Yesterday, Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster revealed that the coaching staff was considering fining players using their cost of attendance stipends. The idea was quickly shot down by higher-ups at the school, but based on photos revealed by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, it looks like the fine structure was very real, and farther along than the “idea” stage.
— RTDSports (@RTDSports) August 27, 2015
— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) August 27, 2015
Fining players based on a cost of attendance stipend is a bad idea on its own, but these fines are absurd. $50 for a dirty dorm room? Why is dorm room cleanliness of any concern to Bud Foster or the rest of the staff? Disciplining players is always going to be necessary when dealing with 100 college students on a team, but unless teams want to actually treat student-athletes as employees, and allow them to have representation, a fine is an absurd and totally unfair punishment. For reference, Virginia Tech’s cost of attendance is between $3,620 for out of state players, and $3,280 for players from Virginia.
ESPN legal analyst Lester Munson wrote a very informative article about the issues that this decision may raise for schools, like Virginia Tech and Cincinnati, whose head coach Tommy Tuberville is considering similar fines:
There are two issues to consider: One, not every school is offering this type of scholarship. But two, even if an athlete signed such a scholarship, the school must be very careful if it wants to go down this path.
In order to avoid legal repercussions, the use of these funds for discipline must be written into the grant-in-aid agreements that are the basis for any athletic scholarship. The option must be a part of the scholarship transaction from the moment the athlete agrees to attend the university.
Unless the possibility of a fine is an express provision, there can be no withholding of such funds regardless of the conduct. Just like expulsion from the school or suspension from the team, the penalties for misconduct must be described in the agreement with specificity. If not, the school that fined a player would be subject to legal actions for breach of an agreement or for money damages as the result of tortious (wrongful) treatment of a player.
If any program has furthered the argument that college athletes are effectively employees of the school, it is Virginia Tech football based on this idea.