STIPENDS MAKING FINANCIAL GRADE
COA benefits help offset student-athletes’ expenses
Once her mother died in the fall of 2012, Jamiette Hair-Griffin struggled to pay the bills. Still, she would not allow her middle of three children, Deion, get a job while in high school.
She did not concede their circumstances at the expense of her kids — even if it meant starving herself.
“There were nights that she may not have eaten, because she was making sure that her children ate every night,” Deion said.
Said Jamiette: “As a mother, that’s what you are supposed to do.”
Jamiette, a Fort Worth ISD bus driver, could not provide much beyond food and a roof. Her
family once endured a Texas summer without air conditioning. She battled to support her oldest son —a deaf, unemployed adult.
Deion’s football prowess liberated his mother from the financial burden of college. Now a sophomore receiver at the University of North Texas, Hair-Griffin benefited from the NCAA’s cost of attendance stipend.
Hair-Griffin earned an estimated $3,136 from that stipend last season, which was the third year since COA’s implementation. The stipend was intended to assist student-athletes in daily costs like food, gas and other living expenses. The money helped Deion Hair-Griffin pay for a 2005 Nissan Altima once his
1999 Toyota Camry broke down. Without it he would have been forced to walk.
More importantly, he ensured his mother would never miss a meal again.
“It is wonderful,” HairGriffin said. “I’m not able to give my mom everything that she wants and needs, but I’m able to help her live better than maybe she was at some point in time.”
Cost of attendance stipends
In January of 2015, the Power 5 conferences passed a vote to initiate COA benefits. Every Division I university has since been allowed to provide stipends to its studentathletes.
With the help of the U.S. Department of Education, financial aid offices annually determine stipend amounts. They calculate variables like transportation, tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies and personal expenses.
“If you lived in an isolated community, it costs more to fly out of there and to get back home,” said Lisa Campos, UTSA’s athletic director. “So that’s going to drive their cost of attendance.”
COA expenses and calculations vary at each school. Off-campus or non-resident studentathletes may receive larger stipends. Full scholarship student-athletes like HairGriffin will receive the full amount. One on a half scholarship, however, might garner half of the amount. Any variances depend on the university.
Schools also distribute the stipend in different ways. Student-athletes at one university might receive a lump sum, whereas others could pocket a month-to-month check.
“In practice, (COA) is supposed to really correlate to your locale and your type of institution,” Campos said.
UTSA, UNT and Texas State were among many Group of Five schools that delayed COA installment. The trio began offering stipends in 2016-17.
“I think that first year, a lot of programs were in that same situation,” Campos said. “Trying to figure out, what does this look like? How do we manage it? How do we implement this?”
The Roadrunners will give their full scholarship players $2,512 for a third straight year in 2018-19. UTSA is already expected to generate its own revenue to fund scholarships, Campos said.
COA stipends present UTSA, along with all Group of Five programs, another challenge in keeping up with universities like Texas and Texas A&M.
UTSA’s development office solicits donations and promotes the Roadrunner Athletic Fund to help generate COA money.
“And then we look at our other revenue-generating opportunities — ticket sales, particularly football,” Campos said. “That is one of our areas where we can raise revenue here at UTSA. And then, our TV revenue from the conference office.
“We are constantly looking at how we continue to develop resources so that we can pay for these sort of things (like COA).”
Texas A&M similarly endured a transition process in 2015-16. A&M’s $3,528 stipend ranked the lowest in the SEC, according to CBS Sports.
In that COA transition year, A&M garnered more revenue ($194 million) than any other university. They also completed a $485 million rebuild of Kyle Field. Three years later, Jimbo Fisher signed a 10-year, $75 million contract to coach Aggie football.
Money not the issue, the Aggies almost doubled their stipend in 2016-17. Now, no Texas school sniffs A&M’s full scholarship stipend. Last year, A&M almost tripled the University of Texas in total COA expenses.
Tori Vidales, a former A&M softball player, benefited from the stipend increase her junior year. A&M’s hefty COA became a recruiting advantage, she said.
“As an athlete in high school looking for your home, it becomes more about what they can give you instead of what (the athlete) can give to the program,” Vidales said.
More than gas and food
Student-athletes like Hair-Griffin are using their COA to benefit others.
“He also helped a lot of homeless people,” his mom said. “If we pull up at McDonald’s and there’s a homeless person out there, he will ask what they want to eat.”
Trinity Harrington, a Texas A&M softball player, mourned her father’s death in May of 2017. Harrington supported her family with the stipend, Vidales said.
“Obviously her mom was struggling to keep the house afloat and doing all the stuff that he did for them,” Vidales said. “I think (Harrington) used that stipend to have her own money set aside for herself to where (her mom) was not having to feed her money all the time.”
Jakeem Grant, a former Texas Tech wide receiver who is now with the Miami Dolphins, struggled to provide for his three children until COA was implemented.
“The scholarship checks went up, and that is a big help on the financial end,” Grant told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal in 2015, the first year of its implementation. “I have learned to manage that money, and it isn’t as hard now that I am a senior because I have matured.”
Some student-athletes garner financial support from home and do not need COA. Even those in need do not spend it wisely.
“I have talked to some of the football players, and some of them would go and blow it all in one night at Northgate instead of paying their bills,” Vidales said.
But before 2015, studentathletes were not empowered with a choice. Former UConn basketball star Shabazz Napier attracted attention before the NCAA permitted unlimited meals and snacks.
“I don’t feel student- athletes should get hundreds of thousands of dollars, but like I said, there are hungry nights that I go to bed and I’m starving,” Napier told reporters in 2014.
But what if they worked a job? A majority of the student-athletes interviewed agreed just a parttime gig is inconceivable. And no spending money means an unhealthy diet.
“It has helped me out a lot with being able to eat healthier the last couple of years,” said Kevin Strong, a UTSA senior defensive lineman. “I’ve been working with our strength coaches on a better plan for meals and what types of food to eat, which really helps me focus more of my time on school and football.”
While COA bridges the gap, pay-for-play proponents feel student-athletes are still being exploited. The NCAA likely won’t entertain that idea soon, though.
“I think coaches use any recruiting advantage that they can,” Campos said. “It always depends on who you are recruiting against, right? Again, I’m not familiar enough yet with everyone’s cost of attendance within the conference. I’m not even sure where we stand. But I think coaches are going to use every bit of competitive advantage to recruit a student-athlete.”
Not everyone is onboard with the idea, especially smaller schools fearing it may exacerbate competitive balance. Regardless of one’s pay-for-play stance, COA is paying dividends as it approaches its fourth year.
“If you are wanting to take care of your athletes even after they graduate, this is a great way to make it happen,” Vidales said.
Especially for those in need like Deion Hair-Griffin.
“Hearing the stories of my teammates who did not get it before me, they seem to have a great appreciation for having them,” he said. “Because before when they didn’t, they just wouldn’t have any money. They couldn’t buy anything. They were basically just living from one check to another check.”
UNT sophomore receiver Deion Hair-Griffin said the estimated $3,136 he earned from his COA stipend helped pay for a car.
Deion Hair-Griffin is also using his COA benefit to help others. He regularly helps out homeless people, often treating them to food from McDonald’s.