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March 17, 2018

Dayton's Charles Clarke (4) drives the ball against Massachusetts guard C.J. Anderson (23) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016, in Dayton, Ohio. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)

This story originally aired in October, 2017.

Since his freshman year at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, C.J. Anderson has played basketball for the Minutemen.

Off the court, though, Anderson at first struggled to pay for flights home to see his family in Memphis.

That's because, before 2015, UMass Amherst did not offer stipends to its scholarship athletes.

"There's been times where I stay up here for spring break," he said. "Then there was times I would go home because my mom or dad would take me, but they were sort of stretching it."

Coming from a family of eight, Anderson says his middle-class family doesn't have much cash for plane tickets.

"We try to get it as early as possible so it won't cost too much," he said.

To help scholarship athletes like Anderson, in 2015 UMass Amherst and hundreds of other Division I universities agreed to cover the full cost of attendance by giving stipends. These stipends vary by school, ranging from about $2,000 to $5,000.

Issuing stipends was one of Athletic Director Ryan Bamford's first moves when he got the job at UMass-Amherst two years ago.

“All of our peer institutions were doing this for all of their scholarship student-athletes and we felt like in order to be competitive in recruiting, this was another resource that we really needed to make sure that we could provide,” Bamford said.

Today, UMass Amherst gives each athlete - men and women alike - about $1600 each year. That may not sound like much, but Bamford says it makes a big difference.

"Our young people don’t have an opportunity to go out and get jobs during the school or even in the summer," he said. "This was an opportunity really to meet some of the needs that our young people had – to be able to go into town and get a burger, to be able to pay for some additional school supplies.”

Sports economist Victor Matheson at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester is skeptical schools decided to give stipends purely out of good will. He said athletic powerhouses began offering stipends so they wouldn't look bad.

“We had some athletes from institutions that are making literally millions and millions of dollars saying, ‘Yeah, most days a week I go home a little hungry ‘cause I don’t get enough from my scholarship at school and of course I don’t have any cash otherwise,'” Matheson said.

Matheson argues college sports programs could do much more to support – and even pay – their student-athletes.

“It’s always been a fiction that these athletes are student-athletes rather than employees when by almost any metric you can think of they’re employees," Matheson said.

The NCAA and most athletic directors strongly disagree.

"If we do this right, this shouldn't be felt like a job," said Peter Roby, Northeastern University's athletic director, who decided the school in Boston would not provide stipends.

“I didn’t want to downplay the importance of education," he said. "I don’t want a young person to choose Northeastern because we’re going to offer him a $2,000 stipend. That’s the wrong reason.”

For C.J. Anderson, he said the extra $800 each semester goes a long way.

"Without that it would be very difficult for me to get home on those occasional times that we actually get a chance to go home," he said.

And Anderson says the stipend doesn't change what being a student-athlete means to him.

"I feel like all student-athletes should at least get something because you're really giving your bodies and your blood, sweat and tears for your university," he said. "You should reap some type of reward out of it."

WGBH's Esteban Bustillos contributed to this story.

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