COLUMBIA — A new study suggests that the so-called "free ride" for college scholarship athletes isn't quite so free.
The report by Ithaca College researchers and a national athletes' advocacy group shows that the average "full scholarship" Division I athlete winds up having to pay $2,951 annually in school-related expenses not covered by grants-in-aid.
The shortfall represents the difference between educational expenses such as tuition, student fees, room and board and ancillary costs not covered by scholarships, from campus parking fees to calculators and computer disks required for classes.
At some schools, the shortfall can approach or exceed tuition costs. At Arkansas-Little Rock, for instance, the 2009 shortfall is nearly $11,000, said Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA linebacker who now heads the National College Players Association.
"It's really deceptive to use the words 'full scholarship,'" he said. "There's never an explanation for recruited athletes that the price tag for attending school falls short of the scholarship amount."
College athletes whose academic expenses aren't fully covered by scholarships are more susceptible to the influence of money-wielding sports agents, Huma suggested. In a recent Sports Illustrated report, a former agent said he paid more than 30 college football players from 1990-96. Seven of the athletes confirmed that account.
"The amounts of money he talked about giving these players falls within the scholarship shortfalls," Huma said. "These players are putting everything on the line to get a few bucks in order to make ends meet ... and to meet their basic necessities."
"If they were to fully fund scholarships, there would be less temptation."
A law passed in California earlier this month requires the state's colleges and universities to disclose more complete information about the actual costs of attendance, as well as details about uncovered medical expenses and policies on scholarship renewal and transferring to other schools.
The scholarship study by Huma's group and Ithaca College's Graduate Program in Sport Management is based on data submitted by individual schools to the U.S. Department of Education.
An NCAA spokesman called the current scholarship formula "appropriate for most student-athletes" and noted that some can obtain federal Pell Grants and other need-based aid in addition to athletic-related assistance.
The association's Division I Awards, Benefits, Expenses and Financial Aid Cabinet considered changes to the scholarship formula last year "allowing athletics aid up to the cost of attendance," but the proposal was not endorsed for further consideration, said NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson.
Another NCAA committee recently endorsed eight separate proposals allowing athletes to accept more financial aid — both merit- and need-based — without affecting team limits on such aid.
At the University of Missouri-Kansas City, which ranks fifth-highest in the new study with average out-of-pocket expenses of $5,030 annually, athletic director Tim Hall said the school is up front with recruits about their financial responsibilities beyond the scholarship amount.
"UMKC coaches and staff are careful to communicate to our potential student-athletes exactly what financial aid package will be provided to them," he said.