WVU AD Lyons Talks Budget, O'Bannon Lawsuit

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Director of Athletics Shane Lyons estimates the new NCAA cost of attendance stipends, along with the additional meal monies and the potential end-of-career “image likeness” trust fund payout would add another $3.5 million to West Virginia’s budget.

And for a school with plenty of renovation projects both under way and in the planning stages, factored with the ongoing facilities competition in intercollegiate athletics, it isn’t a major hit, but it’s not mere pocket change, either. The recent cost of attendance figure – WVU ranks midrange in the NCAA, but in the lower tier of the Big 12 – added to the meal monies and the possible student-athlete trust fund are all results of the still-ongoing antitrust, class action provincially tagged as the “O’Bannon lawsuit.”

The gist is that former UCLA men’s basketball player Ed O’Bannon filed a lawsuit, on behalf of NCAA student-athletes, primarily football and men’s basketball players, that noted that athletes should be entitled to compensation for the use of their image per the Sherman Antitrust Act, particularly their right to capitalize on right of publicity when the NCAA was profiting from image and character likenesses in video games and other like realms.

O’Bannon won the case last August, with U.S. District judge Claudia Wilken issuing an injunction that prevented the NCAA the "from enforcing any rules or bylaws that would prohibit its member schools and conferences from offering their FBS football or Division I basketball recruits a limited share of the revenues generated from the use of their names, images, and likenesses in addition to a full grant-in-aid." Wilken did limit the additional allotted monies, noting that no student-athletes should receive any endorsement payments, but the revenue sharing.

The potential payout for that could be as high as $5,000 per student-athlete starting in Aug. of 2016, meaning WVU, and other NCAA Division I institutions, would be forced to pay that amount upon the exhausted eligibility of each of their scholarship student-athletes. West Virginia has more than 475 athletes in 18 varsity sports, making the roughly estimated high-end figure $2.375 million. Added to the new cost of attendance figure of $2,700 for WVU’s out-of-state student athletes, and $2,400 for its in-state, and that total annual amount jumps to approximately $3.5 million out of a $77 million budget expected to increase to more than $100 million by 2021.

“You look at the cost of attendance, the additional meal monies, those are probably $750,000 each, so there’s $1.5 million added to the budget,” Lyons told BlueGoldNews.com in an exclusive, hour-long interview. “You look at the likeness image trust fund, that’s close to potentially another $2 million. So we have to plan for those types of situations. We are preparing as though it’s every scholarship student-athlete. We will see how that plays out over the coming months.

“Things change and you have to adapt to change if that’s what’s being mandated by rules and regulations. We are not going to put ourselves in a disadvantage with cost of attendance or meals or whatever it is. We are going to do what’s best for the student-athletes to give them the best opportunity.”

Among the biggest of contentions was the variation of cost of attendance numbers, and how they could be used in recruiting. West Virginia’s $2,700 figure – initially thought to be as low as $1,971 to rank last in the Big 12 – puts the Mountaineers in the middle in the NCAA, but far below some institutions like BYU and conference competitor TCU. The worry was that the number would simply be bandied about sans explanation, and used as a recruiting chip. And while that’s still a concern, Lyons notes that a largely unknown but key aspect of cost of attendance is that any student-athlete can request a review of their figure per their individual circumstance. If, for example, a scholarship student is from a foreign country, or lives far away, the amount awarded could be increased to compensate. All athletes will be able to request a hearing, though how much those numbers would change is yet to be seen.

“We are in the middle of the pack, and we will continue to look at that,” Lyons said. “That number is figured out by the financial aid office. That’s nothing we do here in the athletic department. That’s done by the administration downtown for all students. That will give some extra resources for student-athletes for those incidental expenses above and beyond the scholarship. We are 100 percent on board and working through that. We have already set it up through our budget process to make sure we are taking care of the student-athlete and their experiences that they have as a student-athlete.”

Still, there’s little question the cost of attendance figures could lure prospects to particular institutions, something West Virginia and the NCAA as a whole must continue to monitor. The end numbers are based upon economic factors such as cost of travel to home, and the surrounding cost of living in the school’s geographic area for the entire student body taken altogether. But for a program like WVU football, which recruits nationally and doesn’t sign a lot of in-state talent, one would think the average numbers, if reviewed for the team on a per-person basis, would be higher.

“It is different. But let’s work through it,” Lyons said. “It’s like a lot of things with legislation: There’s an initial reaction that that’s not fair for this school, and it’s more fair or advantageous for this one. We have to start working through it and then figuring it out. This is not just for athletics, but for all the students in general. We are looking at the 30,000 students here, and it’s based on average number of times a student goes home for weekend trips or during the semester. Where those students are from, if the student body is from a greater geographic area.”

That’s one of the reasons a school like BYU, which pulls its enrollment from across the nation, and thus factors in travel costs for its entire student body, has a figure of $4,500 while WVU, which pulls mainly from in-state (nearly 50 percent) and a regionalized area of the northeast, Virginia, Maryland and Ohio, doesn’t offer as much to cover expenses.

“Let’s say we recruit a student-athlete from California,” Lyons said. “We can send that person downtown to the financial aid office and have them recalculate for that specific individual because their trips home could be more. That person may jump to $3,200 because they have more expenses. There are some options there with the federal guidelines. If you go back and look before the O’Bannon lawsuit, there was a number thrown out of $3,000, $4,000, $5,000 that was ultimately adopted and then overridden by membership. I think a lot of people felt that was more fair. There’s movement to go back there, but right now we are bound by the lawsuit.

“You have people out there wondering if it will be used against the school in the recruiting process, and that one school is going to have an advantage. We have to let this play out and see how it works. Our number is our number and that’s what we will provide to the student-athlete while in the recruiting process trying to explain to them that this is where the number comes from and you will have adequate resources to come here and extra money to be able to spend on incidentals of clothing and going home and extra meals on top of what they receive. I think this will continue to be looked at and debated.”

Lyons also detailed updates to facilities, including the Coliseum and Mountaineer Field at Mylan Puskar Stadium, along with the grass practice field, as well as other facility improvements, future scheduling, fundraising details, conference expansion and more. The full transcript of the interview will be published in the print edition of the Blue and Gold News.

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