Ole Miss becomes the first school to officially offer “academic benefits” to athletes

Allen Gordon has accomplished a lot in his life at this point and he’s not out of college yet.

Senior long jumper Ole Miss is an All-American. He was a finalist in the US Olympic Trials and his shirtless dance moves on TikTok have grown to nearly a million followers.

On Friday, he scratched another feat: he made history.

Gordon was the first Ole Miss athlete to receive a check for $ 2,990 from the school to its players.

It is believed to be the first such payment in the landmark Supreme Court ruling granting schools the right to provide athletes with additional financial support for academic achievement, up to a maximum of 5 $ 980 per year. Ole Miss, the first known school to start cutting such checks, divides the distribution into two payments, one in the spring and one in the fall.

Gordon was able to receive the payment because he was academically eligible – Ole Miss athletes who met these academic requirements the previous semester and who are on an active roster (no appointment included) meet the criteria for this academic bonus.

“Everyone’s going to do it, of course everyone in the SEC,” Ole Miss athletic director Keith Carter said. “We thought, ‘Let’s go before that. “”

Gordon and the rebels were the first, but they won’t be the last.

Dozens of schools across the country are also finalizing plans to start handing out such vouchers to their athletes, some with more stringent eligibility criteria. Just be eligible. The ACC, the SEC, the Pac-12 and the Big 12 have all announced that they plan to grant their schools the right to determine how to handle the NCAA ruling against Alston – a 9-0 Supreme Court ruling in June which opened the door to these payments. while shaking up the governing body of varsity athletics and further deepening its model of amateurism.

The High Court ruling allows programs to offer an assortment of education-related benefits, including unlimited scholarships for graduate studies, vocational training and study abroad, paid internships, computers and equipment and private lessons. And, of course, up to $ 5,980 in cash for “academic awards,” says Jeffrey Kessler, the victorious lawyer in the Alston case.

The Rebels will spend $ 2.48 million per year on additional payments for about 415 athletes, Carter said. This year the payments are funded by the sale of football season tickets. With Coach Lane Kiffin guiding the 12th-ranked rebels to an 8-2 start, the university has generated more ticket sales than expected and will use the excess income to fund additional financial support for athletes. Going forward, the school will include payments as an annual budget item.

Academic prices: ~ $ 2.5M.

At Ole Miss, academic bonus checks will be cut every Oct. 15 and March 15, Carter says.

“These are changes in the lives of some student athletes,” Kessler said. IF in an interview last summer. “Every Power 5 school should quickly deliver these benefits. “

It took over four months, but it happened.

Carter says his team has been looking into the matter since the summer. He described it as a tricky business with “many layers,” involving the school’s treasurer’s office, the state higher education system, and even the federal government.

Not all Ole Miss athletes will receive a check. Payments to athletes receiving federal student loans will go directly to paying off their loan, Carter said.

This will apply more to athletes who benefit from partial scholarships, as well as to accompanying persons. Those with full sports scholarships normally do not need student loans. The NCAA scholarship structure is divided into two groups: (1) “counted sports” offer full scholarships, such as football, basketball, and softball; and (2) “equivalency sports” are allowed to distribute a set number of purses over a larger roster size, such as baseball, which gets 11.7 purses for 27 players.

These academic payments are seen as a significant recruiting benefit in equivalency sports, an additional financial incentive for an athlete and their family. For example, a full Ole Miss scholarship for a state athlete is worth around $ 25,000 including tuition, fees, books, board and other expenses, according to the website. university. A baseball player with a 25% scholarship (about $ 6,500) who received nearly $ 6,000 in academic bonuses would have, in essence, half of his scholarship covered. Only 25% of this amount would be deducted from the team’s sports scholarship award.

Payments will also be an advantage in recruiting walk-in players in all sports, including football, where recruiting battles for substitutes, although somewhat unreported, are taking place.

The Next Frontier in Collegiate Sport: Unionizing Collegiate Athletes

Alston-related payments are in addition to participation fee payments that athletes receive. In 2015, the Power 5 Conferences adopted a rule allowing scholarships to include the full cost of attendance, which includes food, accommodation, travel, etc. Schools determine monthly allowance amounts based on a cost of living formula, producing a range of between $ 500 and $ 2,000 per month.

So why has it taken so long for schools to start enacting Alston Academic Payments? It’s a complicated and murky situation, administrators say. Many school officials take a wait-and-see approach because they don’t know how additional academic payments impact a full scholarship.

The US Department of Education cast further doubts on the matter in an exchange last month with ACC officials. IF obtained documents from the exchange, where Assistant Undersecretary Jordan Matsudaira informed the league that these academic bonuses are considered, as the cost of participation, as part of an athlete’s “financial aid package”. Matsudaira wrote to officials that university payments are also taxable and must be reported on a FAFSA form. However, the payments will not impact an athlete’s Pell grant money, Matsudaira wrote to the administrators.

Since the payments are seen as part of the overall aid package, some administrators interpret the situation differently, believing that athletes who receive a full scholarship and their full tuition allowance are not eligible. to earn more compensation, including from the Alston. the decision of the case.

Carter says his team checked all the scenarios.

“There were issues with the cost of participation,” Carter says, “but because it’s academic, we can attribute it.”

Ole Miss athletes can earn the Academic Bonus by (1) being registered; (2) be on an active list; (3) maintain eligibility for the previous semester; and (4) participate in the school life skills program called REBS.

The low academic threshold was expected and even predicted by many, including Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby.

“It could be as easy as staying eligible,” he said IF during the summer. “Every kid is going to get it. Whoever the smallest common dominant is, that’s what it’s going to be.

“It will be a bitter pill for a lot of schools. They can’t afford it, ”he said. “I guess well over half of the division won’t even try to allow me. It will affect where things go.

Not all schools will follow Ole Miss’s example. Some, like the state of Iowa, plan to deposit the payments into a trust that will be made to athletes upon graduation – an incentive to graduate, but also an incentive that could put the program at a disadvantage. recruitment. Other programs are debating whether to distribute only part of the money immediately.

Some schools are exploring ways to create more stringent criteria, such as a tiered approach based on an athlete’s GPA.

“The coaches will all want the model (Ole Miss),” says a Power 5 administrator, “but you’ve got to find the money somewhere. “

Conferences and schools must determine a model for themselves. An NCAA-wide policy could be seen as collusion, leading to more antitrust issues and legal challenges, experts say.

Some fear schools will go beyond cash payments. The Alston decision allows for any additional benefit related to education.

“You can promise to send a young man or woman to a Wall Street company for an internship that earns them a million dollars. Hey, it’s based on their education, ”says Len Elmore, former ESPN broadcaster, lawyer and member of the Knight Commission, a longtime independent group that promotes reforms that support college sport’s educational mission.

“If the school does that, will the player sign with them?” You can see what I’m saying. Education benefits are not inherently bad. But based on the lack of institutional integrity that we’ve seen, this makes it vulnerable to exploitation. “

What exactly is an education expense? That’s a question Bowlsby is asking. Is it an internship abroad? A vehicle to get to class?

“There will be a lot of things like the Miami Accord (NIL) where people think it’s the right thing to do,” Bowlsby said in July. “Someone might say, ‘We have $ 20,000 in education spending. We have a big campus and we think a scooter is something we need! ‘ “

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