College administrators don’t seem to know exactly where their athletes’ cost of attendance stipend money is going.
Last month, North Carolina State athletics director Debbie Yow faced a backlash during the IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum in New York when she said schools have “failed athletes” in teaching them fiscal responsibility considering she sees athletes riding around on hoverboards, which cost $300 or more. Alabama athletics director Bill Battle then added, “tattoos and rims” to the discussion, a comment he explained later was supposed to be cute and just emphasize the frivolity of college students’ spending habits.
Beginning this academic year, NCAA Division I member schools were allowed to give their athletes a stipend to cover their full cost of attendance at their schools. USA TODAY Sports asked some of the players competing in the College Football Playoff what they’ve spent their cost of attendance stipend money on thus far.
Offensive and defensive linemen, chuckling, said they’ve spent a lot of it on food. Other players have been adamant about saving it, including Alabama receiver Richard Mullaney, who said he’s not really into clothes or shoes so he pays his rent and then saves the rest.
“We get so little money, I just save it,” Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware said. “I spend a little on food if I need to. I get a couple hundred dollars. … I have a safe in my house, and I lock it all away.”
Each NCAA member school that has adopted the cost of attendance plan pays out a set amount to its athletes based on what its financial aid office determines it should be. The idea is to fill the gap between tuition and room and board with pocket money (and travel expenses to and from home for athletes) and what it really costs to live on or off campus at that school. The stipend amount for Power Five schools often ranges from $3,000 to $5,000 depending on the school, according to a USA TODAY Sports database compiled in August.
The extra bit of income has helped some of the upperclassmen who are living off campus perhaps for the first time. There are electric, gas and cable bills, for example, that they didn’t have to think about when living in on-campus housing.
“If I need some shoes, I’m going to go buy me a pair of shoes,” Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland said. “But mostly it’s making sure my bills are paid. That’s one thing my parents always told me: Make sure the bills are paid; you can do whatever you want after that.”
Ragland said the stipend is noticeable and he thinks it has taught him maturity. It’s also taken some of the strain off players’ parents, Clemson right guard Maverick Morris said.
“I have the same spending patterns, and I don’t spend a lot,” Morris said. “But my parents would give me a little bit, and now they don’t have to. I haven’t had to ask them for any money since we started receiving a stipend. I definitely feel like, as far as me, if I needed money, I could ask my parents and my parents would give me money. But some people don’t have that luxury. They’d have to go without. I think as far as that goes, it definitely helps.”
For some, the stipend makes barely a dent, particularly for those who can’t get a part-time job because of school and football time commitments. Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster said his stipend money goes almost exclusively to paying bills and his daughter’s needs.
“You have to realize if you have a daughter or kids, it is kind of hard,” Foster said. “You’ve got bills to pay … and food — you’d rather your little girl eat than yourself. You’ve got to worry about clothes, her clothes. Stuff for the house.”
He trailed off. “It’s kind of hard,” he said.
Contributing: Gerry Ahern, Nancy Armour
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.