A friend reached out last week to ask if I had heard any chatter about grad assistants receiving a bump in their scholarships to cover "cost of attendance."
As many are aware, beginning in August, schools will now be allowed to provide additional funds to athletes to cover the school stipulated "cost of attendance" (meant to address things such transportation to and from, computers, calculators and other miscellaneous expenses not addressed by traditional "room and board"). While many universities are still finalizing exactly how much that will be, most estimates peg that figure in the ballpark of an additional $4,000 per year per student.
Back to my story: I had not heard any chatter along the lines of grad assistants also receiving "cost of attendance" in their scholarships; but the concept makes a lot of sense to me, so I asked a few questions. For those not familiar, when referring to grad assistants, I'm referring to young coaches, typically in the very early part of their careers (often right out of college), who work very long hours while receiving very little compensation. Grad assistants are required to be accepted into school, and must attend graduate level classes, working towards an advanced degree, all while working 60-plus hours per week for the football team. While their scholarships do cover the tuition costs associated with their pursuit of an advanced degree, the "stipend" portion of their scholarship amounts to very, very little per month.
I reached out to several programs to ask how much the grad assistants received per month. Most of the coaches and administrators I asked seemed reluctant to answer, but upon pressing they answered the question. One AD responded that his grad assistants receive "just under $1,000 per month and nothing in the summer". A few associate ADs responded with "about $1,100 here, depending on what program they are in," and "I'm ashamed to say it, but our guys get $800 before taxes." The most I heard from any program was from one who said their guys got $1,500 per month.
When I asked these coaches and administrators if they had discussed the possibility of their grad assistants receiving the cost of attendance bump they responded nearly in unison that while they had not thought of that, they liked the idea, but felt that it could be a tough sell to their universities.
Let's step back and think about this for a minute.
Allow me to set the stage. First, graduate assistant positions at the Division I level are extremely sought after; possibly more sought after than the athletic scholarships many of these same guys got when choosing where they would pursue their undergraduate degree. For example (and purely hypothetically speaking), an offensive lineman from the state of Oklahoma might have worked and dreamed all of his 17 years of life to strap up at OU. Luckily for him, he was blessed with great genes, an incredibly strong work ethic, successful and supportive parents and excellent high school coaches. Yes, he was lucky enough to have been one of four offensive linemen the Sooners offered a scholarship to that year. He was fortunate enough to have also received offers from other programs such as Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri and other regional programs, but for family reasons he wanted to stay close to home and chose to play at Oklahoma. Now, let's jump forward in this hypothetical example: four years later he is finishing out both his degree and his playing time and is set to marry the young lady of his dreams. He was a leader on the team, a 4.0 student and contributed to OU's success on the field, but just didn't have the size and athleticism necessary to take his game to the next level. That was okay with this young man, he was very happy with his college education, and playing experience at OU and he was one of the lucky few who felt strongly at his young age that he had found his calling, he wanted to coach college football and be a positive influence on the lives of young men in the same way his coaches were for him...and he wanted to do it at OU, near his parents home, the only place he or his fiancee ever has or ever will consider home.
Wait, what's that? A problem? First, Oklahoma only has one grad assistant position that works with the offensive line and that position is already filled. Oh, and the "pay" associated with that role? Imagine telling your new wife that "take home pay is just about $1,000 per month." That's a hard thing to do. What's the response when she rightfully points out that that amount is less than you were receiving during your senior year when you were on athletic scholarship? Oh, and the hours? "Well, during the season we're in the office at six, game planning until nine when I have to hustle across campus to the graduate school of business. Classes until noon then back to football. We meet from one to 2:40 and then practice from three to six, quick bite to eat and then we watch film from seven to nine. The coaches leave about then which allows me some quiet time...to do all of the things they need done by six a.m. the next day when we all get back in. Then I try to find some time to do the grad school assignments for the day, and the next thing I know it's midnight. Guess I'll blow up the airbed again and rack out here on the floor. G'night."
Back to actually being "lucky" enough to get one of these coveted positions, as the owner of FootballScoop I can attest that when one of these positions opens, and is publicized, the program can easily receive hundreds of applications in one hour. I recall last year, Ohio State asked us to put word out that they had an opening for a defensive grad assistant position...and they called back about two hours later begging that we shut it down...their email, phones and fax machines (yeah) had blown up. "Hundreds of resumes already." Yeah, these aren't easy positions to get.
The truth about grad assistant positions is that they typically go to the "best and brightest," the future of the profession, the guys who want to coach for all of the right reasons. If 1,000 qualified guys want a job, your college coach isn't going to hire you unless you have "it." "It" in this case is the deep desire to help young men improve their lives, to devote your life to helping others. These are the young men who one day will be as revered as Saban, Snyder, Stoops, and Beamer (all of whom were grad assistants). Or, the next Urban Meyer could make an entirely sane and sensible decision to enter another profession, one that doesn't require fealty in the form of cranking out 60-hour weeks for three bucks an hour.
It's time to change this, and adding the cost of attendance bump into their scholarships would be a good first step.