SF State coaches maximize limited scholarship funds for athletes

Maya Cabiness

Track and Field athlete Maya Cabiness is one of many Gator athletes who has recieved an athletic scholarship. For most SF State athletes, the award doesn't cover all costs of attendance. Photo by Nelson Estrada.

When it comes to the sports of SF State, dedication and commitment are two characteristics that can directly lead to financial consideration. For coaches, these are two of the key components to consider when distributing scholarship money.

In order to maximize the value of limited financial capabilities, the athletic program ensures that its money is spent on athletes who will contribute and be committed to the team. Allocating these funds for scholarships is a task left to the coaches, who use their discretion to determine which athletes deserve or need money.

The coaches face the challenge of balancing depleting financial resources, while still funding scholarships for athletes who either need or deserve money. While coaches tend to emphasize performance over financial need when distributing scholarships, there is a shared struggle to distribute money. This can leave many student athletes without any money despite their commitment or need.

In the 2010-11 school year, Cal State Los Angeles, another California Collegiate Athletic Association school, gave $533,000 to its 131 female student athletes. Compared to SF State’s scholarship totals of $194,000 among 185 female athletic participants, the financial discrepancy is clear. Scholarships at the University vary from a few hundred to a few thousand, based on the sport and the factors the coaches consider.

“To get scholarship money, you have to be top five in two events or more, or a provisional qualifier in an event,” said Terry Burke, women’s track and field coach. “With high school people you’re projecting a little bit.”

Student athletes often come to SF State as walk-ons, players who tried out for the team rather than being recruited, with the hopes of eventually earning scholarship money. The competitive process of distributing scholarship money can act as an incentive for student athletes to perform at their best.

Sophomore Maya Cabiness has benefited from determination. After a successful freshman season, Burke rewarded her with scholarship money.

Though not enough to cover tuition, she explains that the money helps with various school costs.

“Toward the end of the season, around that time is when he started talking to me about getting some money. This year it’s helped me get by with books and stuff,” Cabiness said. “It does help, but it’s not like I have all this money.”

Cabiness, 20, competes in hurdles and the 4×100 and 4×400 relay teams. She set a new school record in the latter event with a time of 3 minutes and 47.03 seconds, second-best in Division II and in the nation that year. Due to her ability, Cabiness started receiving scholarship money and could possibly earn more if she continues to improve.

“Unlike anybody else in the conference, we’ve had walk-ons come in and become All-Americans. We were able to give her some scholarship money,” Burke said. “We’ll bump [increase her financial aid] again this year.”

Wrestling head coach Lars Jensen acknowledged that he gives more money to wrestlers who perform well and that he has a general scholarship threshold for athletes who earn significant achievements.

“If you place at the conference tournament, you get a certain amount of money. If he goes to the national tournament, we have a baseline of what kind of money he would get,” Jensen said. “If he’s an All-American or national champion, then we would up them to that amount.”

Fewer than half of the 27 wrestlers receive money. Jensen isn’t as compelled to make each wrestler’s financial burden comparable through scholarships because he is rarely able to give a full year’s worth of tuition to a wrestler.

“If I had nine full rides, then we would take into consideration how much money we’d give a kid who’s on full financial aid,” Jensen said. “But we’re not looking at that too much because a couple thousand here, a couple thousand there doesn’t make much of huge difference to them.”

Since other schools in the CCAA enjoy greater funding, their programs are able to give out much higher scholarship numbers, which puts more pressure on SF State to match other schools’ student athlete incentives.

“We’re in the bottom tier in terms of being funded for scholarships. We offer kids $1,000, someone else might offer them $6,000,” Jensen said. “So where’s he going to go in these economic times?”

Some coaches consider financial need when looking to give scholarship money. Women’s basketball coach Joaquin Wallace tries to balance his scholarship money relatively evenly among his players.

“If they’re not financial aid qualifiers, then that’s a factor I have to take into account,” Wallace said. “That kid may need a little bit more money since they’re not getting financial assistance.”

In order for the athletic program to remain competitive, it needs to bring in talented players who can lead the program to success. Wallace explained that offering scholarships can help attract athletes, but low funding limits the amount he can offer, which can hinder his ability to attractkey players.

“For the most part, it still comes down to dollars,” Wallace said. “It does make it a more difficult challenge to get the kids.”

Cabiness feels that all athletes deserve compensation for the time they commit to their respective sports, but feels that the money should also go to worthy sources.

“We’re all equal. We’re out there six days a week working hard and practicing. It’s hard to balance school, practice and work,” Cabiness said. “If you prove yourself, then you deserve it.”

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