Cyril Lemon learned the basics of personal finance long before he arrived at North Texas and developed into a standout offensive lineman.
Lemon began working odd jobs to earn spending money in his early teen years and learned to manage a bank account at about the same time. That experience and guidance he received at home helped Lemon make a smooth transition to college, where parents are no longer there to handle the mundane tasks of grocery shopping and balancing a checkbook.
Lemon is lucky in that regard when it comes to college athletes.
“For a lot of guys, it’s a big adjustment,” Lemon said of handling the financial aspect of being a college student. “For me, it wasn’t that big of a challenge.”
UNT is taking a hard look at how to help athletes handle money at a time when the nature of college scholarships seems sure to change.
Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky said during the league’s media day in Irving this week that its member schools are prepared to award full-cost-of-attendance scholarships in the next few years and take on the added expense that move will create. Full scholarships currently cover an athlete’s room and board, tuition and course-related books.
The growing consensus among college administrators is that is not enough.
The top five conferences in college football — the Southeastern Conference, Atlantic Coast, Pac-12, Big Ten and Big 12 — are expected to be granted autonomy from the rest of the NCAA on Aug. 7. That change is a key step toward ushering in a new era of college athletics in which student-athletes in C-USA will receive between $1,500 and $5,000 more than their current scholarships provide as part of cost-of-attendance scholarships.
The exact amount of additional money athletes receive will be determined by the cost of attending individual schools and could vary widely.
UNT athletic director Rick Villarreal and coach Dan McCarney said that they are in favor of the change that allows schools to provide athletes extra money to cover the total cost of going to school, including expenses like traveling to and from their homes, clothing and laundry.
“We have to look at it, consider it and talk about it,” McCarney said. “Whatever happens, whatever direction we go, if we worry more about how much money they have in their pockets instead of preparing them for the journey we call life and getting a degree, then we have problems.”
The question now for UNT officials is how to best help their athletes learn those life lessons and manage the additional money they will receive when full-cost-of-attendance scholarships go into effect.
Villarreal said larger scholarships likely won’t be in place until at least 2015, but the school already is looking at how to help its athletes adjust and prepare for the financial impact the increased cost of scholarships will have on the athletic program.
“Money management is not taught in high school, so we are going to have to make it part of our program,” said Cinnamon Sheffield, a senior associate athletic director who plays a key role in helping UNT’s athletes manage life off the field. “We are going to have to be a little more rudimentary in what we are teaching.”
Teaching life lessons
UNT goes as far as having strength coach Frank Wintrich teach players how to grocery shop, not only so players are better able to handle their money, but also to ensure that they are getting the nutrition they need to compete at a high level.
Players who elect to live off campus will go through a seminar designed to educate them on the responsibilities that go along with moving out of the UNT dorms.
“When you get to college, you have to learn how to spend what you get on the right things,” UNT linebacker Derek Akunne said. “It takes some time to adjust and learn what is good for you and what to eat. Coach Wintrich teaches you what to eat and what to avoid.”
McCarney received $15 a month in 1971 when he arrived at Iowa, where he became a standout offensive lineman and team captain before going into coaching. That seemed like a lot of money at the time to McCarney, who did not want to delve into the issue of whether or not college athletes receive enough money for expenses like going out with friends or on a date.
That issue came up over the summer when linebacker Sed Ellis and tight end Chris Loving were charged with theft in connection with an incident involving a pair of televisions at a Denton Walmart.
UNT officials said they believe the incident was the result of a poor decision on the players’ part and not an indication that college athletes are experiencing financial hardship.
“A lot of student-athletes have never looked at how to manage money over time,” Villarreal said. “Some of them spend it right away. By the end of the semester, it’s gone.”
UNT has programs in place to help athletes with the challenges of money management. Villarreal and Sheffield said that the school will examine how to improve those programs. Student-athletes often receive a set amount of money they have to manage over the course of several months.
UNT athletes receive scholarship checks at set intervals. Some also receive Pell Grants, which provide money to students based on financial need. The size of the grants is determined by the financial situation of a student’s family.
Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato said that even the small amount of additional income players would receive through full-cost-of-attendance scholarships could make a dramatic difference in their lives.
“It’s a good idea,” Cato said. “Over the summer, we have no income. People don’t realize what goes on in the background with college athletes. They just watch on Saturdays.”
No matter how much money players receive, UNT officials say the most important task is educating them in how to manage it.
UTEP coach Sean Kugler said he is working with the administration at his school on ways to help athletes handle their money.
“A lot of students have never had to manage money or pay bills,” Sheffield said. “The inability to manage the money they have can be the problem.”
Preparing for the extra cost
UNT is examining how it will handle the added financial burden of full-cost-of-attendance scholarships as a university.
“We know we will have to create additional revenue,” Villarreal said. “We will have to look at where our funding comes from and how to organize it to meet our needs. A lot of it is still up in the air in terms of how much we are talking about. We are preparing to provide our student-athletes the best situation.”
Banowsky estimated at C-USA media day that schools in the league will need an additional $345,000 to $1.15 million more per year to cover full-cost-of-attendance scholarships, based on a rough estimate of 230 student-athletes receiving larger scholarships.
Villarreal said there are far too many factors to determine what the financial impact of providing full-cost-of-attendance scholarships will be for UNT. Some sports on the Division I level, including football and men’s and women’s basketball, award only full scholarships, while others, including softball and track, are allowed to award partial scholarships.
Until UNT knows which athletes will be eligible for full-cost-of-attendance scholarships and what the full cost of attendance will be the school, determining the total financial impact is nearly impossible, according to Villarreal.
But Villarreal was confident the cost to UNT will be on the lower end of Banowsky’s estimate.
UNT officials say that no matter how much money the school has to come up with, providing its athletes with a better financial situation will be worth it.
“We should do whatever we can within the rules for players,” McCarney said. “I want to throw a blanket of support around them. Let’s feed them good, take care of them and provide them an environment where they can succeed physically and academically and get the spiritual and emotional support they need.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.