Stanford starts Alston payments this academic year

Stanford will initiate NCAA v. Alston-related payments to student-athletes during the 2023-24 school year, wrote Executive Associate Athletics Director Carter Henderson in a statement to The Daily.

Henderson wrote that while the guidelines for the payments are still being determined, the University intends to distribute awards permissible by the Alston case to student-athletes on scholarships. 

The announcement comes two years after the Supreme Court ruled that the NCAA and its members could not cap academic-related grants that go beyond scholarships covering tuition and room and board. According to Stanford law professor emeritus William Gould IV, the ruling affirmed the idea that educational benefits can no longer be interpreted narrowly. The Supreme Court’s decision also cleared the path for schools to directly provide up to $5,980 a year for academic payments to student-athletes. 

These payments could mean significantly more for the financial well-being of student-athletes than those from name, image, likeness (NIL). According to NIL technology company OpenDorse, the average NIL deal that was completed through its platform amounted to $3,063 — around half the value of the maximum Alston payments. 

Though more than 50 Division I schools currently provide Alston payments to athletes in some or all sports, some Stanford leadership are concerned about whether Alston payments would create inequities between athletes and other students. 

“Philosophically, there’s a lot of sensitivity at Stanford about equity and how student athletes are treated compared to the regular student body,” said Jeffrey Koseff, Stanford’s faculty athletic representative to the NCAA. “A lot of thinking around Alston is heavily influenced by that philosophy.”

Former Stanford sports information director Gary Cavalli emphasized the University’s historically equitable approach. “Stanford philosophically has tried to treat athletes like everybody else,” Cavalli said. “It doesn’t want to give athletes benefits the rest of the student body doesn’t get.”

Student-athlete advocacy for Alston 

Some perceive school decisions to provide Alston-related disbursements as originating from long-debated internal university discussions. But nationwide student-athlete advocacy for the system has been active just as long.

One advocate is UCLA quarterback Chase Griffin, who has won NIL male athlete of the year the past two years. 

Griffin told The Daily that media coverage preferred to shine a light on branded and collective NIL deals over Alston awards. 

“I think only 5-10% of the players on my football team knew about [Alston] before we started getting paid,” Griffin said. “A lot of times we have the same information as the public. I remember I had asked our team chief of staff when we were supposed to start expecting the payments … everyone had no idea what I was talking about.”

Griffin used his platform and authority in the new college athletics landscape to advocate for Alston payments across power conference schools.

Griffin said Alston payments are central to demonstrate universities are meaningfully committed to a balance of academics and athletics for student-athletes: “Every chance I got in interviews before we were getting Alston, I was saying that every single school that was genuinely interested in having true students should implement the payments.”

Elise Byun, a Cal gymnast and the president of Berkeley’s student-athlete advisory committee (SAAC), also participated in the ongoing negotiations regarding Alston payments, both at Cal and across the Pac-12. 

According to Byun, the Cal athletics department did not resist the implementation of Alston partly to avoid placing the school at a competitive disadvantage in recruiting.

“We [Cal] can’t avoid giving it out and expect to be a top recruiting university in a Power-Five conference,” Byun said. Cal announced it would introduce Alston benefits to student-athletes in April 2022. 

For Byun and other Cal athletes, an important element of Alston implementation centered on the GPA requirement for the awards. Byun expressed concerns about how the GPA threshold was inconsistent across colleges and potentially encouraged students to select “easier” majors.

“We’re at a high-class university where a 3.5 here looks very different from a 3.5 somewhere else,” Byun said. “Also what does that mean for the major you choose? If you’re looking at the Alston payments, it’s a lot of money by the time you graduate. So maybe you’ll choose an easier major to collect those payments.”

Byun said the Alston payments have also led to “a race to the bottom”, where its academic mission has diminished in significance.

“You’re gonna see SEC schools say during recruiting visits, ‘If you come here, every single year you’ll get this money by just being academically eligible,’” Byun said. “So now other institutions can’t put up a high standard for success because you can’t compete with other universities that aren’t doing the same.”

As a member of the Pac-12 student-athlete leadership team, Byun has advocated extending Alston payments to non-scholarship athletes to the extent possible. 

Byun said the separation of athletic capabilities for Alston was important to non-scholarship athletes. “It’s about your academic success and if you’re just looking at grades, it shouldn’t exclude the non-scholarship athletes.”

“But I get the other side of it: your institution might not have enough money. Cal specifically does not have the bandwidth to give the full Alston payments to non-scholarship athletes,” Byun said.

Stanford’s SAAC declined to comment while discussions continue with the athletics department about Alston payments. 

Stanford’s place in collegiate athletics

Recent developments in collegiate athletics — like the increased importance of NIL and Alston and looser restrictions on the transfer portal, Cavalli expressed concerns about Stanford’s ability to compete in this new landscape. He said many alumni and fans shared these concerns.

“I have a lot of close friends, including those who played football at Stanford, who are really upset about the changes,” Cavalli said. “Several of them have stopped watching. There’s this sense of whether Stanford belongs in this new environment.”

According to Cavalli, while many alumni feel that Stanford must maintain its values, including a high emphasis on academic performance, it must also find a way to accommodate ongoing changes in collegiate sports. 

“Stanford could be the one school that only gives NIL money the way it was intended,” Cavalli said. “Give kids money to make appearances, to sign autographs and to do work in the community, but don’t use it as a recruiting inducement. That’s the way a lot of the longtime Stanford people feel.”

The University’s decision to distribute scholarship athletes Alston-related awards may indicate a new willingness to compromise with the rule changes in collegiate athletics.