Full-cost scholarships could be tough on smaller schools

Score one for the full-scholarship student-athlete - at least those at the bigger schools.

On Thursday, the NCAA closed the gap between an athletic scholarship and the actual cost of attendance by approving a financial package that will allow schools to provide athletes on full scholarships up to $2,000 or whatever it would cost to cover the full cost of attendance (whichever is less). The legislation mainly applies to athletes in football and basketball and those in smaller sports who are receiving full scholarships. The legislation does apply to both men and women's sports in compliance with Title IX.

The issue of giving athletes an additional stipend is one that has been a hot button topic in college athletics for some time and now, with NCAA approval, it's on the conferences to decide whether to adopt the legislation into their own leagues.

Adding full cost-of-attendance reform should not be a problem for the BCS conferences — after all, SEC commissioner Mike Slive and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany were two of the more outspoken proponents of the legislation, and those conferences are making money hand over fist. But there is a perception that some of the smaller conferences might have trouble coming up with the funds to compete.{YSP:MORE}

"While the WAC's member institutions support providing its student-athletes with additional financial support, the current economic climate that exists on university campuses across the country will make this extremely challenging for WAC members," WAC commissioner Karl Benson said in an email.

The fact that other institutional aid, including the Student Opportunity Fund, has been opened up to use for this additional money, might make it a little easier for smaller institutions to doll out the cash they need to help their athletes make ends meet.

The caveat to this measure, explains Sun Belt commissioner Wright Waters, is that not every full scholarship athlete is entitled to the stipend. While each conference is different, it's likely that conferences will set a maximum number of these stipends and teams can then pick and choose which athletes get them. How would this work? It would be left up to the coaches and could create some lively competition for student-athletes during recruiting.

Moreover, since Pell Grants, which are given to need-based students, aren't factored into a full-cost scholarship, it's possible for certain students who receive both the Pell Grant and the stipend to actually make money to go to school, which is not the intention of the NCAA and could result in government taxation.

Still, the additional aid will create a better environment for the student-athlete it's just unclear whether all full scholarships athletes will see the benefit.

"I think it's too early to tell what the effect might be," Waters said. "Sometimes, our schools are doing a better job of financial aid and securing financial aid for students than some of the larger schools."

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Graham Watson is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow her @Yahoo_Graham.

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