Student-athlete compensation: through their eyes By taylor retter

When Savannah Elliott signed her national letter of intent in 2014, she did not expect to sign herself up for years of crippling financial debt.

She expected four years at Tusculum College in Tennessee, an NCAA Division II school, studying pre-med on a lacrosse scholarship.

This is the reality for a number of Canadian students who seek post-secondary education outside of Canada.

In Canada, student-athletes also struggle to balance work, school, and sport.

At the end of her first year at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT), field-lacrosse player Sara Mathew has a lot on her plate.

Currently working two jobs and pursuing a degree in legal studies, Mathew says she sometimes has to miss lacrosse practice to afford to play.

First-year legal studies student Sara Mathew has been playing competitive lacrosse for 7 years.

“In the off-season, our coaches are a little more lenient. They know we’re students, and if we have to miss a practice for work they understand," she said.

"In season is a different story though, lacrosse always comes first."

Trent University head coach, Victoria Wasson, echoes this sentiment. A player is only allowed to miss practice for class conflicts, an immediate family emergency, or a contagious illness, such as the stomach flu.

“Over the last four years [of our program] we have developed very high standards and strict policies, and the players appreciate the whole teams commitment to the season,” she said.

For Mathew, she understands the pressure to perform. Her high school coach also had very strict attendance policies.

Mathew played varsity lacrosse at Donald A. Wilson Secondary School for two years under head coach Barb Boyes.

At Tusculum, however, the coaches think a little differently. Head coach Jenna Handshoe always makes it clear to her athletes, “student comes first in student-athlete, therefore, being a student should always come first.”

Savannah Elliott, junior, has 25 goals in 9 games played so far during the 2017 season.

One similarity between UOIT and Tusculum is the opinion of students on compensation for their time.

Elliott receives a full athletic scholarship that covers her tuition and playing expenses, but she is on her own for the cost of living and commuting between Tennessee and her hometown of Oshawa, Ont.

Full athletic scholarships do not exist for athletes in Elliott's home province.

Students like Mathew must apply for one of the few partial scholarships and hope.

According to the UOIT Ridgebacks website, entrance scholarships are available to student-athletes to help cover tuition costs. However, the women’s field lacrosse team budgets for one $500 scholarship per year.

Mathew hopes it's her year.

“I work two part time jobs at Farm Boy and the school library… I had enough to cover school, lacrosse, and commuting this year, but I’m going to need to take a loan out for next year,” she said.

For many students, being paid is the only way to continue to play in their chosen sport in university.

For example, although Mathew works two jobs and lives at home, she still has to decide every day whether or not the cost of playing is worth it.

“I don’t want to be in debt forever,” she said. “But I love the game.”

For Mathew, sports run in the family and have always been a central part of her life.

“I started out playing soccer, and picked up lacrosse in the seventh grade. I picked it up and never quit," she said.

“My proudest moment was when my dad saw me score for the first time. He’d seen me play before, but never score. He’d grown up playing football, and I could sense his pride in that moment.”

No matter the school, one thing that Elliott and Mathew both have in common is that family is their main motivator when it comes to their athletic careers.

“I went out with my grandfather to pick out my first stick,” Elliot said. “Of course, it was all pink. Looking back I know that moment would change the course of my life, and it is such a comforting thought. This game has given me so much.”

Aside from an athletic scholarship, lifelong friends and valuable time management skills, Elliott also recently broke a personal, school and SAC conference record for goals scored in one game.

In a 19-13 win over Converse College on Feb. 16th, Elliott scored 10 goals to surpass the previous Tusculum College record of nine goals in one game.

She does this while maintaining a 3.9 GPA and double-majoring in pre-med and psychology. But this means there is no time left for her to work and pay for the rest of her out-of-state expenses.

So what does this mean? Both Mathew and Elliott agree that paying student-athletes for playing would not only increase the interest, but also reward those who continue to juggle sport and school throughout university.

To Elliott, being a student-athlete is a full time job.

“Our scholarship is kinda like being paid. I definitely think players deserve to be paid more. But it also depends on the level of the athletes and the money the school has to offer,” she said.

"I hope I never take this game for granted."

Mathew agrees.

"It would be more incentive for more people to continue to play. You shouldn’t have to choose between playing and being able to eat," she said.

However, coach Wasson sees it differently at Trent, which is in Peterborough, Ont.

“You do not play for money in the OUA. Paying athletes wouldn’t motivate students. You play because you love the sport and the competition,” she said.

She added that Trent University has a very high retention rate and holds very high standards, ensuring student success in both school and sport.

There are differing opinions on whether or not student-athletes should be paid, which is an issue currently found across both the OUA and the NCAA.

However, no matter what side of the argument you are on, it is important to remember who the key players are and their experience and reasons for playing.

Regardless of the sport and school, everyone plays for the same reason. They put in the hours, blood, sweat and tears because they love it and could not imagine their life any other way.

At the end of the day, the experience and the friendships make it worth it, according to both Mathew and Elliott.

In 2015, her rookie season, Elliott had a least one goal in 12 of 15 games.

“I worked hard for this,” said Mathew. “I earned it, that feeling I get playing the game, that sense of accomplishment.”

And Elliott echoed her.

“It’s the feeling I get. I am always happiest playing lacrosse, and I hope I never take the game for granted, it has and will always continue to build me into the person I want to be,” she said.

Elliot may not have signed her letter of intent seeking a path to debt. She did sign it in order to continue playing the game she loves past the minor leagues. For her, at the end of the day that’s what makes it worth it, not the money.

Created By
Taylor Retter


Photos of Elliott and Mathew provided by themselves, others taken by Taylor Retter.

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