What the Stipend could mean for the Mountain West Conference

NCAA president Mark Emmert - Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

How could a change to the NCAA rules on stipends affect the MWC? Look no further than Title IX.

The Power 5 conferences want to make changes to the NCAA rules. One of the most controversial of those changes is centered on the idea of giving student athletes a stipend of around $2,000-$5,000 to football players. Proponents argue that those stipends would cover expenses beyond tuition, room and board, books and fees. Of special concern for the MWC is Title IX compliance and how the stipend would apply to scholarship sports.

In the past NCAA officials were adamantly opposed to this idea of any kind of pay-for-play. The college game is already corrupt and apparent in Ohio State's recent problems and Auburn's pay-for-play scandal. Yet, there seems to be some support in allowing pay-for -play to happen. New NCAA president Mark Emmert has sided with the major college football commissioners in demanding changes at a proposed summit of Division I schools in January.

Beyond the corruption issue, one reason cited in the past by the NCAA as an obstacle to give stipends to student-athletes is a piece of legislation from 1972 known as Title IX. Under Title IX there are no provisions that would allow teams to pay the players of certain sports without including pay for all, including women’s sports. In today’s college sports its men’s football and basketball programs that are much more likely to be profitable, not women’s basketball or soccer teams. And that is especially true of the Mountain West programs. MW schools would have to allow pay for female athletes as well, even though for the most part they are a drain on school resources.

To provide a fixed amount of money every month to an athlete for four years could be devastating to most MW athletic budgets under Title IX. As an example take Fresno State’s new recruit for 2014, safety Tobenna Okeke. Had he been offered an annual stipend of $2,000 in addition to a scholarship, it would cost the school a minimum of $8,000 over four years. Extend that stipend to the maximum football players under scholarships allowed by the NCAA rules and the sum could easily swell to $200,000 a year. But if the football players got financial stipends, Title IX would prohibit discrimination based on gender and almost certainly require stipends to be paid in other Fresno State sports. That is because all Division I schools must field teams in at least seven sports for men and seven for women or six for men and eight for women. Fresno State fields 18 varsity sports teams with a number of scholarships in each sport. A stipend could potentially leave Fresno State, already faced with state budget cuts, with a troubling $455,000 per year in pay-for-play expenditures.

If the stipend is adopted it will change the way all of college athletics are played and especially in the MWC. Already, Title IX is part of the reason why some men's sports have been discontinued due to financial restrictions in supporting women's sports. Boise State, for instance, does not field a baseball team because that would further require an expansion of women’s teams and scholarships. Look for other MW programs to cutback or eliminate many of their non-revenue sports teams as well.

All this poses a lot of meaningful questions that needs to be answered. Would some of the other conferences be forced to reconsider FBS status or even return to FCS ranks? And what if a number of MW schools aren't able to pay or keep up with stipends? For most MWC schools it could pose a huge hardship by not being able to contend for the better athletes in a haves-vs-the-have-nots world. In the end it could cause many of the schools to leave the conference altogether rather than sinking to the league’s bottom. It would be safe to say that a few of the MW programs could be done with FBS or Division I football.

The NCAA rules are going to change, perhaps as early as January 2014. Right now the NCAA lacks any real leadership or direction and continues to languish with indecision on many issues. The Power conferences sense that lack of power and are moving to take advantage of it. Whether the changes are going to include stipends, a complete restructuring of the rules, or a capitulation by the NCAA to the Power conferences remains to be seen.

But just the issue of stipends alone does not bode well for many teams in the Mountain West Conference.

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