Boise State

Food, transportation and fun, stipends make a difference for BSU student-athletes

At least Sierra Nobley had a bike.

The Boise State volleyball player would pedal home after matches as a sophomore in the fall of 2015, uphill, testing her already tired 6-foot-1 frame.

“I was like, ‘I’ve got to get a car,’” Nobley said.

Last year, she got one. It is older than she is, a 1993 truck that her older brother passed down to her when she was in high school in Arizona. Now Nobley is paying back her parents for the truck, paying for insurance and maintenance, and filling it with gas.

That would not have been an option had Boise State not agreed to provide full cost of attendance for scholarship athletes starting with the 2015-16 academic year. It was a huge shift when the NCAA agreed to allow schools to do it at their discretion, providing Boise State athletes with an additional $300-$400 a month to cover daily living expenses.

[Related: Cost of attendance stipends: What are they and what do they mean for Boise State?]

“Primarily, it’s about recruiting. You don’t want to be at a disadvantage,” Boise State Athletic Director Curt Apsey said. “It keeps getting harder to keep up with others that may have more resources, but this enabled us to help do that.”

It is up to the athlete’s discretion how to use the stipend, which can cover all sorts of necessities. Those who receive the money, as is the case with many young adults, learn to budget wisely.

Senior women’s basketball player Brooke Pahukoa said, “I almost cried,” when she heard the athletic department would provide the stipend to its student-athletes. The change struck her this winter when she spent about $300 on medicine to get over a nagging illness.

“I bought all that stuff, sat in my car with it and was like, ‘Thank goodness,’ because there’s no way I could’ve been able to do that, or eat healthier, or see my family more if not for that money,” Pahukoa said.

It prompted Pahukoa to write a letter to Apsey, thanking the athletic department for approving the stipend.

Pahukoa said teammates can now fly home on short notice for family emergencies. Junior football player David Moa, a San Diego native, grew up with his family of six living in a two-bedroom apartment, so money was usually tight.

“I get the chance to come home more than I used to, so my family appreciates that,” Moa said. “And my mom really likes it, because those first two years when I’d call, she’d think, ‘What does he want now?’ So not having her worry about that stuff is really nice.”

Junior men’s basketball player Chandler Hutchison noted that, “The end of the month comes real quick,” so budgeting is stressed, and that doesn’t always mean spending it on fun things.

“For me, I had to make the payments on my braces, so having that stipend money is big time, lets you keep learning to be a little more independent,” he said.

A Meridian native, junior football player Mason Hampton did not have to worry about flying home, so he saved up parts of his checks to put a down payment on a truck.

“It’s all we get for the month, not every two weeks or whatever, and most of us can’t go get a job, get additional income,” Hampton said. “Some of the older guys that never had it really appreciate it, so at first some of those younger guys maybe don’t appreciate it as much.”

As with most 18- or 19-year-olds, newfound money isn’t always spent wisely. Freshman football player DeAndre Pierce, whose father played in the NFL for nine seasons, is an example.

“I actually saved it for a tattoo,” he said. “But I’m being better with it now. Next semester I’ll live off campus, so saving up for a deposit on a place and to get some furniture for it.”

Living in the dorms, with meal plans and no need to drive to campus, the freshmen at Boise State sometimes have a little extra money. That can be put to good use, too.

“I use it mostly for extra food, a lot of us do. ... I’m not about tattoos. I don’t go out much, so I was able to get my mom a nice birthday present, get some things for my girlfriend on Valentine’s Day,” freshman football player Alexander Mattison said.

Many athletes said one of the main uses of the stipend is to buy groceries, as those who live off-campus aren’t provided all meals. Pahukoa said her diet has changed for the better in the last two years, purchasing healthier options than “grabbing a $2 bag of chips.”

For big football linemen needing to add weight, or cross country runners who burn through calories by the thousands, that is a necessity.

The veterans, in particular those who remember life before stipends, try to keep expenses at a minimum beyond the cost of rent, which is covered by part of their scholarship check. Senior men’s basketball player James Reid went on scholarship in spring 2016 after transferring from Arkansas-Little Rock, his first semester he had to pay his own way.

“I had enough money to pay for one (semester),” Reid said. “I was so thankful to get it, and that stipend is so helpful. I was raised to really learn the value of a dollar, so I save as much as I can.

“I did the math, if you’re a scholarship athlete for four years and you save most of that, you can come out debt-free, have money toward a place to live, a car, whatever, when you’re done playing.”

Nobley said it was a relief not to rely on birthday gifts or the occasional check her grandfather would send on holidays. For most, it’s another perk to being a student-athlete, a position that takes up their entire day, allowing some independence.

“There’s just this freedom now, you can breathe a little bit more,” Pahukoa said. “There’s practice, games, rehab, school that you have to worry about, so not having to stress about money. It makes a big difference.”

Dave Southorn: 208-377-6420, @IDS_southorn