College football seemed so easy for Robert Woods.
The bigger players and harder hits, the roaring crowds, he sailed through all of that to become an instant star at USC, catching passes by the dozen as a freshman.
It was another part of the game — a part fans don't see — that took him by surprise. It was the peanut butter and jelly.
"You think, coming to USC, they'll have food whenever you want but it's really not like that," he said. "I've gone four days straight of just sandwiches."
Now a sophomore, Woods has learned that bills — rent, utilities, and phone — devour most of his monthly scholarship check, leaving only dollars a day to eat. The team feeds him dinner during the season, but the rest of the time, he says, "you're on your own."
This dilemma affects student-athletes nationwide. According to a 2010 study, the maximum financial aid allowed under NCAA rules can fall short of covering school and living expenses by anywhere from $200 to $10,000 a year, depending on the campus.
At USC, Athletic Director Pat Haden estimates that his athletes need another $3,300 to meet basic needs. "It doesn't seem right," he said. "And I think it's a public relations nightmare."
With the Pac-12 Conference and other major conferences set to reap billions from new television contracts, the NCAA board of directors recently announced that members will have the option of boosting aid by as much as $2,000 a year.