One controversial issue in the United States right now circles around paying collegiate athletes. Are the students that partake in these programs being paid? Where is the line that divides professional and amateur (NCAA) and is this line being forgotten about?
The National Collegiate Athletic Association is the government of college athletics. It makes the rules and implements them into their three-tiered society, Divisions I, II and III.
The three classes of athletics demonstrate skill level, financial support and time commitment. But perhaps the most heartbreaking of the three would be the financial issues that rise from a university’s ability to classify themselves as a particular division, now more than ever. St. Cloud State, among many other universities, is taking a big financial leap for their Division I sports.
The 2016 fall semester will be a semester for the record books for Division I college athletes.
“Division I college athletes now can receive athletics scholarships that provide funds to help pay the full costs of attending college, such as travel and other expenses. The 65 schools in the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern conferences approved the rule in January, and since then it has been adopted by other Division I schools and conferences,” stated the NCAA website in September.
The stipulation and fine print of this new amendment to the NCAA rule book is that not all Division I schools have to comply. All universities do, however, have to publically state if they are going to give cost of living to their athletes, how much they are willing to give, and to whom.
This statement must be put on record. It would make sense that not all universities who are currently competing at the DI level can afford to pay for their athlete’s complete cost of living, but then again without full support, the divisions would be in disarray.
Those who cannot afford to cover this new scholarship form will be forced to suffer recruitment loss, titles and championships, and eventually student and school moral.
Another key piece to remember is that not only are there Division I, II and III universities, but there are also universities that have two different level sports teams all competing for the same name. Heather Weems, the Athletic Director for St. Cloud State University clarifies this.
“As an institution there have been some grandfathering rules now currently if you are to go Division 1 you take your entire program Division I. We [St. Cloud State University] are grandfathered in because there was a time where you could have really two sports that had to be a men’s and a women’s that was Division I and everything else could be Division II and Division III,” she stated in an interview on Nov. 12th.
She also stated that for the first time in 10 or so years, some grandfathered-in universities are contemplating bringing their entire program down to Division II. SCSU, along with other schools nationwide, are now faced with some questions: Can this school afford to give our Division I athletes Cost of Attendance and if so, where will it get the money to do so? Keeping this in mind, where do Division II athletes fit in to all of this?
If the majority of the money funding sports right now is going to be used to pay for St. Cloud State’s Division I hockey athletes, what does this mean for the Division II sports at SCSU?
Weems claims this will have no effect on the rest of the sports teams. However, the Division II sports are not necessarily in the clear.
“We do recognize that we have some concerns about our Division II scholarships,” says Weems.
When asked about circumstances of athletic scholarship funding, St. Cloud State Swimming and Diving coach Jeff Hegle said, “Division II students don’t have to worry about it because it’s not something that’s available to them.”
When asked about the potential of the impact this will have on Division II sports, Hegle says, “We haven’t seen any effect. The largest effect is if the school would decide to take dollars away from the Division II sports to provide for that Division I sport to meet that need.”
Out of the 16 teams in the NSIC, SCSU is eighth for men, ninth for women, and seventh overall in scholarship money. These numbers are concerning when looking at the competitiveness of the NSIC. If St. Cloud State, or any university for that matter, wants to remain competitive, they have to find ways to keep skilled athletes coming to their college, which, sadly, comes down to money.
Mankato State University is one of St Cloud State’s biggest competitors and is ranked higher in scholarship money. If St. Cloud State wants to remain a serious competitor, they may need to find the money to give scholarships to Division II athletes, along with Division I athletes.
Weems doesn’t believe it will affect recruiting, either.
“There’s a sexiness in going Division I,” she said, but adds that students know their athletic abilities and if they are Division I level they will play Division I, but if they are Division II level, they will play Division II.
Many athletes go Division I because of the appeal of playing at a higher level but then realize they do not have the talent to play at that level and would rather get playing time than sit on the bench.
For recruitment dollars at St. Cloud State, Hegle states student athletes that are on the border of deciding between Division I and Division II sports is not a problem they are running into but may in the future and will deal with it then.
So tying this back to scholarships, Weems believes a student athlete will ultimately end up at a level that gives him or her the most playing time, regardless of what the other athletes at the school are getting paid.
Looking at the future of these college athletes, Weems believes that greater things lie ahead.
“Ninety-nine percent of college student athletes will go pro in something other than sport; they will go on and have regular jobs. I think what we have to do is remain grounded that it’s more about the experience,” says Weems.
There is talk now, for the first time in history, of having some schools move down to Division II because of the large gap of competitiveness and talent in Division I sports. Weems doesn’t see this as a step down.
“Our Division II athletes are getting as good of an experience as our Division I athletes,” says Weems.
As great as the experience is, money plays a huge role in this as well. Being a college student is not easy; being a student athlete makes this experience even more challenging. Things such as finding time to balance between schoolwork and practice can be difficult.
If student athletes are not getting paid to play college sports we may see a drop in students taking part in college sports because of the lack of funding.
Javonte Suber is a student athlete on the Huskies track and field team. When talking about his thoughts on the issue he seemed relaxed.
“We haven’t been told much as a team about what the final plans are for this. It’s not that we are being kept out of the loop on purpose, I think everyone is just waiting to see what is in the future,” said Suber.
To say that Division II sports will not be affected by this change in funding is somewhat inaccurate. The short term effects of this change in funding may seem rather dismal for the Division II sports at St. Cloud State University, but Weems says that the change will be good for the long term.
Not every sport generates money at SCSU. In fact, only the men’s hockey team brings in more money than it exhausts. By putting more money into the men’s hockey program, that will in turn bring in more money in the future.
“The investment in hockey enables us to invest in other programs in a way that benefits the other programs,” says Weems.
There is a great pressure to remain successful and competitive. With other teams in the NSIC bringing that competitive factor, the pressure is on for St. Cloud State to do the same.
“We have to stay relevant,” says Weems.
By bringing in this extra funding to the Division I sports at SCSU, the hope is that it helps the college stay relevant. In any situation, the funding is put into whatever brings in the most money, and at SCSU, that is the men’s hockey program. This new funding plan being beneficial to other sports at SCSU lies on the shoulders of the men’s hockey program and their ability to continuously perform well to keep generating revenue.
Suber says, “I am sure the school will make the best decision for not only student athletes here at SCSU but the school as a whole. I have complete faith in my administration and coaches in keeping us updated when more news comes around.”
Needless to say, SCSU will have a lot of decision making to do over the next few months and only time will tell about how this will affect all students involved in athletics.
Tia Erickson, Alexis Pearson, Sao Sypaseuth, Jack O’Neil Como contributed to this article.