Potter’s Point of View: Playing by the Rules

By Emily Potter

Getting into college can be difficult. The decision of where to go and how to pay for tuition also looms over applicants’ heads. Student-athletes of Division I institutions who have earned a scholarship don’t often have to worry about the financial aspects of college. This financial aid leaves them able to focus on their classes and refine their athletic abilities. However, these scholarships are not free handouts; there are many rules athletes must follow in order to remain eligible to compete.

To make it as a DI athlete, students must meet a certain GPA requirement (2.3) in core classes in high school and take the ACT or SAT, which is averaged with the student’s GPA to determine if they will be eligible. There are 16 core courses the NCAA outlines on its website that must be taken throughout high school. After a student’s seventh semester, classes cannot be repeated to increase GPA.

Once the student-athlete reaches the university level, the requirements continue. There is a long list of rules student-athletes must abide by in order to remain eligible.

The compliance department is an integral part of any NCAA athletic department. The compliance department is in charge of making sure all rules are followed and student-athletes nor the university are in violation of any of those rules. Some of the rules that can jeopardize a student-athlete’s eligibility include bad grades or not passing classes, failed drug tests, using their name or likeness for profit, receiving extra benefits like money from a booster, and gambling on any sport at any level offered by the NCAA. 

In terms of academics, the requirements are pretty easy for incoming freshmen and then increase as athletes progress through college. By the end of their second year, an athlete must have completed 40 percent of their degree, followed by 60 percent after their third year and 80 percent after their fourth year. A fifth year of school is sometimes granted to student-athletes so they can finish their degrees — sometimes it is not possible or wise to take more than 12 credits a semester while competing in a sport. Although summer classes are available, some athletes still need the fifth year to fulfill the degree requirements. This can be a time when students take classes that couldn’t fit into their schedule while playing a sport, like volunteer hours or long labs.

For student-athletes, following all the rules and putting in all their effort pays off in an entirely or partially-aided education. Over my five years as a student-athlete, my scholarship could be valued well over $100,000 when tuition, housing expenses, books and stipends I have received are considered. In the past couple of years, the amount of money I have received has gone up. At the end of my sophomore year in 2015, athletic director Chris Hill came to our team and told us scholarships would increase to “cost of attendance.” This meant the monthly scholarship checks increased that summer to give athletes more money to pay for expenses like laptops, general school supplies, transportation, etc., that the current stipends could not cover. The autonomy conference — better known as the Power Five conferences (Big 12, Big 10, Pac-12, SEC, ACC) — were the first to adopt the full cost of attendance scholarships, and every student-athlete I know has been a fan of the change.

Even though the NCAA is a billion-dollar industry, scholarships to individual student-athletes come from the institutions themselves. Institutions are spending a lot of money on scholarships, and there are rules in place to make sure they are offered to student-athletes who will represent the university the right way.

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