Col­lege sports re­form bill in­cludes tu­ition break for some ath­letes

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Local - BY DAN KANE [email protected]­sob­server.com Dan Kane: 919- 829- 4861, @danka­ne­nando

A trio of state sen­a­tors has in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion that would cre­ate new ben­e­fits for col­lege ath­letes such as free le­gal coun­sel, bet­ter health care and ad­di­tional aca­demic as­sis­tance.

The pro­posed re­forms came af­ter months of pre­sen­ta­tions and de­bate among law­mak­ers in a spe­cial com­mit­tee. But no one dis­cussed another pro­vi­sion within the bill that could save col­lege ath­letic pro­grams and their booster clubs mil­lions of dol­lars.

Se­nate Bill 335 also would al­low pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties to treat out-of­s­tate stu­dents on full schol­ar­ships as in-state stu­dents for tu­ition pur­poses. At UNC-Chapel Hill, for ex­am­ple, that’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween pay­ing $9,018 in tu­ition and fees for an in-state stu­dent and $36,000 for an out-of-state stu­dent for the cur­rent aca­demic year. At N.C. State Univer­sity, the tu­ition and fees are $9,100 and $28,444, re­spec­tively.

State Sen. Joyce Kraw­iec, a Kern­ersville Repub­li­can, said she wasn’t sure how the pro­vi­sion ended up in the leg­is­la­tion though she thought the schools may have sug­gested it. But she said she and the other spon­sors sup­port it.

“We want their ath­letic pro­grams to be hugely suc­cess­ful, be­cause it’s great for the schools, it’s great for North Carolina,” she said.

Who pushed for the pro­vi­sion? An NCSU spokesman said no one there sought it, while a leg­isla­tive li­ai­son for UNC-CH re­ferred all ques­tions to the UNC sys­tem of­fice, which de­clined to com­ment Fri­day.

The state has been down this road be­fore. In 2005, state Se­nate lead­ers in­serted a pro­vi­sion in the state bud­get pro­vid­ing the tu­ition break. Then-state Sen. Tony Rand, a Fayet­teville Demo­crat and an avowed Tar Heel fan, spoke of the ben­e­fit for aca­demic schol­ar­ship pro­grams, such as UNCCH’s More­head Foun­da­tion, which is also open to out-of-state stu­dents.

A po­lit­i­cal ac­tion group of UNC-CH sup­port­ers also pushed for the leg­is­la­tion.

‘‘ WE WANT THEIR ATH­LETIC PRO­GRAMS TO BE HUGELY SUC­CESS­FUL, BE­CAUSE IT’S GREAT FOR THE SCHOOLS, IT’S GREAT FOR NORTH CAROLINA. State Sen. Joyce Kraw­iec, a Kern­ersville Repub­li­can, who said she wasn’t sure how the pro­vi­sion ended up in the leg­is­la­tion but said she sup­ports it

TU­ITION BREAK VS. SCHOL­AR­SHIPS

But over the years, much of the roughly $10 mil­lion break for the pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties went to­ward ath­letic schol­ar­ships for out-of-state stu­dents. The UNC sys­tem’s board of gov­er­nors op­posed the tu­ition break, as did the state school board as­so­ci­a­tion be­cause it ran up against a re­quire­ment that lim­its out-of-state en­roll­ments to 18 per­cent of the stu­dent body.

UNC-CH is the only state univer­sity that con­sis­tently hits that cap be­cause of its rep­u­ta­tion as one of the na­tion’s top pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties. But the tu­ition pro­vi­sion meant out-of-state ath­letes and schol­ars took slots that oth­er­wise would have gone to in-state res­i­dents whose par­ents’ taxes help pay the univer­sity’s bills.

Over the en­su­ing years, some state law­mak­ers filed leg­is­la­tion to elim­i­nate the break, but it didn’t go away un­til 2010, when the state was in the depths of the Great Re­ces­sion, with law­mak­ers des­per­ate to close a huge bud­get gap.

Se­nate Bill 335 does not al­low schools to re­ceive more state money to cover the loss of tu­ition, which means they will have to shoul­der the break through cuts to other pro­grams or draw­ing from other avail­able funds. The bill also says the schools “must main­tain at least the cur­rent num­ber of North Carolina res­i­dents ad­mit­ted to that con­stituent in­sti­tu­tion.”

The years since the tu­ition break ended have been full of con­tro­versy for UNC-CH and NCSU athletics, with both schools caught up in scan­dals that crit­ics say are driven by a dy­namic that brings big money to top Di­vi­sion I pro­grams on the backs of ath­letes who re­ceive lit­tle more than the cost of at­ten­dance.

In 2011, the aca­demic-ath­letic scan­dal in­volv­ing sham classes at UNC-CH was outed. A de­tailed in­ves­ti­ga­tion even­tu­ally showed that from 1993 to 2011, 3,100 stu­dents had taken classes that had no in­struc­tion and were largely cre­ated and graded by a de­part­men­tal sec­re­tary. Nearly half of those stu­dents were ath­letes, the in­ves­ti­ga­tion found.

Tu­ition paid for those classes, which meant tax­pay­ers picked up much of the cost for in-state stu­dents.

In 2017, another ma­jor scan­dal emerged that cap­tured sev­eral Di­vi­sion I schools in­clud­ing N.C. State, with adi­das money be­ing used to re­cruit star bas­ket­ball play­ers.

‘SHREWD POL­I­TICK­ING’?

Pair­ing re­forms to ben­e­fit col­lege ath­letes with a big tu­ition break for ath­letic pro­grams with high­salaried coaches and ever-grandiose fa­cil­i­ties makes for “shrewd pol­i­tick­ing,” said Davis Winkie, a for­mer Van­der­bilt Univer­sity foot­ball player pur­su­ing a doc­toral de­gree at UNCCH. He gave a pre­sen­ta­tion on the sub­par grad­u­a­tion rates of black ath­letes at UNC-CH and NCSU at one of the spe­cial com­mit­tee’s hear­ings, and calls the ath­lete pro­tec­tions in the bill “a good first step.”

“As we well know, the bill in its cur­rent form is anath­ema in the eyes of the UNC sys­tem, and it makes it seem like the in-state tu­ition break for schol­ar­ship ath­letes might be kind of a bone thrown their way,” he said.

But the leg­is­la­tion doesn’t stip­u­late what ath­letic de­part­ments can do with the sav­ings. Winkie sug­gested the sav­ings could help UNC-CH, for ex­am­ple, cover the buy­out of for­mer foot­ball coach Larry Fe­dora’s con­tract. He was let go in Novem­ber af­ter two los­ing sea­sons and 13 play­ers sus­pended for sell­ing their school-is­sued Nike sneak­ers.

Jay Allred is one of the chief ad­vo­cates for the re­form leg­is­la­tion af­ter his daugh­ter suf­fered a back in­jury while she was a golfer for East Carolina Univer­sity. They say the ac­tions of coach­ing and med­i­cal staff at ECU ex­ac­er­bated the in­jury.

Allred said the in-state tu­ition pro­vi­sion didn’t sur­face un­til af­ter the spe­cial com­mis­sion had done its work and pro­duced draft leg­is­la­tion. He doesn’t op­pose the pro­vi­sion.

“If it will help get this over­all leg­is­la­tion passed, I’m good with it,” he said.

Kraw­iec said she will look at whether the tu­ition break is needed as the bill is heard in leg­isla­tive com­mit­tees.

“The bill’s early on,” she said. “There’s no telling what it may look like when it gets to the end of the road.”

ETHAN HY­MAN ehy­[email protected]­sob­server.com

N.C. State quar­ter­back Devin Leary (13), who is from New Jersey, works out with fel­low quar­ter­backs dur­ing the Wolf­pack’s first day of spring prac­tice March 2.

ROBERT WIL­LETT rwil­[email protected]­sob­server.com

North Carolina’s Gar­ri­son Brooks (15), Sev­enth Woods (0), Bran­don Robin­son (4) and Kenny Wil­liams (24) are all from out of state.

Joyce Kraw­iec

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