COA ben­e­fits help off­set stu­dent-ath­letes’ ex­penses

San Antonio Express-News (Sunday) - - Sports - By Carter Karels STAFF WRITER

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.”

North Texas ath­let­ics

UNT sopho­more re­ceiver Deion Hair-Grif­fin said the es­ti­mated $3,136 he earned from his COA stipend helped pay for a car.

North Texas ath­let­ics

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.

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