Looking At Cost Of Attendance Policy

Coaches rarely advocate in unison, but occasionally the stars are aligned producing harmony. Student-athletes received a grant in-aid covering room, board, tuition and fees prior to the 2015-16 academic calendar year. NCAA legislation passed in January altered the equation to include the Full Cost Of Attendance. Here in the first of two parts we examine this additional benefit to student-athletes.

Incidental expenses associated with attending college will be added to the financial package offered by 65 schools comprising the Power Five Conferences – ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and the Southeastern Conference.

An overwhelming 79-1 vote (65 schools plus 15 student-athlete delegates) certified the cause, with ACC member Boston College the lone dissenting voice. The landscape is poised to change significantly with the advent of the reform measures but is it déjà vu?

Student-athletes were in an enviable position decades ago, according to H. Wright Waters, former Sun Belt Conference commissioner and current executive director of the Football Bowl Association. “An athletics scholarship was the best deal on campus, bar none,” Waters said. “When I was in school in the late 1960s, early 1970s, room, board, tuition, course related books, fees, supplies along with $15 laundry money, travel uniform, selling of your comp tickets and discounts all over town was the standard.”

Successive oil embargoes in the early 1970s in conjunction with the unfunded Federal Title IX mandate dramatically increasing expenses forced athletics directors to seek revenue. Salaries paid to coaches had yet to explode. Trimming the athletics scholarship was regarded the sole option to balance athletics department budgets. Also, scholarship limits were applied. Waters said, “Mistake. We continued to refer to it as a full-scholarship. It was not.”

The third factor was the emergence of the first generation college student. In many cases, parents of those athletes were not able to provide the extra funds required for clothing and other essential items. An infusion of television money in the 1990s occurred simultaneously with the BCS. Commissioners and Athletic Directors were mired in luring coaches with six and subsequently seven-figure annual salaries and funding facility upgrades.

Wright said, “In retrospect if we had taken care of the student-athletes at that time, we probably wouldn’t be where we are now. We have to step back now and take care of the student-athletes and make sure that they once again have the best scholarship on campus.”

Department of Education federal guidelines dictate the parameters to compute the cost of attendance figures. School financial aid offices are responsible for the calculations and justification of the numbers. Variations among the 14 SEC institutions exist causing coaches to be concerned with potential competitive advantages. Measures to temper the skepticism were enacted.

The SEC approved transparency legislation at the annual spring meeting in Destin, Florida. Methodology and calculations used to determine the cost of attendance along with miscellaneous numbers factoring into the total must be provided by the 14 institutions to the SEC office. The written report, effectively immediately, must be certified by the school’s president or chancellor, and the senior financial aid officer of the university.

A second approved proposal, effective August 1, states institutions are required to submit a written report to the league office enumerating any variance increase a student-athlete receives over and above the school’s standard calculation.

Next: What 14 SEC coaches--including Alabama's Nick Saban--think about Cost of Attendance as having an affect on how the teams recruit.

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