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Monday, August 17, 2015

Keegan

Column: Kansas athletes getting a raise

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Student-athletes at Kansas University on Aug. 24 will walk to the Olympic sports office on the second floor of the athletic department complex to receive old-fashioned paper checks, their first of 10 for the school year.

The envelopes will be a little heavier this year because they will be given a set amount in order to cover living expenses, including travel to and from school.

Not a lot heavier.

Just a little.

For KU athletes on full scholarship, the additional amount will be $364.40, 10 times a year, delivered on a monthly basis, said Beth Swank, director of student-athlete financial aid.

Swank, who works with senior associate athletics director/senior women’s administrator Debbie Van Saun in managing the distribution of financial aid within the department, said the additional money will be part of the same check as the room-and-board stipend.

To help those who consider Kardashian reality shows quality viewing, we’ll do the math on how much more money the new rules put into the pockets of athletes on full rides. Ten payments of $364.40 amounts to $3,640 per year. That portion of a student-athlete’s stipend has come to be known as the “gap money,” which covers the gap between the cost of tuition, room, board and books and the actual cost of attending school, commonly known as “the cost of attendance.”

For years, each school has had a “cost of attendance” number, calculated by the university, independent of the athletic department. The purpose of it? For one thing, it is used as a guide for student loans.

So this year, student-athletes living off campus will receive checks totaling $1,230 per month, $12,300 per year to cover room, board and living expenses.

It’s up to student-athletes how much of that money they want to spend on housing and food. They can find deals and pocket whatever they don’t spend. That has always been the case.

A common question I’ve fielded through the years: “I saw John Doe, the starting linebacker, driving a Lincoln Continental, and he wasn’t even hiding it. Shouldn’t somebody turn him in to the NCAA?”

Answer: No. Doe could spend $100 a month on meals, $200 a month for his portion of the rent for a house he shares with three friends and still have more than enough left over to lease that Lincoln Continental.

Now add $364.40 a month into the athlete’s pocket from years past, and the fancy wheels become even less suspicious.

Cries of unfairness because one school’s gap money will be larger than another’s are inevitable, but setting a standard payment for all schools is not an option because it would be in violation of our nation’s antitrust laws. Professional sports leagues have antitrust exemptions, which don’t apply to college athletics.

Look for gap money to increase steadily through the years for schools that can afford to take on the additional expense. The leap-frog game that athletic departments play against each other — forever improving facilities, housing, meals, etc. — undoubtedly will apply here. And it won’t bankrupt athletic departments.

Associate Athletics Director/Public Affairs Jim Marchiony approximated KU’s added annual expense of taking on the gap money will be $870,000. Not all conferences have mandated the optional new payments, but the Big 12 has.

As with any students who have jobs, some athletes will blow the money on foolish things, and others will invest it wisely and begin the cycle of turning cash into more cash. Considering how much dough some sports bring to universities, it’s nice to see the athletes get a slice of the pie, even if it is a small portion.

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