Students allege cheating in NCAA payback plan

Molly Moker

Student-athletes who have no time for a job can have trouble affording basic needs such as clothing and course supplies.

The NCAA special assistance fund exists to help these students.

The fund provides a stipend for certain expenses including clothing and shoes, course supplies, rental equipment, medical expenses and emergency transportation, said Athletics Compliance Director Frank Kara.

Reimbursements are made based on receipts students provide.

But some students said they know athletes are turning in receipts from purchases they did not personally make.

Students who qualify for federal Pell Grants automatically qualify for the special assistance fund. But any student who demonstrates financial need might also qualify for the fund.

Students must apply to receive funding every semester.

Reimbursements are decided on an individual basis depending on each athlete’s needs. But clothing and shoes purchases combined are limited to $500 per year.

This year, 125 University student-athletes used the fund, Kara said. On average, students are reimbursed $400, but Kara said the amount has ranged from $125 to $1,568 this year.

The NCAA finances the fund. Money is sent to the Big Ten conference each year and

universities divide the money based on how many student-athletes received Pell Grants the previous year at each institution.

Pell Grants are awarded to low-income students.

This year, the University received approximately $70,000 from the NCAA for the fund, Kara said.

University students who qualify are notified via e-mail and must apply. Applications are then reviewed along with each student’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid, if one is on file.

New clothes

Kara said the clothing stipend is the most accessed aspect of the program.

To be reimbursed, students must bring in receipts to the athletics compliance office. They can be from any store and must be dated within the semester of reimbursement, Kara said.

“It should be from a place that sells clothes, but if it’s not specified, there’s no way to check,” he said.

Calling stores or asking athletes to bring in their purchases is a step too far in not trusting students, Kara said.

The purchases do not need to be athletically related, Kara said.

“Usually they go to Target, the Gap, Abercrombie, or wherever,” he said.

Eddie Kibira, a first-year student and member of the track team, said he is on the fund and spends most of the money on regular clothing.

“It’s not running clothes, but more normal clothing,” Kibira said. “I just bought some clothes and shoes, like a winter jacket, pants, a couple shirts, and a couple winter shoes. You pretty much go to the mall and get whatever you want.”

Though Kibira said he only turns in receipts for what he purchases, he said he’s heard other athletes abuse the fund.

Some students turn in other people’s receipts to get reimbursements from the department, he said.

“I’ve heard that some people do that,” Kibira said “People talk about it, and will be joking about doing it, but I haven’t.”

First-year student Todd Johnson, also a member of the track team, said it would not be difficult to cheat the system.

“I’d say (the program) is a little lax,” Johnson said. “You’re probably not supposed to (turn in other people’s receipts), but you could get away with it.”

Johnson said he has spent all $500 of his clothing stipend.

Kara said he has never heard of athletes using other people’s receipts, but said it is possible.

“We try to look for suspicious things and we have a pretty good process which is fairly appropriate,” Kara said. “But it wouldn’t be hard to do. Receipts aren’t coming in with their names on it.”

Assistance at other universities

Universities set their own fund regulations, Kara said. They include personally taking students to the mall to supervise purchases and giving students cash upfront.

“The NCAA doesn’t require the schools to get receipts,” Kara said. “The University falls in the middle of the range.”

Officials from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Michigan said their institutions also require receipts.

Fred Mims, associate athletics director at the University of Iowa, said more than 80 students are part of the special assistance fund at the university.

Students are allotted $250 for clothing a semester, but many regulations are in place, he said. Wants, such as sports jerseys, are not acceptable, Mims said.

He said staff members accompany athletes to the mall and pay for their purchases.

Without such precautions, Mims said, students might take advantage of the system:

“We operate (so) that we don’t put money in people’s hands. We’re not to say it’s right or wrong, but it works for us.”