It appears no recent NCAA rule change has caught the imagination of the public quite like a possible increase of scholarship limits to cover unitemized expenses in the cost of attending a school. While a new reform movement is underway, cost of attendance is an old friend. Cost of attendance scholarships were last formally proposed in 2002 (Proposal 2002–83-B), but were defeated in favor of allowing athletes to receive other financial aid to cover the gap between a full grant-in-aid and cost of attendance (Proposal 2002–83-A).
Prior to now, it was hard to come up with on opinion of cost of attendance scholarships because we had no idea what the proposal would be. It could have been a relatively minor change to address revenue sports. Or it could have been an exotic proposal for only full scholarship athletes that would have dramatically changed recruiting in equivalency sports. Without knowing what the proposal was among 5–7 options, all you could do was be in favor of the idea in principle or not.
After the presidential retreat, the Board of Directors appointed working groups to address certain issues. In October, the BoD will hear recommendations from the group focused on student-athlete well being. A member of that group, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, let slip what the group was working on. On that note, here’s a Q&A on where the issue stands.
Q: What is the proposal?
A: The proposal is to increase the limit on athletic scholarships from tuition, fees, room, board, and books to the lesser of the cost of attendance or the current limit plus $2,000. In equivalency sports, the amount of the $2,000 would be prorated. The proposal would also be on a conference basis, meaning that a conference would likely need to adopt a conference rule to authorize its members to use the increased scholarship limits.
Q: Are there still some unknowns?
A: Yes. One question is how much freedom coaches in equivalency sports would have. The amount is prorated, but there is no indication if coaches have to give it to athletes. Two examples to compare:
- A full grant-in-aid is $20,000. A women’s soccer student-athlete receives a $10,000 scholarship. The student-athlete receives an additional $1,000 per year under the new proposal.
- A full grant-in-aid is $20,000. A women’s soccer student-athlete receives a $10,000 scholarship. The student-athlete receives no additional aid, but the coach has an additional $30,000 (15 x $2,000) to give to other athletes.
Another question is whether athletes will always get cash. A full scholarship football player would get $2,000 unless he has parking tickets or overdue books on his account. But does our women’s soccer athlete above get $1,000 cash, or just another $1,000 toward tuition?
Q: How much would it cost?
Because the proposal covers all sports, cost depends on how many sports an institution sponsors. Stanford’s associate AD of business strategy and revenue enhancement estimated it would cost the school $750,000. Stanford runs the largest athletic department in the country, so that number might be considered to be something of a maximum.
To figure out a rough estimate of cost, we need to figure out the average athletic department. The NCAA’s membership report has the average number of men’s and women’s sports sponsored by FBS, FCS, and non-football institutions. The NCAA’s sport sponsorship and participation report lists which sports are sponsored by the most institutions. So combining the two, we can figure out an “average” athletic department and estimate the costs based on scholarship limits. And those costs are:
- FBS: $504,400
- FCS: $436,400
- Non-Football: $282,400
Obvious in those figures is the effect of football. An FBS football team can expect an increased scholarship bill of up to $170,000 while an FCS program should set aside $126,000. The range for athletic departments that fully fund all their teams would probably be somewhere between $200,000 and $750,000.
Q: What about four-year scholarships?
A: The same working group is also working on a multi-year scholarship proposal. Swarbrick’s comments suggest that four-year scholarships are on the same fast track as the cost of attendance proposal.
Q: What is the next step?
A: The Board of Directors will take up both proposals in October. Most likely is that the Board will forward proposals to the membership for a vote in January. Given the widespread support from both presidents and athletic directors, passage seems likely. The BoD could choose to skip the Legislative Council and adopt the proposals as emergency or noncontroversial legislation. That seems unlikely since the proposal is not one of minimal impact and more debate could improve the proposal. And given the proposal would most likely apply to the next round of scholarships (2012–13) at the earliest, undue hardship is not likely if adoption occurs in January vs. October.
Q: What do you think of the cost of attendance proposal?
A: The reason cost of attendance was not adopted sooner is the wide variations in the gap between cost of attendance and a full grant-in-aid. The National College Players Association calculated gaps of $200 to almost $11,000. The number also represents an amount of cash that athletes will receive and is thought to be subject to manipulation, although that would have far-reaching consequences for all other students at the institution.
A person’s opinion on this proposal is telling as to their attitude toward the NCAA. Ultimately the proposal means more financial aid for student-athletes. This is a good thing. Division I should continually work to provide as much financial aid for as many athletes as possible, so this is just one step in a process that should never end.
College athletics will not be perfected overnight. If that is the measure of NCAA reform, the NCAA is set up for failure. This proposal moves Division I closer to providing the proper amount of financial support for athletes. It does not go all the way, but it is a big step closer. To reject the proposal as inadequate and evidence of the NCAA’s corruption or apathy is to hold the NCAA and its members to an impossibly high standard.
Q: What about the multi-year scholarship idea?
A: It is harder to have an opinion on the multi-year scholarship proposal since there are so few details. There is one reason for pessimism though and it is this quote from Swarbrick:
“The process for nonrenewal of an annual grant probably would look just like the process for terminating a four-year grant.”
That means that a scholarship could be cancelled between years for any reason, just like a scholarship could be nonrenewed for any reason. Multi-year scholarships only work if cancellation is subject to at least the same conditions as canceling a scholarship during the year now. That can only be done for one of five reasons:
- The student-athlete renders him- or herself ineligible for competition;
- The student-athlete is guilty of gross misconduct;
- The student-athlete lies to the university;
- The student-athlete quits the team; or
- The student-athlete violates a non-athletic, non-medical condition in the scholarship agreement.
Unless these conditions are kept for multi-year scholarships, the change is mostly administrative. Scholarships would not need to be renewed from year to year, but could be cancelled in between academic years. It would be a net loss for student-athlete welfare, since currently the actual contract an athlete or prospect signs must be for one year only.
Four years is also a bit of a red herring. After one year, five years, six years, or until graduation make the most sense. The five-year clock is the most important eligibility rule in Division I, and six years is the federal standard for earning a bachelor’s degree. But four years is no less arbitrary than $2,000 and under the right circumstances would be as much an improvement for student-athletes, so I will not complain about four vs. five vs. six.
The opinions expressed on this blog are the author’s and the author’s alone, and are not endorsed by the NCAA or any NCAA member institution or conference. This blog is not a substitute for a compliance office.