Editorials, Opinion

Academic awards shouldn’t depend on athletic scholarships

In Tuesday’s e-edition, The Dominion Post’s Sports section featured an article about WVU’s new Academic Incentive Program. But first, let’s rewind to June 2021.

Last year, the case NCAA v. Alston went all the way to the Supreme Court. In it, former WVU player Shawne Alston and other current and former Division I football and men’s and women’s basketball players challenged NCAA athlete compensation practices on anti-trust grounds. Ultimately, the Supreme Court voted 9-0 to uphold the ruling of the district court: The NCAA could continue to restrict the amount of athletic scholarships and non-education-related compensation and benefits for student-athletes, but it could not limit education-related benefits. The court did say, however, the NCAA “could continue to limit cash awards for academic achievement — but only so long as those limits are no lower than the cash awards allowed for athletic achievement (currently $5,980 annually).” Individual conferences can set limits, though the NCAA can still “regulate how conferences and schools provide education-related compensation and benefits,” according to the ruling.

The new  incentive program at WVU will allow student-athletes with athletic scholarships to also receive academic awards/financial assistance worth up to $5,980, but the athletes must meet certain requirements (see “WVU launches Academic Incentive Program; full-scholarship athletes would earn a $5,980 stipend” for full details). One caveat is student-athletes can only receive an academic award based on their scholarship level. A student who receives a full athletic scholarship can receive the full $5,980 for academic achievement, but a student who receives a partial athletic scholarship can only receive a percentage of the academic money based on their athletic scholarship.

We should always emphasize scholastic success among student-athletes. But, you may have noticed the Big 12 Conference decided to limit education-related benefits to “student-athletes who are receiving athletically related aid in all sports.” That means WVU’s program misses all the athletes who don’t receive athletic scholarships, and it penalizes the athletes who only get partial scholarships.

Last year, WVU had 341 athletes on the Big 12 Honor Roll and 81 who earned a 4.0 GPA — but football and basketball (men’s and women’s) are the only WVU sports that offer full athletic scholarships, so only a fraction of the student-athletes who worked extra hard academically can receive the full  benefit. And that just isn’t right.

All student-athletes should be eligible to receive the entire $5,980 — based, of course, on their academic performance and conduct off the field, instead of being contingent on their scholarship status.

For example, former WVU football walk-ons Owen Schmitt and Shane Commodore worked just as hard as, if not harder than, everyone else  but went years without  financial aid through the athletics program. Schmitt got his scholarship after two years on the team; Commodore got his as a fifth-year senior. Under this new program, neither would have been eligible to receive any of the academic financial aid until their scholarshipped year(s), regardless of their grades.

We understand that the NCAA sets the number of athletic scholarships, which means not every athlete can have an athletic scholarship. But student-athletes are still students, and the ones who can put in the work on the field/court/pitch/mat/etc. and still make exceptional grades deserve access to the academic awards, even if they couldn’t get one of the limited athletic scholarships.

The Big 12 conference set this limitation, so it can revoke it. As one of the member schools, WVU should push the Big 12 to expand academic award eligibility to all student-athletes who can prove scholastic excellence.