The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday November 26th

NCAA funds academic support for athletes

Alyssa Andress, a freshman lacrosse player, said days spent balancing school and sports can make it difficult to seek the kinds of help normally available to UNC students.

So she uses athlete-specific tutors.

“We can’t always get to the teachers because of practices and workouts during office hours,” she said. “Having the tutors here at night helps balance that out.”

This year, full-time, athlete-specific academic support staff and tutors cost the University $1.36 million, which represents 1.8 percent of the total athletic budget.

More than $400,000 of that spending goes directly to a corps of part-time tutors for athletes.

Money from an NCAA fund earmarked for student athletes’ benefit is helping the tutoring program avoid cuts affecting other parts of the department.

The Student-Athlete Opportunity Fund helps UNC pay for its tutoring program as it decreases use of department-generated funds.

This year’s athletic budget proposed increases in spending for bigger categories like “salaries and benefits” and “direct sports expenses.”

The former saw a $2.7 million increase that equaled the amount of the department’s new revenue. The latter saw $1.6 million in new spending while other areas, such as facilities and administration, saw cuts.

This year’s budget accords “academic support,” a category mostly made of tutoring spending, $120,000 less in department-generated money than last year. That’s a nearly 24 percent drop from last year.

An increasingly large chunk of the NCAA money is making up the difference. Two years ago, about $25,000 of the money was used for academic support, said Amy Herman, the former associate athletic director for compliance in an interview that took place before her resignation Friday. Last year, that amount was $100,000. This year, it will be $200,000, or about half of tutoring spending.

Before Herman left her post, she administered the fund’s use at UNC.

Numerous academic support officials in the athletic department declined requests to be interviewed for this article. They didn’t answer questions about why the tutoring budget was increasing or give reasons for the increased need for academic support services.

In May, UNC revealed academic fraud had taken place in some African and Afro-American Studies classes, some of which contained a disproportionately large percentage of athletes. The relationship between academic support officials and these classes has been the subject of much speculation.

The NCAA’s Student-Athlete Opportunity Fund is distributed through conferences with the stipulation that it be spent only on a narrow set of circumstances.

The fund is one of 26 programs that received $124 million out of the NCAA’s $845 million-plus in annual revenue. The amount a given school receives is calculated based on the number of sports it sponsors and how many of its athletes are eligible for Pell Grants.

UNC spends the money on things like insurance for student athletes without coverage and travel in the case of family emergencies.

“(The fund’s purpose is) to help student athletes where they need assistance outside of athletic participation,” Herman said.

She said in four years UNC’s payout has increased from $343,000 to the $500,000 she expected the University to get this year.

Shamaree Brown, the Atlantic Coast Conference’s director of student athlete programs and compliance, monitors schools’ usage of the money to ensure they follow NCAA rules. He said UNC’s payout is higher than the $350,000 average among ACC schools because it sponsors more sports and thus has a larger pool of Pell-eligible athletes.

Although UNC considered cutting some Olympic sports in lieu of a $45 academic fee increase it didn’t receive, the department has not cut them.

Because the NCAA derives the majority of its revenue from television distribution rights for the men’s basketball tournament, money available for the fund will likely increase as the tournament becomes more valuable.

The fund’s guidelines dictate that money can’t be used for full-time salaries or capital improvement projects, but tutors are part-time employees, so the funds can go toward their paychecks.

In fact, UNC has doubled its tutor spending to $404,000 in the last two years. Spending on academic support-related office supplies and equipment is nearly flat over the same period.

“We didn’t take anything away,” said Martina Ballen, a senior associate athletic director who acts as the department’s Chief Financial Officer.

“We’re just using a different funding source.

“Because there was a growing need to spend more on academic support, we knew we had these funds available and decided to use the funds for this purpose,” she said.

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