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July 26, 2011
How Slive's proposal impacts Mississippi
When SEC commissioner Mike Slive proposed sweeping changes to NCAA rules, he presented ideas that would change operations for all athletic departments in all conferences across the country.
However, two of his proposals have a heightened impact in the state of Mississippi.
Slive proposed that universities cover the "full cost of attendance" in scholarships given to student athletes. This would result in an estimated $3,000 extra per player per year. Slive also proposed raising the minimum qualifying GPA for high school students from a 2.0 to a 2.5, making the academic requirements to get into college and play a sport more stringent.
Residents of Mississippi know, among much else, two things about their state. It is annually one of if not the most poverty-stricken states in the U.S., often the poorest state in the union. Mississippi is also ranked among the worst states in education.
According to the Census Bureau, Mississippi had the highest rate of poverty in the country in 2009, with 21.9 percent of the population living below the poverty line, which varies from state-to-state.
Education Week recently released its rankings of the nation's educational systems, with Mississippi ranking 4th worst, the lowest-ranked state in the southeast.
The reasons and ramifications of Mississippi's struggles lie far beyond basketball courts and football fields, but if Slive's proposals are made NCAA law, the impact of the Magnolia State's internal issues will expand to the most lighthearted of areas: athletics.
On the one hand, the extra stipend for athletes will find willing student-athletes, many of whom in Mississippi genuinely need it.
Vick Ballard, a native of the state and a running back for Mississippi State, has occasionally taken to twitter to discuss his trouble paying for gas to get back to Starkville for football practice and classes. He believes that players need the extra money just get by.
"Players come from different backgrounds," Ballard said. "All of us don't have the family support that they need to get by your day-to-day expenses. And we can't have jobs. I think the amount of time we put in for football, it's not a bad idea."
Asked Ballard, "Some of us don't have that financial support at home, so where else are we gonna get it from?"
Pell grants are available to those who qualify, but Ballard said they run out quickly.
His coach, Dan Mullen, said even those aren't always what they're supposed to be.
"I can tell you, a lot of our kids, their Pell grant check goes home so their mom and brother and sister can eat," Mullen said. "So, to say that's going in their pocket for spending money, that's not."
However, the proposed extra money may not be available to many potential student-athletes if poverty and education collide.
While the stipend is a positive for many in Mississippi, raising the GPA requirement from 2.0 to 2.5 would make things even harder in a state that often has trouble getting high school students qualified for college.
Mullen said that when he and his coaching staff begin recruiting those kids, he sees their GPAs sky-rocket as a senior once they are told how important academics are to their future as football players. However, Mullen says, it is often too late as "75-percent of their high school career we're very, very limited to any contact we can have with them," making it tough to have them ready in time.
"I think the difficult part we have in Mississippi is we recruit a lot of kids from small schools. The kids don't have the means sometimes to understand it's more than just playing football," Mullen said. "They go to the school [at the last minute] and they say, 'Well, we don't offer any more classes and there's no internet classes.' It's finding that balance that we're not pulling the carpet out on kids. Raising our standard, but making sure that when we do it, we have a solution for that standard as well, not just turn our back on it."
In a laid back conversation with reporters, Mullen shrugged off the idea that poverty and poor education are worse for Mississippi recruits, saying high school athletes with those problems are found everywhere.
What he did say, however, is that the poor education, among other things, makes recruiting more difficult in Mississippi than it would in other states.
"I think the only way it affects us in some of those schools is our recruiting pool is much smaller," Mullen said of Mississippi's relatively small population. "You know, Florida, they're gonna go to the top 200 kids in the state. 'We just can't get this kid, but we have another kid that's really just as good and we'll go after him now.' In Mississippi, you don't have those mass numbers. I think it would hurt."
Mullen added that more stringent academic requirements would only make the problem worse.
More important, Mullen said, would be standardizing the high school rules, rather than college. He noted the grading scale changes from school-to-school in state-to-state from a 10-point scale or 7-point scale, saying, "A kid that gets an 82 average at one school would qualify. An 82 average at a different school [would not]. I'd love to see the focus on that, making sure that's balanced."
Mullen added, "You hate to see opportunities taken away from young men that go on to do great things."
If the kids get to college, Mullen said the issue of extra cash is still sticky. As others before him have done, Mullen noted that the need for a stipend varies between sports. Therein lies his issue with the idea, that "if you do it for one athlete, you have to do it for all of them." He noted the particular need in football, but pointed that athletes on volleyball and softball teams, for example, often come from better backgrounds.
Fletcher Cox, a defensive tackle for Mullen's Bulldogs, said extra money may be a necessary thing for many football players.
"Most of the guys on the team don't really come from a wealthy family," Cox said. "Some guys come from a real bad background. Everybody's parents aren't able to send them money every week to go out and spending money."
Said Mullen, "There's a lot of our guys that come from socioeconomic backgrounds that they don't have anything. That's a rough feeling when you're with three guys in college and they go out for pizza and you're like, 'I'm 19-years old and I can't get even pay to get a cheeseburger at McDonalds or get a pizza and even be a normal college kid.'"