PHOENIX — Clemson cornerback Mackensie Alexander looks back on his upbringing in Immokalee, Florida fondly.
The son of immigrants, Alexander remembers growing up poor and he and his brothers helping pick tomatoes and oranges along with their parents to help make ends meet.
It’s an image, he said as his team prepares to meet Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, which motivates him. The thought of how much his parents worked so he and his brothers could have better lives has become part of his drive to be the best cornerback in the country. His goal is to one day make their lives easier.
And that financial path started this year thanks to the NCAA.
There’s been a lot of debate about giving college athletes “cost of attendance” stipends, but for Alexander, the extra money has become his first step toward helping his impoverished family.
“All my money’s helping my parents and stuff like that,” Alexander said. “They’ve got bills and stuff and they’re not working so that’s where my money goes to, helping them out and making sure they’re OK.
“I don’t need much. I’ve never had anything, so for me to sit here and try to go buy things that I don’t need. And I’m not a big materialistic like the world wants everybody to be. I’m a whole lot smarter than that. There’s people that need help. Helping others, not myself, and serving other people. That’s the biggest thing.”
Alexander might be in a small pool of college athletes who are using their modest stipends — ranging from $3,000 to $6,000 during a 10-month period depending on the university — to help their families, but it’s a reminder that the money isn’t just being used to buy shoes, clothes and hoverboards like North Carolina State athletics director Debbie Yow asserted during the IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum in New York last month.
“Mine’s just in the bank, I’m saving it,” Clemson offensive lineman Eric Mac Lain said. “I’m just looking long term.
“I think us as student-athletes do not have the opportunity to go work like other students have. Obviously, our days are more consumed with things that we have to be at. You know, our day goes from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. mostly and there’s no time for me to go get a job somewhere. So I think it’s been awesome what the NCAA has been able to do.”
Of course, a few players said they like to spend the money on food despite the fact that part of the new NCAA rules includes increased food available for student-athletes throughout the day. Others do purchase luxury items such as clothes and shoes. Some even said the extra cash affords them more dates with their girlfriends (and consequently, happier relationships). But the vast majority of players from Alabama and Clemson said they use extra money to pay housing costs and bills.
"I think it's working great so far," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "I think it's helped our quality of life to some degree and I think that's always been the goal from my standpoint. We're always supportive of trying to do more for the players."
Alexander smiles wide when he talks about his family and how he’s able to provide some help even if it’s modest. His mother had back surgery last Friday and his entire family will be watching Monday night’s championship game from a hospital room in Naples, Florida. He knows that the little bit he sends home allowed his mother to have surgery instead of working through pain.
“It’s been good, I think we needed it,” Alexander said of the stipends. “I think every athlete around America’s like, ‘Thank you Lord.’"
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