The Big 12 Conference — and thus, by extension, West Virginia — took the first official steps Monday toward providing its student-athletes with far more financial benefits than they’ve ever known before.
The league announced that its presidents and chancellors have adopted new by-laws that will provide student-athletes in all sports with scholarships for full cost of attendance, along with mandating that those scholarships last throughout the student’s athletic eligibility.
The league is also directing its members to provide financial aid beyond an athlete’s eligibility if he or she has not graduated.
“I think this is an important step in implementing policies that are in line with those that are required by the 21st century student-athlete,’’ Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said during a Monday teleconference. “We think that by imbedding these things in our bylaws that we put a stake in the ground and describe by our actions what it is our institutions stand for.’’
In a way, none of the moves are groundbreaking because they are among the primary ones advocated by Power 5 conference schools in their push for more autonomy within the NCAA structure. In January, those schools and the NCAA will meet to iron out many of the details of that autonomy, and all of those issues are expected to pass in one form or another as permissive legislation. In other words, schools would be permitted to provide those benefits, but not required.
The Big 12, though, has now already “put a stake in the ground,’’ as Bowlsby said several times Monday, in establishing its position and essentially rewriting its by-laws to require its members to ante up. The only high-profile issue the league seems yet to have addressed is health care for former athletes.
In the matter of the full cost of attendance, that’s something that the NCAA and the Power 5 conference members will address in their January meetings. The group is expected to increase the maximum allowable scholarship from a full grant-in-aid to the full cost of attendance, which would add items such as transportation and miscellaneous expenses. The Big 12 action this week merely confirms that when that rule is changed, the league will be on board with it and its schools will spend the extra money.
In the case of West Virginia, athletic director Oliver Luck has in the past estimated the additional costs per athlete at between $1,700 and $2,000 for that cost-of-tuition bump. With roughly 350 athletes on scholarship, that would cost WVU an additional $700,000 per year, although that’s far from a firm number. That’s from an athletic budget that for the most recent available reporting period (2012-13) had $77.7 million in income and $73.5 million in expenses, so the increase would amount to less than 1 percent.
The league also has mandated that those scholarships be given for no less than the athlete’s period of eligibility. Traditionally, scholarships are for just one year and are renewable.
“This certainly makes a commitment to the student-athlete,’’ Bowlsby said. “Along with that, the student-athlete makes a commitment to the institution. There’s a mutual responsibility for performance on both sides of that agreement.
“The fact of the matter is that right now, even with one-year renewable grants, 90 to 95 percent of them are renewed on an annual basis. There are very few scholarships that aren’t renewed from year to year. But this establishes a standard that says we believe in giving a scholarship for the period it takes to get an education.’’
The other new by-law deals with aid to returning students. Those would be those who leave school without their degrees after their eligibility expires or perhaps if they have left early for a professional sports opportunity.
“We’ve been able to do multi-year grants and returning aid to students coming back to school,’’ Bowlsby said. “But rather than leave it permissive on an institutional basis, we wanted to say this is what we stand for. We stand for educating kids, whether they have to come back after they finish their professional career or they have to come back when perhaps they’re better prepared to get an education.’’
This article was republished with permission from the author, Dave Hickman. This article was originally published in The Charleston Gazette and can be viewed by clicking here.