Maryland Uses SAF Funds for iPads

Maryland used a significant chunk of Student Assistance Fund money to buy iPads for all 500 of their athletes. At retail, that would be about $300,000. Assuming the ACC splits the SAOF money equally, Maryland would be getting maybe $325,000 to $350,000 total. Even if the iPads were leased at a volume discount, we can expect that Maryland spent a large portion of its SAOF distribution for this.

I took Ohio State and some Big Ten schools to task for using SAF money on things that could be paid out of the general budget. This purchase is a more complicated case. You cannot use the athletics budget to pay for iPads for all your student-athletes. On the other hand, iPads for all are not really the intended use of the fund, especially given that the Student Assistance Fund includes money from the Special Assistance Fund, which used to be solely for needy athletes and includes the financial need of athletes (via counting Pell Grants) in calculating how much money was disbursed.

This is the greyest of grey areas in SAF spending. Definitely allowed, and technically something only SAF can pay for. But it is not the core purpose of the fund, and the recruiting impact of “every athlete gets an iPad” cannot be ignored.

To further complicate this debate, one of the NCAA’s recent deregulation proposals would seem to allow schools to buy iPads for athletes out of the athletics budget starting this August. RWG Proposal 16–3 would do this:

To specify that an institution, conference or the NCAA may finance other academic support, career counseling or personal development services that support the success of student-athletes.

That’s very vague, and one might argue that an iPad is not a service, but a product. But if you dig a little deeper, what is scheduled to be deleted from the Division I Manual tells more of the story: Specific Limitations. An institution may provide the following support services subject to the specified limitations.

(a) Use of institutionally owned computers and typewriters on a check-out and retrieval basis; however, typing/word processing/editing services or costs may not be provided, even if typed reports and other papers are a requirement of a course in which a student-athlete is enrolled; (emphasis added)

With the “check-out and retrieval basis” requirement deleted, it would stand to reason that a university can now buy an iPad or laptop for an athlete (or all athletes), and give them to use during their entire career. We will probably see a school arguing that it should be able to provide its student-athletes with iPhones (which are a computer) and cell service (necessary to use this type of computer) because it “supports the success of student-athletes”.

So if Maryland had waited a few months, they probably could have purchased these iPads for their students using budget money. Of course, as the original story states, Maryland probably does not have space in the budget for 500 iPads. But this is probably just the start of a major escalation of the academics arms race.

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