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Copyright 2014 Albuquerque Journal
Albuquerque Journal (New Mexico)

It may surprise the casual fans that NCAA student-athletes receive checks, even if they aren't yet playing for pay.

But they do.

Dawn Martinez, assistant athletic director/compliance at the University of New Mexico, said student-athletes with full-ride scholarships will receive $9,340 for the coming school year if they stay in the dorms.

She said off-campus student-athletes will receive $9,970.74.

Those funds are divided into monthly checks during the fall and spring sessions.

It's for room and board and incidental living expenses. As part of their scholarship agreements, they never see bills for tuition, books and related fees.

It's up to the athletes, typically 18 to 22 years old, to spend the money in the right places for the right things. Some don't.

UNM athletic director Paul Krebs said he supports the growing movements to give student-athlete extra stipends on top of scholarships. But he also says the amount they already receive - for full-ride scholarships - should be enough for their basic college needs.

As long as they manage it properly.

"The question is, what are they doing with that money?" Krebs said.

Albuquerque native and NFL running back Arian Foster created a firestorm last year when he said he broke NCAA regulations while at the University of Tennessee by taking money.

"I don't know if this will throw us into an NCAA investigation - my senior year, I was getting money on the side." Foster said in the documentary "Schooled: The Price of College Sports."

"I really didn't have any money. I had to either pay the rent or buy some food. I remember the feeling of like, 'Man, be careful.' But there's nothing wrong with it. And you're not going to convince me that there is something wrong with it.

"There were plenty of times where throughout the month I didn't have enough for food. ... I go to my dorm room, open my fridge, and there's nothing in my fridge. Hold up, man. What just happened? Why don't I have anything to show for what I just did?"

Foster didn't return the Journal's requests to comment for this story.

His brother Abdul, a former track and field athlete at Florida A&M, said he was "homeless the last two years I was in college. I was living on people's couches, bouncing back and forth, scraping money together to try and get food. All the while I was trying to run track.

The issue of whether student-athletes should be paid is another subject, but how many times do they actually go hungry?

Were the Foster brothers exceptions, or the norm?

Kendall Spencer, a UNM graduate who is studying cognitive neuroscience at the University of Massachusetts Amherst this summer, was an NCAA national indoor long jump champion in 2012 for the Lobos and is the Division I chairman of the NCAA's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

He says the starving athlete portrait isn't painted properly.

"I think it's kind of funny when you have the student-athletes who are being given full-ride scholarships and the get these extremely heavy stipends and complaining they don't have enough money for food," said Spencer. "Then you have people on partial scholarships who are coming out ahead. Personally, that doesn't make sense."

Lobos football coach Bob Davie, now starting his third year at UNM, said when he took over, he observed "a lot" of UNM players not budgeting appropriately the funds from their checks.

One of his players, punter Ben Skaer, made it a project to help his teammates make sensible decisions. Last year, Skaer, a fifth-year senior punter working on his master's degree in marketing, used his bachelor's in finance to help his football brethren manage their money.

"Through my experience, I found that you can have money working for you, rather than you working for money," he told the Journal at the time. "I want others to see the financial freedom they have. ... They have enough to worry about with football and school. The last thing they need to be stressing about is finances."

Henry Villegas, associate athletic director for student development at UNM, said the university also has programs in place to help.

One called "Fiscal U" helps athletes manage money and make sensible financial decisions from their arrival to their exit.

Krebs, however, said that even players who receive a Pell Grant - money awarded to students based on financial need, whether they are athletes or not - often come up short trying to make ends meet.

"What often happens to kids from disadvantaged backgrounds is they often use that money and send it home," Krebs said. "They've got a child, they've got a live-in girlfriend, or they've got a wife. So they're trying to take care of their families with that Pell money. It's to help them offset some of the full costs. I won't use any names, but it's not unusual for kids to receive Pell Grants and do that."

Spencer, who didn't have a full scholarship at UNM, agreed that education - not the amount of money - is the key.

"A lot of it is all about how you manage your money," he said. "You have an issue with a lot of student-athletes where they come from backgrounds where money is really hard to come across. So when they do get it, a lot of people don't know how to manage their money well. Oftentimes individuals on full-ride complain about not having enough money to buy food, but at the same time they'll take their scholarship money and go buy a set of $100 headphones.

"I don't think it's a question of how much athletes are getting paid. I think it's an issue of how the money is being managed. I think if more time was being spent educating athletes about how to manage their money, we'd see a completely different dynamic in having to pay full college tuition.

"... If you learn how to manage your money well, you can actually come out of college not only out of debt, but you can come out ahead."

That said, the NCAA has now taken even more steps to make sure no student-athletes - scholarship or not - miss any meals.

In April, it was announced NCAA Division I student-athletes are allowed to receive unlimited meals and snacks in conjunction with their athletics participation, the Legislative Council decided. The rule, which applies to walk-ons as well as scholarship student-athletes, is an effort to meet the nutritional needs of all student-athletes.




July 28, 2014


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