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Aug. 30, 2015

Video Feature: Financial Education Program | Twitter: @JeffWhiteUVa | Subscribe to White’s Articles

CHARLOTTESVILLE — In the same room where University of Virginia football players ask questions about zone reads, blitzes, and cover two defense, they recently asked about building credit, managing credit cards, purchasing a house, and finding apps to help them manage their money.

The national landscape for college sports is changing dramatically, and schools are now allowed to provide student-athletes with extra benefits, including cost-of-attendance stipends.

UVa wants to put programs in place that will allow student-athletes to take advantage of those new benefits. In the first exercise implemented to help student-athletes manage their money, the University’s athletics administration worked with Morgan Stanley Global Sports & Entertainment to create a customized financial education program to present to the football team.

On a recent evening during training camp, financial educator Aaron Harding and former Boston Celtics star Antoine Walker led a spirited session at the McCue Center that lasted about 90 minutes and held the attention of the nearly 100 players in attendance.

“You want to give the players as much information as possible to be armed with the ability to function as productive citizens,” head coach Mike London said.

Harding and Walker discussed common financial pitfalls. Among them: spending beyond one’s means, underestimating taxes, succumbing to pressure from family and friends, being victimized by fraud or identity theft, trusting the wrong people, not saving for the future, and making risky investments.

One of the new benefits as a result of recent changes in NCAA legislation is the inclusion of cost-of-attendance stipends in scholarships for student-athletes. Cost of attendance is designed to cover travel expenses, personal expenses and school supplies.

For the 2015-16 academic year, each scholarship student-athlete from the state of Virginia will receive about $3,180 as a stipend for the full cost of attendance. Scholarship student-athletes from outside the state will receive from $3,470 to $4,450 apiece, depending on how far from Charlottesville they live.

“The point is, when you start getting those checks, you have to manage them,” Harding told the players.

UVa wide receiver Andre Levrone, a redshirt sophomore from Laurel, Md., admitted he hadn’t thought much about how to use his cost-of-attendance stipend most effectively.

“But that’s a large amount of money to be handling in college,” Levrone said. “It’s definitely not something that you just want to go out and splurge with, and definitely some time will be put into budgeting and things of that nature.

“I feel like this meeting did a great job of helping us plan that.”

Senior defensive tackle David Dean agreed.

“When you get money like we are now with cost of attendance, it’s critical to have a plan to budget your money month in and month out,” Dean said. “Know what you’re spending your money on and know what you want to do with your money.”

Drew Hawkins, managing director of Morgan Stanley Global Sports & Entertainment, said his group has made presentations at Notre Dame, Boston College and Rutgers this year, and many other schools are interested in the financial education program.

“It’s all about education,” Hawkins said, “having an opportunity to get in front of the student-athletes and … being able to educate them early on about general concepts [of money management].”

About halfway through the presentation, Olamide Zaccheaus volunteered to help with an interactive exercise. At the front of the room, Harding handed Zaccheaus, who goes by “O,” a large stack of oversized banknotes.

“O, you have decisions to make,” Harding told Zaccheaus, a freshman tailback/wide receiver from Philadelphia.

Where to live? Buy a house or rent? What kind of car to drive? Buy or lease? How much to spend on clothing? How much to set aside for taxes?

Before long, Zaccheaus’ stack of bills had shrunk considerably, and he and his teammates had learned a lesson in money management.

“I love it, because these kids are just sponges,” Harding said afterward. “I like the fact that they have an opportunity before them to really change the trajectory of their lives based on this information, no matter what they end up doing.”

Walker’s story is a cautionary tale. A 6-9 forward, he won an NCAA title with Kentucky in 1996 and an NBA championship with the Miami Heat in 2006. In between he was a three-time All-Star for the Celtics.

During his 12 seasons in the NBA, Walker earned more than $110 million. He squandered most of it, however, and declared bankruptcy in 2010.

“I didn’t say the word `no’ enough,” Walker, 39, told his audience at the McCue Center.

During his NBA career, Walker, spent lavishly on cars, on clothes, on houses, on watches, on real estate. One season he wore a different suit for each of his team’s 82 regular-season games. Walker lost hundreds of thousands of dollars gambling, and he supported many of his friends and relatives.

He’s paid a steep price for his poor money management, but Walker was discharged from bankruptcy in 2012 and is debt-free. He’s trying now to help others avoid the financial mistakes he made.

“I feel like that’s my duty: to share my story,” Walker told the UVa players, with whom his message appeared to resonate.

Senior wide receiver Canaan Severin grew up near Boston, in Marlborough, Mass. He had pictures of Walker and other Celtics on his bedroom wall.

“I definitely didn’t think I’d expect to hear that story coming from him,” Severin said, “and it really means a lot for him to handle all that stuff, because he knows what it did to his life and how it can impact someone’s life.

“I have aspirations to go to the NFL and play at the next level, so just hearing stuff like this makes me more aware of the situation.”

The average NFL career lasts only 3.5 years, Harding reminded the Virginia players, and few of them are likely to earn millions of dollars as professional athletes.

Even so, Harding said, “You have to maintain control of your situation, whether you make a little or a lot. It’s about the little things, those habits we do day in and day out.”

Hawkins said: “Practice makes perfect.”

It’s not only about making money, Harding said, but protecting it and growing it. He emphasized the importance of creating a budget, saving for emergencies, and maintaining good a credit rating. He suggested apps that would help the players with money management.

“I learned really how to spend my money in smarter ways,” junior quarterback Matt Johns said. “Investing, saving, things along those lines for preparing for the future. A lot of times you get these checks and you think about the now. But there’s always a future ahead and you have to plan for that.”

“You all are young guys, but you have a long life ahead of you,” Harding said. “The fact is, life is only good forever if you plan forever.”

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