1:27 PM ET

Less than a quarter of the nation's wealthiest college athletic departments have a plan in place to maximize the amount of money they can give to athletes this year by providing cash rewards for good grades.

The academic year was a great time for athletes' bank accounts. Boosters and brands spent millions of dollars on athlete endorsement deals. While schools quickly invested in helping their athletes find ways to sell their name, image and likeness to outside bidders, they have been generally slow to reach for their own wallet to take advantage of a new rule that allows the athletic department to reward athletes directly for strong performances.

The NCAA changed its rules in August 2020 to allow schools to pay their athletes up to $5,980 per year as a reward for academic performance. The dollar amount was calculated during the legal proceedings because it is equal to the maximum amount of financial value an athlete can receive in one year from awards related to their athletic performance. The NCAA v Alston case was decided by the Supreme Court in June of last year.

In the past several months, a voluntary survey and public records requests have shown that only 21 of the 130 schools that make up the Bowl Championship Series have a plan in place to give their athletes academic bonus payments this year. More than a third of the schools in the Bowl Championship Series have not yet decided if they will provide additional benefits to athletes.

AuburnOklahoma St.
ClemsonOle Miss
FloridaSouth Carolina
Iowa StateTennessee
LSUTexas Tech
North Carolina

Schools have the option to provide new benefits or cash bonuses. 101 responded to the 130 schools that were contacted. The findings include:

Twenty-one schools have plans in place to pay athletes for good grades this semester.

Thirty-four people said they didn't know if or when they would get academic bonuses.

Twenty-one said they will not make bonus payments this year, but will make them in the future.

Fifteen people said they wouldn't pay academic bonuses.

Ten responded to public records requests by saying they have no relevant documents of a plan to share or by sharing documents that provided no information about an existing plan to make academic bonus payments.

Another example of the financial disparity is provided by the results. Nine of the 21 schools with plans to pay bonuses this year are in the SEC. Georgia is the only SEC school that is undecided on bonus payments.

Hilary Cox, an associate athletic director at South Carolina, said that it was not difficult to make the decision to pay bonuses. It is a substantial amount of money, but it is something that the athletic director and administration thought was important.

Five Big 12 schools will pay bonuses this year. Three schools from the Atlantic Coast Conference are paying bonuses this year, and two from the Pacific-12. The only Big Ten school that said it would pay bonuses this year was Wisconsin. Five other Big Ten schools said they won't pay athletes this year.

Jeffrey Kessler, the attorney who represented the people in the Supreme Court case, said that the challenges of COVID-19 may have played a role in the slower-than- expected response to the rule changes. He said he was happy to see athletes getting more.

Kessler said that the competitive market will emerge and that everyone will have these in the near future.

The schools that are paying academic bonuses this year are from the Power 5 conference. The University of Connecticut will pay bonuses to its basketball players who earn them this year and hopes to include other sports in the future. A number of non-Power 5 conferences plan to pay bonuses to their athletes in the future.

Terry Mohajir, the athletic director of the University of Central Florida, said he wasn't concerned about the gap between Power 5 schools. Mohajir said the bonus payments can make a huge difference in providing peace of mind for many athlete, but most athletes won't be choosing schools based on the potential for an extra few thousand dollars per semester.

Finding the money to make the payments was the main issue to be solved before UCF could move forward with paying athletes.

Mohajir said that they are planning to do it next term.

Survey responses show that the budget for the additional benefits ranged from a few hundred thousand dollars to $6 million. Most schools will need to set aside between $2 million and $3 million a year to pay bonuses to their athletes.

The Supreme Court ruling last summer solidified the new rules for allocating money for the current academic year, and many athletic departments set their budget in late spring.

Many schools have been able to modify their spending in the middle of a budget year when needed for coaching changes. Virginia Tech agreed to pay more than $8 million to buy out the contract of a former football coach, but hasn't decided how to provide an incentive for athletes to get good grades. The University of Michigan has not decided if it will use some of its nine-figure budget to pay academic bonuses, despite giving football coach Jim Harbaugh a $3 million raise after he led the team to the College Football Playoff.

Both Michigan and Virginia Tech declined to be interviewed. Virginia Tech initially responded to the survey by saying it was not sure if or when it would provide bonus payments. When asked for an interview, a spokesman provided a statement that said the school is working through the details of how much money each athlete should receive and what the thresholds for earning the bonuses should be. He said that the school will implement a program next fall.

The lack of urgency from many schools creates a situation where their coaches or administrators may receive hundreds of thousands of dollars as a reward for their players' performance in the classroom, while the players themselves don't receive any bonus payment. If his players achieve high marks in the classroom this year, Wilcox will be eligible to receive up to $210,000 if he signs a contract extension. The players will not be able to earn money for their grades this semester.

Cal said it was undecided on providing bonus payments to athletes. An athletic department spokesman said the school would start offering new benefits next fall when asked for an interview.

Alabama coach Nick Saban is eligible for up to $100,000 in bonus payments for his players academic performance. The athletic department did not respond to multiple requests for information about its plans to pay bonuses to athletes and did not respond to a public records request.

The athletic departments that put plans in place have viewed the new option as a way to provide more to their athletes. According to most respondents with a plan, athletes have to achieve a combination of remaining academically eligible and having a clean record in order to receive the full $5,980 payment at their school.

Some schools wanted their athletes to have higher hurdles in order to get the money. Athletes who reach academic eligibility will receive $2,400 but need a 3.5 or higher grade point average to receive the full bonus. If an athlete graduates, Iowa State will only pay bonus money in a lump sum.

Different approaches have been taken to which athletes will be eligible for bonus payments. Some schools will give bonuses to any player on their roster, while others will only give bonuses to scholarship athletes. Group of Five schools such as the University of Connecticut and the University of Central Florida plan to give bonuses to athletes who play for sports that make the most money.

The bonus payments were not made at the association-wide level, unlike almost all other forms of compensation that schools can pay athletes. Conferences gave guidance to their schools. Scholarship athletes in the Big 12 are only eligible for bonuses if they are in the conference. Schools were on their own to figure out how they wanted to navigate this new option because any association-wide agreement or discussion on what was reasonable might be considered a violation of the antitrust laws that were debated in the Alston case.

Cox said that this was one of the first times that we were not talking as an association about what we were doing. We wanted to put the pedal to the metal and say, "Let's do this."

Kesser said the schools are now being forced to make decisions like all other independent businesses in the country, as opposed to being a part of a group.