The pros & cons of financial awards

Awards are good for attracting recruits but don’t ensure program’s life, coach says

A year after introducing entrance athletic financial awards, Queen’s track and field team is evaluating the influence of the new financial incentive. Track and field team head coach Melody Toracolacci found the change to be a double-edged sword.

On one hand, the money brings Ontario schools closer to the national standard and closer to the United States in terms of benefits available to athletes.

“Probably the biggest improvement, and it’s a positive for every sport, is it’s a way to keep talented athletes in Canada,” she said. “Now there’s the incentive financially.”

The awards, given for the first time last fall, allowed Ontario schools to offer entrance scholarships worth up to $3,500 per year to up to 70 per cent of a given team’s athletes. Ontario schools were already allowed to offer upper-year athletic awards to students.

The awards come in both renewable and one-time forms. At Queen’s, the CIS priority sports (basketball, soccer, volleyball, hockey and football) receive AFA funding from the athletic department and the University, much of which goes toward renewable AFAs (which require the athlete to maintain a 70 per cent average). Other sports such as fencing, rowing, men’s rugby, cross-country and track and field also offered non-renewable AFAs to incoming athletes last fall out of funds raised from their own alumni.

Some advocates for the introduction of entrance AFAs in Ontario argued they would level the playing field across Canada. Torcolacci said she isn’t seeing it in
her sport.

“Everyone’s offering them, so it didn’t get any more level,” she said.

Torcolacci said the massive resources other Ontario schools such as Windsor have poured into their track programs have only made things more difficult for her team.

“A tilted playing field just got that much more tilted,” she said. “It perceptually levels the playing field, because everyone’s offering money, but they just have more of it.”

Torcolacci said Queen’s doesn’t have enough money to offset the concerns many potential recruits have about the team’s future given its ranking in the Athletics Review.

The track and field team was ranked 12th out of 34 varsity programs by the review, which recommended keeping 10 to 16 teams at fully-funded varsity status.

Director of Athletics and Recreation Leslie Dal Cin told the Journal last year that the Athletics Review’s recommendations to redistributing more funding to top teams were largely because of the new costs associated with AFAs. Ironically, Torcolacci said, it’s the lingering athletics review process that hurt her recruiting far more than any lack of AFA funding.

At the CIS annual general meeting earlier this month, the CIS board presented a proposal to increase individual athletic financial awards starting in 2010. It was part of a series of board proposals designed to offer Canadian schools more flexibility so they can compete on an equal footing with the NCAA for top student-athletes. The plan would allow schools to offer top athletes athletic scholarships equivalent to the value of tuition, room and board.The overall cap on the amount of money a school could offer to one team’s athletes would stay the same.

Torcolacci said that increase would hurt Queen’s track program even more because it would be tough to match the high-end offers other schools could throw at athletes.

“Some institutions can better absorb that than others,” she said. “I see the playing field getting even steeper.”

Torcolacci said she’s happy overall with the introduction of entrance AFAs to retain some of Ontario’s best athletes, but there are still many kinks to work out.

“Overall, it’s a good thing, but it’s created far more issues than anyone could have predicted.”

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