It's a reasonable question. And in fact some fans from other schools have accused Alabama of using Bryant Scholarships to get around the rules. After all, if an athletic son of a former player attends Alabama through Coach Bryant's largesse, it would appear to provide the Tide a loophole, wouldn't it?
Charley North, Alabama's Director of Football Operations, provides the answer. "The key is that the Bryant Scholarship is provided for students regardless of athletic ability," North said. "It's not just athletes that get that scholarship. Right now we have several Bryant Scholarships out there that are non-athletes. So it's not strictly an athletic scholarship.
"It is a scholarship provided for by Coach Bryant's foundation that is intended for the children of people that played for Coach Bryant--not necessarily football players. Girls and boys use the scholarship. So obviously there are students on that scholarship that have never played a down of football."
In one capacity or another, North has been involved with football for almost 40 years. Before he hooked up with Dennis Franchione at Texas Christian, North made his name coaching the offensive line at Oklahoma, so he's not unfamiliar with alternative aid available to athletes. "This is the way Nebraska got around it," North said. "They gave county scholarships, basically. I don't know much about that, but I do know that they had a lot of kids around on different scholarships other than athletic scholarships."
There are actually several players on the current Tide squad that would be eligible for the Bryant Scholarship, including Lance Taylor (father James, ‘73-'75), Nathan Cox (father Allen, '72), Brodie Croyle (father John, ‘71-'73) and David Cavan (father Pete, ‘75-'77). Croyle of course is on football scholarship, but the other three are walk-ons.
"A Bryant Scholarship guy would not be handled any differently from other grants that a student might qualify for," North said. "He would still be the same. So long as he's not a recruited athlete, then there is no problem. Of course if he were classified as a recruited athlete, then other rules would come into effect, because of accountability."
As Coach North detailed in last week's story Just what is a recruited walk-on? athletes actively recruited by the Tide coaches are counted against Alabama's scholarship numbers whether they're initially placed on football scholarship or not, IF they play in a game during their first two years on campus. Cavan would fall into that category, which is the reason he did not see any game action in 2002. Cox and Taylor would not.
Given recent news stories detailing how one Tennessee athlete spent Pell Grant money to pay for his SUV while another used the funds to reimburse an agent, the popular federal program has received scrutiny from college sports fans. But whether legislators had in mind those two cases or not, apparently no rules were broken.
"Pell Grants are available to everybody," North explained. "I think you can earn up to $3,200 (a year) if you qualify. Each semester you get a certain percentage of that $3,200, depending on how much you qualify for. Every college student, even the ones on scholarship, are eligible for that. A scholarshipped player that qualifies for the Pell (Grant) can get a full Pell or a partial Pell, depending on his (or her) need. Pell money is based strictly on need."
Given that football players on scholarship have all their expenses taken care of while regular college students use Pell money for dorms, meals and books, many have questioned whether it's fair that scholarshipped athletes can use the funds for personal expenses.
But fair or not, the practice takes place at colleges all across the nation. "That's just a matter of a particular kid making the application," North said. "We ask all our kids to make the application. If I'm a scholarship player and I'm eligible for that money, then I might as well be receiving it.
"It helps them. It's money in their hands from the standpoint of incidentals."
Just across the border to the East, Georgia puts lottery money to use funding scholarships for state residents to attend Georgia colleges. The grants are available only to students that maintained a ‘B' average or better in high school, but in many cases the money also helps keep athletes in state who might otherwise have gone elsewhere.
But since athletic ability is not a criterion for eligibility, they are also exempt from NCAA regulations. "The Georgia HOPE scholarships would be handled in the same way as the Pell," North said. "If you're eligible, then that's it.
"When I was at Oklahoma, there used to be a grant called the OTAG, which was the Oklahoma Tuition Aid Grant. That was available for any student from the state of Oklahoma. You could get OTAG, regardless of who you were. I'm sure there are other programs out there with different states, which is basically what you're talking about with the HOPE scholarship. They are provided with certain requirements and certain stipulations from the standpoint of being eligible."
Though he acknowledges that the HOPE program probably helps both Georgia and Georgia Tech to at least some degree, North is an educator at heart. "If a student is a ‘B' student, then why not help them?" he asked rhetorically. "But I know that there are some ‘C' students that need some help, too. There are guys out there that I've seen that were not great students in high school, but they ended up graduating in three and a half years."
The bottom line is that a program like the Bryant Scholarship Fund has little or no real impact on Alabama sports--especially when compared to Georgia's HOPE or aid available to Louisiana youth.
"Whatever we can do to help the students is fine," North said. "But in a way I wish that everything that we did was equal. Of course I'm sure there are people that would ask, ‘What about the Bryant Scholarship?' So there are points on both sides when you start discussing those type situations."