Scholarship shortfall study reveals college athletes pay to play

The NCPA asserts that, by and large, universities have been deceiving recruits, many of whom are under the age of 18 and from disadvantaged backgrounds, into unknowingly being responsible for paying thousands of dollars while on "full" athletic scholarshi

March 26, 2009

“Full scholarship” can leave college athletes with as much as $30,000 in expenses

Click here to access the NCPA Scholarship Shortfall search tool.

Norco, CA—With the 2009 NCAA men’s basketball tournament heating up, today the National College Players Association (NCPA), formerly known as the Collegiate Athletes Coalition (CAC), released results of another significant study revealing the estimated shortfall between college athletes’ full scholarships and the actual cost of attendance at each Division I university.

The NCPA asserts that, by and large, universities have been deceiving recruits, many of whom are under the age of 18 and from disadvantaged backgrounds, into unknowingly being responsible for paying thousands of dollars while on “full” athletic scholarship.

“The fact is, coaches fill high school recruits’ heads with promises of free rides and full scholarships, when in fact no such things exist.  The NCAA designs full scholarships to fall short of the advertised price tag of a school, leaving recruits scrambling to make ends meet,” stated United Steelworkers International President Leo W. Gerard.

NCAA rules prohibit universities from providing athletic scholarships that equal the cost of attendance.  That means that a full scholarship athlete is expected to pay out of pocket for expenses that are not covered by a full scholarship.

“It’s deceptive to call it a ‘full’ athletics scholarship when it doesn’t fully pay for a university’s estimated price tag.  These same universities offer ‘full’ academic scholarships that do cover the price tag of a school.  This appears to be a deliberate attempt at misleading young high school student-athletes, their parents, and current college athletes,” stated NCPA President Ramogi Huma.

The NCPA partnered with Ellen J. Staurowsky, a professor of sport management and graduate chair of the department at Ithaca College in New York, to calculate the estimated scholarship shortfall at every Division I university that offers athletic scholarships.

Staurowsky stated, “The mythology that college athletes receive a free education in exchange for their athletic labor is a powerful one, fueled in part, by a public perception that athletes have an easy path to being admitted into college and a privileged path through school once in.  The database we’ve compiled begins to debunk this myth and serves as an important public disclosure mechanism to aid athletes as they consider their scholarship offers.  Athletes and their families should know that this gap exists and that their expenses will be greater than the promise a free ride suggests.”  

The data revealed that NCAA scholarship limitations can leave a full scholarship athlete with expenses ranging from as low as $200 per year up to more than $6,000 per year.  That means that, NCAA rules mandate  a “full” scholarship athlete to pay up to $30,000 over the course of five years.

The average amount an athlete on “full scholarship” would be required to pay out of pocket amounted to $2,763 per year, or more than $13,800 over the course of five years.  Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis had the highest scholarship shortfall, amounting to over $6,000 per year, followed closely by the University of Missouri-Kansas City, East Tennessee State University, Saint Louis University, University of Louisville and Charleston Southern University, all with a greater than $5,000 per year estimated shortfall.

The University of South Carolina Upstate recorded the smallest scholarship shortfall at $200 per year.  Other universities with the smallest scholarship shortfalls include: Gardner-Webb University; Colgate University; College of the Holy Cross; Providence College and Tulane University, ranging from a $700 to over $900 per year shortfall.

As a service to high school recruits, their parents, and college athletes, the NCPA made all 336 schools’ estimated scholarship shortfalls available on its web site at

“Every college athlete, recruit and parent should go to the NCPA web site and look closely at these shortfall numbers.  Otherwise, they will find that their ‘full’ scholarship is leaving them buried in unexpected expenses,” said Huma.

With the $6 billion that the NCAA is receiving from CBS alone, there is more than enough new money to eliminate these scholarship shortfalls for the players who generate over $4 billion each year.

NCAA rules mandate a scholarship shortfall at every school that offers athletic scholarships in Divisions I and II.  “With hundreds of thousands of athletes participating in NCAA sports, how many athletes have been unfairly burdened with debt in the last few decades due to the misinformation that they have received?” asked Gerard.  “How much debt have they put on high interest credit cards that will take many years to pay off?”

Because there is such a wide range of scholarship shortfalls among schools across the nation ($200/yr - $6000/yr), the results from this study give schools with lower scholarship shortfalls an enormous recruiting advantage among recruits who want to avoid higher out-of-pocket expenses.

The NCAA’s position is clear.  Although it is supposed to eliminate recruiting advantages, it has fought tooth and nail to subject unsuspecting players to scholarship shortfalls. “If I was a coach or fan of a school with a large scholarship shortfall, I’d be very worried about the future of my athletic program,” Huma stated.

The United Steelworkers have helped back the NCPA since 2001.  The NCPA has established itself as the voice for college athletes, and has helped bring forth important reforms including:
• Helped establish a $10 million fund to assist former athletes who wish to complete their undergraduate degree or attend a graduate program
• Elimination of limits on health care for college athletes
• Increase in the NCAA death benefit from $10,000 to $25,000
• Expansion of the NCAA Catastrophic Injury Insurance Policy so that college athletes who suffer permanent, debilitating injuries can receive adequate home health care
• Implementation of key safety guidelines to help prevent deaths during workouts
Complete NCPA study results and additional studies are available on the NCPA web site:

Shortfall estimates are the sum of expenses that cannot be covered in a full grant in aid athletic scholarship per NCAA rules.  The data used to calculate shortfall numbers was taken from information published by the schools in the study as well as information made available by the US Department of Education.  The NCPA says actual shortfall numbers will vary according to each individual student. The NCPA reached out to all 336 colleges and universities to offer an opportunity to provide any data disputing their school’s scholarship shortfall calculation.  Of the 11 athletic programs that contacted the NCPA about their shortfall estimates, four had general inquiries, four had their concerns resolved, two did not respond to NCPA clarifications, and one wrote a letter disagreeing with their school’s estimate without providing any supporting data.