TD Stadium (Photo)

Western's TD Stadium, Oct. 31, 2018.

Troy Bolton painted an athlete’s dream as the High School Musical protagonist went off to college with a full-ride scholarship under his belt. Unfortunately, in Ontario, it’s a little more complicated.

In Ontario University Athletics, certain student-athletes are eligible for athletic financial awards. Up to $4,500 can be awarded to a student per year, based on academic performance, athletic performance or potential and team leadership.

At Western University, there are three types of awards: entering, continuing and returning. Students entering Western must have a minimum 80 per cent overall average, with an intent to compete in the OUA. Returning students must maintain an average of 70 per cent, have a year of eligibility and be enrolled in 3.0 courses from September to April, with scholarships ranging from $1,000 to $4,500. 

Although athletic financial awards cannot exceed $4,500, student-athletes are still eligible for other scholarships and bursaries. Any awards that a student could receive that are university-wide, like Western’s entrance scholarship, are fair game for student-athletes.

Even though some student-athletes may qualify for a scholarship, they are not guaranteed. Coaches have a huge influence in who receives an award, based on their own coaching philosophy and the amount of money allocated to the sport.

“The fact that it is an AFA usually means that there’s some aspect where the coach has a say in who receives the funding. It’s not automatic,” says Stephanie White, Mustangs director of sport. “It’s rarely where you just qualify all the pieces and you get the money. Usually the coach makes a choice on how many [scholarships] they can give out, and they make choices … based on their impact.”

Unlike the previous institutions White worked at, Western does not give any operational dollars to the athletic department to fund athletic financial awards, leaving sports teams to find the money on their own. 

“A fair amount of the money is fundraised dollars or alumni dollars — that’s part of the challenge for how our specific institution awards the money,” says White.

Western’s athletic budget isn’t as large as college s in the United States. While US athletics and Hollywood movies are known for giving full-rides to student-athletes, this is not the case for Canadian universities. Tuition and the school’s mandatory fees are the only things that can be covered by an AFA — housing and other living expenses cannot.

“In Canada, there’s a strong emphasis on the academic experience that the athletes do, which in some instances in the United States is different,” says White. “In general, tuition in Canada is much less than in the US. We still give out a fair amount compared to most people’s tuition.”

But not all student-athletes — and not all sports — are eligible for athletic financial awards.

“There’s no doubt that some sports have more AFAs that are given out because of the competitiveness of the recruitment, and there are some sports that just don’t,” explains White. “It may not always make rhyme or reason as to why, but it’s based on the sport itself.”

White is most concerned with OUA’s emphasis on academic performance. While she agrees that grades should be a part of the consideration process, she fears that some of the students who need financial help most may fall between the cracks. 

“In Canada, AFAs are tied so intrinsically to grades, but it puts some of our student populations at risk,” says White. “I’m concerned that the right student athletes are not getting the money or have a mechanism to get the support they need. I think we need to get the money into the hands of people who truly need it, and their challenges might not lead them to have as high grades in some cases.”

While Troy Bolton’s full-ride may not be a lived reality for us Mustangs, there’s still plenty of opportunities to get funding at Western — it just might not be as easy as just keeping their heads in the game.

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Sarah is a Culture Editor for volume 114. Email her at sarah.wallace@westerngazette.ca or find her on Twitter @sarahkwallace7

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