necessarily have the resources.
“You can’t necessarily work a job during football, so where does that money come from? Some comes from financial aid but some kids send their whole financial aid home to their parents to pay for rent or their parents’ car insurance or cellphone. I hear it every week, so I’m for it [the stipend].”
In addition to the stipend, the NCAA also allowed schools to grant multiple-year scholarships (the one-year minimum is still in place) and raised the Academic Progress Rate cutline from 900 to 930 over the next four years. (YSU’s football team, for instance, had a 922 score in the most recent reported year, 2009-10. The Penguins were above 930 in four of the previous five years.)
Also, eligibility requirements increased from a 2.0 grade point average to 2.3 for incoming freshmen and 2.5 for junior college transfers.
“Honestly, there’s so many questions that need to be answered before we really figure out what happened,” said Strollo. “It’s supposed to be enacted in August, and we have scholarship offers out in the mail right now because there’s a November signing day for a lot of other sports.
“So, these questions need to be answered really quickly.”