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A tentative step toward solving the problem of professionalism in college athletics has been taken by the Big Ten. That Conference, long a great power in intercollegiate sport, has adopted the Ivy League concept of scholarships on a need basis.
The Big Ten plan, which goes into effect with the class of '61, culminates a five year effort to devise a scholarship program that would face the problem of aid to athletes and still prove acceptable to member schools.
The Conference recognizes that athletes cannot be expected to earn money by part-time jobs during the term, since both the time and energy requirements on the athlete-student are great. Nevertheless it feels that an assistance program must not become simply a "play-for-pay" proposition, and must be based on the principle that education is more important to the student than athletics.
Athletic ability is accepted by the Conference as a reasonable basis for financial aid, and perhaps somewhat more openly than in the Ivy League. But the Big Ten rejects competitive bidding for athletes by declaring that their financial need is no greater than others', and that such need is prerequisite to scholarship offers.
No Initial Approval
A long series of proposals were discussed by representatives of the Conference institutions, who tried to reach a compromise agreement. These ideas ranged from the extremes of the "full ride" and no-aid-no-recruitment concepts, but none of the plans secured the approval of a majority, according to William R. Reed, of the Big Ten Commissioner's Office.
Then last August, "in a sense of urgency precipitated by the report of a committee which had spent seven months in developing a 'critical self-appraisal' of the conduct of athletics in the Conference," the new program was adopted, Reed said. It had been proposed three years before, in 1953, after John U. Monro '34 Director of the Financial Aid Office, spoke at a meeting of scholarship officers of the Conference.
Although the plan, as suggested by Monro's speech, was one of the many that first failed to gain majority support, it was kept in mind, and when the "sense of urgency" arose last August, it was again proposed, and this time secured a majority, although not unanimous support. Particulars of the program were then worked out, and the revised Conference rules and a detailed manual on their application were approved by the Conference Faculty representatives in February.
The Conference's Financial Aids manual explains that high school students interested in the plan should have their parents fill out a confidential financial form. The amount they will be expected to pay towards tuition and other expenses is computed from this data. The computation is made at the Big Ten's office in Chicago, and the estimates are sent to whatever member colleges the applicant requests.
According to Reed, the conference had first planned to have the need analysis plan administered by the College Scholarship Service, but found it necessary to set up its own office for the purpose, patterned after the C.S.S. The standards and procedures of the committee were set up by an ad hoc committee consisting of scholarship officers from three Big Ten schools which used the Financial Need system, and Monro.
The standards and procedures are administered for the whole conference by one office, and no one college is allowed to offer applicants a greater financial inducement than any other. The student is consequently free to choose a college on the basis of the "educational benefits" it offers. The college is told the maximum amount the applicant can be expected to pay, and is allowed to give him a scholarship that will pay the difference between that amount and the basic charges for tuition, fees, board, and room, but no more.
Report of Income
The athlete is also allowed to receive academic or honorary scholarships without jeopardizing his eligibility. But the income from such grants must be noted on the financial need statement, and is subtracted from the amount that the college is allowed to give. The only income which is not subtracted is that earned by the student for summer work, and this is supposed to be used for his personal expenses at college. He must report on his summer job, however, and a thorough investigation is made to make sure he was paid the going rate and actually worked all the hours he was paid for.
The plan makes it silly for the student to work off-campus while college is in session, since any money he makes lessens the amount the college is allowed to pay him. He may, however, be required to work on-campus, according to the policy of the individual college. In fact it is possible that none of the grant to the athlete may be in cash, but might be in credit for tuition or other fees, books, or payments to public stores or boarding places on behalf of the student.
Whatever the nature of the grant, it may not be given for more than one year at a time. After a year, the scholarship may be renewed, but application for renewal must be accompanied by a statement of any "significant change," a change of 10% or more, in family income. If there is no significant change the scholarship may be granted on the same conditions as the previous year.
The applicant is notified of the conditions of his grant by a "tender of award" on a form prescribed by the Commissioner's office and standardized throughout the league. In his tender, the applicant is notified of the amount of aid the college will offer him and the terms on which it is given.
Once the tender is made, it may not be changed except with the permission of the commissioner and as the result of a re-computation of need. Since the dates within which the tenders can be sent out are limited, there is no possibility of competitive "bidding" for players on the basis of more favorable terms.
In addition to the strict regulations on tender of aid, the colleges and the athletes are placed under many other regulations, which carry penalties of possible loss of eligibility or loss of scholarship aid. Coaches and athletic staff members are not allowed to discuss matters of financial aid with applicants except in campus interviews or in correspondence. Between the time the tender of aid is sent out and the time the student accepts it in writing, no coach or other college employee is allowed to have any contact with him. And any falsification in filling out the Financial aid forms may lead to both loss of aid and Conference eligibility.
The safeguards provided by the rules have not been sufficient to convince everyone that the Financial Need program is acceptable. Aside from the usual opposition to radical changes, Reed notes a "feeling that the plan is 'too liberal' in its acceptance of a predicate for financial assistance--that a class preference is being set up and, collaterally, that there is a diminution of any emphasis upon academic achievement."
Perhaps a more serious source of opposition comes from those who believe that the conferences which offer "free rides" or less carefully apportioned grants may lure away athletes who might otherwise go to a Big Ten School, and that thus the caliber of the teams is diminished.
Reed says that although it is too early to determine the effects of "putting ourselves on an island," but that the belief of those framing the plan was that selection of a college should not be based on financial inducement.
And lastly, one official at a Big Ten School denounced the scheme as "socialistic."
The basic principles are stated in the introduction to the Financial Aids manual: "that participation shall be limited to individuals who are representative of their student bodies," and "that the student-athlete must be one who engages in athletics, not for any material exploitation of his athletic prowess, but as an activity incidental to his educational objectives."
The plan is too new to have proved itself, and the next few years should provide a crucial test. But, as Reed notes, "we are encouraged by the significant fact that nowhere has anyone questioned that the basic principle is sound."
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