The University of Minnesota will join a growing movement to allow schools to pay bonuses to athletes for excelling academically, athletic director Mark Coyle announced Friday.
The decision follows a federal judge’s landmark decision two years ago in a case that concluded the NCAA was breaking antitrust law by prohibiting payments to athletes. The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld that ruling , leading the NCAA to allow schools to give academic bonuses of up to $5,980 a year to athletes.
The U, which plans to start the program in the fall, will have to account for plenty of academic success. Its athletes posted a school-record cumulative grade point average of 3.44 over the past year, while also setting school records with 431 academic All-Big Ten selections, 180 Big Ten distinguished scholars and 15 academic All-Americas. Nineteen programs posted perfect Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores, an NCAA measure of scholastic development.
“I am pleased that the University of Minnesota is able to offer education-related financial support to our student-athletes,” Coyle said in a statement. “Our student-athletes continue to excel at a high level.
“We continue to look for ways to enhance the student-athlete experience and how best to prepare them for life during and after college. While we are still finalizing these plans in detail, we know providing education-related financial support is another step in the process of supporting our student-athletes.”
The Gophers are catching a slowly developing wave. ESPN reported this week that 22 of 130 Football Bowl Subdivision schools plan to pay athletes for high academic performance this year. Wisconsin was the only Big Ten team already involved.
Asked Friday how the U, which eliminated three men’s sports and made other moves to save money 20 months ago, could afford to pay such bonuses, a spokesman said the school would budget for the payments. He provided no specifics.
Citing financial and Title IX concerns, Coyle announced in September 2020 that men’s gymnastics, tennis and indoor track would be discontinued after the 2020-21 season, saving about $2 million per year. Rosters for some women’s teams also were reduced.
The schools involved in paying bonuses are taking various approaches. Wisconsin officials said this week they are still deciding how to pay bonuses and what would trigger them. Missouri officials told ESPN it will pay $2,400 to athletes who remain academically eligible but will require a GPA of 3.5 or higher to receive the full bonus. Iowa State will hold bonus money its athletes earn and pay it in a lump sum if they graduate.
Another plan some schools are considering is to start with bonuses to athletes who play the sports that generate the most revenue.
The differing approaches also stem from the Supreme Court antitrust ruling. Before that, such decisions came from the NCAA itself. Now, a decision affecting all NCAA schools might be considered a violation of antitrust law.
Former Gophers gymnast John Roethlisberger is part of the Minnesota Athletic Alliance, a group formed to reinstate the eliminated sports and sustain a broad-based athletic program at the U. He said he wasn’t surprised to hear about the athlete payments, but he worries about the impact the added costs will have on already strained athletic budgets.
“If the option is there to pay [athletes], they’ll have to,” Roethlisberger said. “I don’t fault them because they don’t really have a choice.
“The part that’s frustrating to me is, our message to the Regents has been that the college sports model is completely broken. It’s unsustainable, and we need to find solutions.”
Staff writer Rachel Blount contributed to this report.