Scholarship changes stir controversy

By Daorcey Le Bray

Even though changes made this summer to the Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union’s student-athlete scholarship policy took effect in September, debate still surrounds the controversial restrictions.

The most visible change is an increase in the amount of financial support a university may give an athlete. Since 1986, the CIAU has allowed Canadian student-athletes only $1,500 of support per annum. Recently this number has become more flexible.

"Cumulatively you cannot receive an athletic award greater than tuition and compulsory fees," says University of Calgary Athletics Director Don Wilson.

On top of this allowance by the CIAU, U of C athletes are also eligable for the $1,000 Alberta Heritage Jimmy Condon Athletic Scholarship.

Proponents of this policy point out that having more money available to Canadian student-athletes will curb the thousands of high school athletes who annually flee to American institutions with "full-ride" athletic scholarships in order to ease the economic burden of university. Krista Kinsmann, a new U of C volleyball team member, is one of those students who went south for four years with such a scholarship. She is now back in town so she can play a couple of years with her home town team, but she says she would have been here earlier if the U of C had been able to match the economic incentives made by Oregon State University a few years ago.

"I could get a degree and play on a good volleyball team for nothing," Kinsmann explains.

She may have stayed in Calgary if the CIAU revisions had been made before she started school.

CIAU spokesperson Marc Bartschat says the new changes will make "the decision of whether to stay home or go to a foreign country to pursue their education a lot easier."

Yet the new financial support policy still falls short when compared to the U.S. U of C women’s volleyball Coach Kevin Boyles concedes that the new scholarship policy "doesn’t compete with the States."

Even though Canadian universities are allowed to give out an amount covering full tuition and compulsory fees, many American institutions are prepared to pay for a student’s residence, books and other expenses as soon as the student enters the university. Another difference between Canadian and American scholarship programs is that while Canadian universities can only give athletic scholarships to first-year students if they have a matriculation average over 80 per cent, marks are not an issue for students walking in the door for the first time at American universities.

Within the CIAU’s scholarship policy there is another restriction that Wilson admits is "a topic of contention." This restriction states that scholarships worth full tuition and compulsory fees can only be given to returning students. However, the definition of what constitutes a returning student confuses many.

Tim Bothwell, coach of the U of C men’s hockey team, refers to the debate over returning student status as "very cloudy and grey."

According to Wilson, the University of Calgary sees returning

students as students who have successfully completed two semesters at the university. Therefore, athletes here are able to receive the full amount of scholarship money in May of their first year and again in September in their second.

Universities in Ontario on the other hand, see returning students differently and are only prepared

to give full scholarship money at

the beginning of an athlete’s second year.

Despite the confusion over the returning student concept, there is a rule about the minimum grade point average a scholarship recipient must have that all universities have accepted. To be eligible for money, athletes must surpass a 2.3 GPA. Head Coach Andy Gibbs, of the U of C’s men’s soccer team, thinks 2.3 is too low and will not promote a high quality of academics in athletics.

"You need a [higher GPA level] because one of the pluses of Canadian education is the academic excellence," explains Gibbs.

Although the CIAU’s removal of the $1,500 cap is an improvement for student athletes, many feel problems may follow this change.

Some critics say that the removal of the cap will create a two-tiered CIAU where the richer universities in the country will be able to give out more scholarships than those institutions that cannot afford full-tuition deals for their athletes.

"It’s unfair," says Bothwell about the prospect of the power of wealthy universities creating dream teams. "Most of the universities just don’t have the money."

This case is evident at the U of C. Most of the cash for scholarships comes from private donations and endowments, and Athletics is restricted to the amount of money that has been donated. On top of that, only five per cent of each endowment per year is available to student athletes.

"We just don’t have the money to give [student athletes]," says Wilson. "[But] we’re working on it."

It is obvious the rising costs of tuition and the importance of keeping Canadian athletes in Canadian universities were influences on the CIAU’s decision to amend their scholarship policy, but the changes have caused more concern than expected.

Bothwell comes to this conclusion: "I think the CIAU was trying to do the right thing, but it has backfired on them."

It’s a comment that represents the view of many of his peers.

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