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Rutgers Will Dole Out Stipends to Football and Basketball Athletes

Move Seen as Attempt to Stave Off Unionization by Student Athletes
Julie Hermann
Julie Hermann speaks at a celebration held in honor of Rutgers joining the Big Ten athletic conference. Charlie Kratovil

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Rutgers University is now providing "cost-of-attendence stipends" to 114 student athletes, in addition to the full scholarships already provided by the university. 

In-state students will be awarded an annual stipend of just under $4,200 a year, while annual stipends students from out of state will be just under $4,900.  

Brian Warcup, Director of Athletics Compliance at Rutgers, said that "cost of attendance" is determined by factoring tuition, student fees, room & board, as well as the NCAA's maximum allowed costs on books, supplies, transportation, and personal expenses.

Rutgers Athletics Director Julie Hermann says the school put roughly $10.6 million towards athletic scholarship aid during the previous fiscal year, adding that the stipends will increase that number by almost $1 million. 

"This was designed to take care of truly the miscellaneous costs that students incur. You do have extra costs when you go to college.''

But for the 2015-2016 school year, the stipends will only be given to the football team's 86 members, the men's basketball team's 13 members, and the women's basketball team's 15 members. 

"For your football players, your basketball players — the student-athletes who were in many ways the original targets of this concept — are in many ways getting the same money,'' Hermann told NJ.com.

"As we move across our total programming, we are still working pretty rigorously on making sure we are supporting at the highest level as fast as we can the other 22 sports.''

Rutgers joined the Big Ten athletic conference in July 2014, and is now its second year in the powerful athletic organization.

Advocates of the new stipends argued that the cash can attract athletic talent that might otherwise gravitate to rival schools. 

"Will there be numbers that get questioned? Probably so,'' Hermann said.  "Will we hustle to come up with a way to truly have measurable metrics so that we've got competitive equity, I think we will. Because this was not designed to give anybody an advantage."

But critics of the athletics department have conceded that the move has ulterior motives off possible attempts at unionization by student athletes.

"I think that athletic departments are very worried about unionization, and they're willing to throw a lot of carrots to prevent it from happening on various campuses, they're also throwing some sticks out there," said David Hughes, professor of anthropology at Rutgers and president of the Rutgers AAUP-AFT union.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), has been in the process for some time of adding more and more incentives to student athletes in its member universities.

In April 2014, the Division 1 Board of Directors ruled that schools could start covering the costs of meals for students.

This was followed by a decision the following January that would allow--but not require--members from the NCAA's Power Five conference (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC) to cover miscellaneous and day-to-day expenses.

Those changes went into effect on August 1, and were followed by a ruling on August 19 that will see the NCAA's Power Five Conference conference pumping an additional $160 million a year in additional student athlete benefits.

"I do think it'd be naive to say that the lawsuits didn't accelerate things, but there was a lot of discussion about needing to do this before some of the lawsuits came about," Kansas State President and NCAA Board of Governors chair Kirk Schulz told USA TODAY Sports.

Earlier this month, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled against recognizing a petition for unionization by student athletes at Northwestern University.

The ruling by the NLRB only applies to private universities, meaning public schools such as Rutgers could still see drives for unionization among their athletes. Northwestern is the only private university among the 14 members of the Big Ten Athletic Conference.

Still, the NLRB's decision did not address the core issue at hand, whether student athletes should be considered school employees or amateurs.

"They are workers, and in some cases you could say they work under conditions analogous to a sweatshop," said Hughes. "They operate under very dangerous conditions with longterm health consequences."

"They operate with very low pay... and a very low ratio of compensation to value created."

In the past several years, the NCAA and its member school have been on the receiving end of criticism for alleged mistreatment and exploitation of student athletes.

Many universities earn millions annually through television rights contracts and sponsorship deals, with money often going towards new facilities and big salaries for prominent coaches.

And Rutgers is no exception, according to public records.

C. Vivian Stringer, the coach of the women's basketball team, earned $1.6 million in 2014 and $963,000 in 2013.

Head football coach Kyle Flood earned $1.04 million in 2014, and $950,000 in 2013.

At a Rutgers Board of Governors meeting earlier in June, University President Bob Barchi unveiled the new athletic facilities master plan.

The ambitious project includes a multi-use facility for the 24 intercollegiate athletics teams, built on the current site of the Rutgers Athletic Center on Livingston Campus.

The Hale Center on Busch Campus would be redesignated for use by the football team, and the south end of the High Point Solutions Stadium would be used for practice by the men's and women's soccer and lacrosse teams, and the women's tennis team.

Upgrades were also proposed for the Sonny Werblin Recreation Center, the Rutgers Golf Training Complex, and Yurcak Field.

Barchi said that the pricetag could for the facilities improvements could be between $100 million to $300 million.