When Barry Alvarez attended Nebraska and played football back in the late 1960s, his full scholarship included a monthly stipend of $15 designed to pay for things beyond room, board, books and tuition.
"That $15 was pretty damn important to me back then,'' he said, recalling that he spent most of it a "social life.''
That memory came to life to this week when Alvarez, now the University of Wisconsin athletic director, listened with surprise as Big Ten Conference commissioner Jim Delany broached the topic of augmenting athletic scholarships during a meeting in Chicago.
A full tender still covers the basics — room, board, books and tuition — but research suggests there is roughly a $3,000 gap between that value and the actual cost of attendance, which includes travel, clothing and living expense.
Delany threw open the door of discussion to student-athletes receiving the full cost of attendance, not just in the Big Ten, but throughout the NCAA. Alvarez isn't gung-ho about the initiative, but he is definitely OK with it.
"Whatever you can do for (student-athletes), you do it. I'm for that,'' Alvarez said Friday. "But you still have to make it work financially. I think there are a lot out there, a lot to be discussed.''
First off, where would the extra money come from? Would it be the school, the conference or the NCAA?
Secondly, which student-athletes would receive the stipend? Do you limit it to those on full scholarship, men and women, or you do it with just your revenue-generating sports?
UW currently funds just over 300 scholarships for 23 sports (11 men, 12 women). If everyone receiving grant-in-aid gets a piece of the pie, however small, that works out to approximately $900,000 per year.
If the extra money is limited to revenue-generating sports — which is highly unlikely because it would exclude almost every woman's program and would likely lead to Title IX-related lawsuits — UW would need an additional $348,000 per year for football (85 scholarships), men's basketball (13 scholarships) and men's hockey (18 scholarships).
Alvarez noted that only a handful of NCAA Division I athletic departments operate in the black — his is one of them — and guessed that there would be a distinct reaction from both sides of the fence.
"The ones that make money would love to do it,'' he said. "The ones that are struggling (would) say, ‘Where do we get the money?' ''
Alvarez, a Hall of Famer who coached the Badgers football team for 16 seasons, was asked if he would push for the stipend.
"I don't know that we need it,'' he said. "I think the scholarship is fair in exchange for an education and exposure and the development of a person.
"But if it's decided that you give them a stipend, that's fine with me. I have no problem with that.''