Did Alston policies change with University leadership?

Jan. 31, 2024, 1:52 a.m.

With the increased ability of student-athletes to capitalize off their name, image and likeness (NIL) and more liberal rules for transferring between schools, collegiate athletics departments have had to dramatically rethink their operations in the past few years. However, one policy change that has often flown under the radar is the ability for athletics departments to provide stipends — known commonly as Alston payments — to student-athletes. 

In June 2021, the Supreme Court ruled in NCAA v. Alston that athletics departments are able to give student-athletes up to $5,980 dollars for academic-related expenses.

While many schools capitalized on the Supreme Court’s decision and furnished student-athletes with these stipends, Stanford was much more cautious in its approach.

Stanford’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) began advocating for providing Alston payments in fall 2021. The University refused to provide the payments for two years, despite other schools offering them immediately.

In November, The Daily broke the news that the Stanford athletics department would initiate Alston-related payments to scholarship student-athletes.

Since the initial report, The Daily has obtained more information related to Stanford’s intended implementation of Alston payments.  

According to an email that Stanford athletics director Bernard Muir sent to student-athletes on Nov. 15 and obtained by The Daily, student-athletes receiving an athletic scholarship worth 25% or more of tuition or receiving need-based financial aid are eligible to receive Alston payments. Student-athletes must also fulfill academic requirements to be eligible to receive the payments, namely, earning a cumulative GPA of 2.0 or above and passing six units the preceding academic quarter. 

Student-athletes who are receiving need-based financial aid will be allowed to receive Alston payments up to the student’s individual work responsibility amount. If they have outside scholarships designated for the work responsibility, they will receive discounted Alston payments to cover the remaining individual responsibility. 

The email goes on to say that the payments will come in three equal installments — one in each quarter — over the course of the academic year. According to graduate student distance runner and former president of SAAC Liam Anderson, the payments for the 2023-24 academic year have not been distributed yet, but are expected to come soon this quarter. 

Moreover, an athletics department spokesman told The Daily that the payments will be drawn from the Department of Athletics budget and will not come from the University’s endowment. 

Leveling the playing field?

The decision to provide the Alston payments to student-athletes was not an easy decision for the Stanford athletics department.

According to Stanford NCAA faculty representative Jeffrey Koseff, granting student-athletes Alson payments was an issue of equity above all else. 

“Requirements for training in the summer mean that [student-athletes] are often not able to work in paying internships and earn money for their education, as their non-athlete counterparts are able to do,” Koseff said. “We are simply leveling the field when it comes to supporting educational opportunities.” 

Although some have concerns that the Alston payments may exacerbate the privileges that student-athletes receive over the rest of the student body, students interviewed by The Daily were not in opposition to the plan.

“I mean it’s probably okay … I think it would be beneficial for [the athletes],” said Aiden Sullivan ’27. 

“If it was actively discouraging the school from giving money to students who needed it, that would be a problem, but I don’t think that’s the case here,” said Maddy Hodge ’27.

Administrative changes

Stanford’s decision to distribute Alston payments comes after former President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and former provost Persis Drell stepped down last year. According to sources, this timing is no coincidence.

“Provost Drell had a very narrow view of the role of athletics at Stanford and was entirely unwilling to adapt that view to accommodate for the myriad of changes the industry has experienced in recent years, to the benefit of student-athletes,” Anderson wrote to The Daily.

The University did not respond to The Daily’s request for comment on Drell’s opposition to the payments. 

Changes in University leadership could prompt a more assertive approach on new aspects within the collegiate athletics landscape, including NIL and the transfer portal.

How long will Alston payments be distributed?

While Stanford has now promised to give Alston payments to eligible student-athletes for the foreseeable future, there could be internal and external pressures that force the University to stop paying the stipends. 

With the reduced television payout the university is expected to receive from the ACC conference, the president’s discretionary fund is expected to cover the financial shortfall that the athletics department will have. 

But with the athletics department’s reduced ability to financially sustain itself and its previous attempt to cut 11 varsity sports four years ago, it remains a question whether Stanford will want to fund the Alston payments in the long term. 

For now, Stanford student-athletes can breathe knowing they have extra financial support to pursue their passions.

Kaushik Sampath is the sports managing editor. He is a junior from Fayetteville, Arkansas and a history major. You can catch him watching and ranting about his beloved Arkansas Razorbacks or hanging out with friends on campus. Contact him at sports 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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