Cost of attendance will be costly for colleges

Can The Citadel afford full cost of attendance stipends for 63 scholarship football players? (Paul Zoeller/Staff

Florida State’s athletic director is cutting his department’s budget by two percent across the board to pay for the NCAA’s new “full cost of attendance” for student athletes.

“We’ve basically asked every unit in our department to look at their budgets and implement a two percent cut in their budget,” Stan Wilcox told the FSU Board of Trustees recently.

Think about that. Florida State, which took in $91.4 million in athletic revenue in 2013, is cutting its budget by about $1.8 million to pay for cost of attendance, which covers expenses for student-athletes beyond tuition, room and board, and books.

Now think about what cost of attendance means for smaller schools like College of Charleston (with revenue of $15.8 million in 2013) and The Citadel ($13.4 million, according to USA Today).

“It’s definitely going to be the basis for making hard decisions,” said Southern Conference commissioner John Iamarino, whose league includes state schools The Citadel, Wofford and Furman. “I don’t see all of the schools in our conference, or any of them, being able to provide cost of attendance across the board for all sports. Decisions will have to be made.”

Those decisions are easier at the NCAA’s “Power Five” schools — those in the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 — which approved the new cost of attendance legislation in January.

Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich recently said his school would budget $925,000 annually to pay full cost of attendance to some 250 student-athletes on scholarship. Clemson estimates it will spend about $3,608 to cover full cost of attendance for each student-athlete.

The school’s booster club, IPTAY, will help fund the extra costs.

“That’s going to come from our athletic department; it will be a new cost we will work through,” Radakovich said. “We’ll work with IPTAY to help us defray that cost as well as our own athletic revenues.”

At USC, officials expect cost of attendance to add about $1.6 million to the scholarship budget, with each athlete on full scholarship receiving about $4,201 per year.

Last October, Texas announced it was prepared to pay a stipend of $10,000 per athlete. Auburn officials have said they expect to pay a stipend of almost $6,000 per year, near the top of the SEC.

“Certainly having a higher number than most in the Southeastern Conference is going to be helpful (in recruiting),” Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs told USA Today. “Having the lowest number in the SEC could be hurtful. The way we recruit and the quality of student-athlete we want, we hope that number isn’t a deciding factor but human nature says it could be depending on the circumstances.”

One published report has cost of attendance figures in the SEC ranging from $5,666 at Tennessee to $1,798 at Georgia.

Schools are not required to pay cost of attendance stipends. But for schools outside the Power Five like College of Charleston and The Citadel, there is pressure to keep up with the big boys. Liberty University, a member of the Big South Conference, will reportedly become the first of the smaller FCS schools to provide full cost of attendance to student-athletes.

“The pressure to keep up is real,” said College of Charleston athletic director Joe Hull. “The Power Five have dramatically more resources than those of us outside it. It’s so much easier for a Power Five school to do it than for somebody outside those leagues.”

Hull said College of Charleston officials are currently considering their options for cost of attendance stipends for the 2015-16 school year. Decisions have to be made soon, he said.

“We are actively working on a plan that will provide some of the new cost of attendance funding,” Hull said. “And we’re doing that in the context that we are required to maintain a balanced budget, so we cannot spend more than we have.”

The Colonial Athletic Association, which College of Charleston joined last year, was the only one of 32 Division I leagues to vote unanimously against the autonomy legislation that gave rule-making authority to the Power Five leagues.

“These are the rules,” Hull said. “College of Charleston was one of the schools that voted against moving in this direction, but these are the rules now.”

Hull said he is not yet ready to attach any numbers to College of Charleston’s plan for cost of attendance.

At The Citadel, athletic director Jim Senter estimates the stipends will cost the military school about $3,333 for each athlete who receives it.

“If we do it for 30 athletes on full scholarship, we’re looking at about $100,000,” Senter said. “That’s what we’d be looking at for each group of 30 to 35 athletes.”

The question for smaller schools: Which athletes on which teams will receive a stipend?

“What everybody is trying to grasp is, what will our peers do?” Senter said. “What is the effect on each institution’s budget if we do or we don’t? Is that a competitive disadvantage or advantage? All those are things we don’t know yet.

“I’m hearing that many schools around the country will pick a men’s sport and a corresponding women’s sport to receive a stipend.”

For FCS schools like The Citadel, or non-football schools like College of Charleston, paying a stipend to 13 scholarship players in men’s basketball and a like number on a women’s team might be doable. But then what does The Citadel do about football and its 63 scholarships? Can College of Charleston pay stipends to basketball players and not to its championship-winning baseball team?

“The numbers in football scare everybody,” Senter said. “And if you did it for football, you’d have to do it for female sports as well, and then the number goes off the chart.”

Simple math suggests that stipends for football players at The Citadel could add $209,979 to the athletic budget. Paying all of the Bulldogs’ 225 athletes would cost about $750,000. Paying only some of them could create its own problems.

“I struggle with that,” Senter said. “It’s like saying you have a favorite son or daughter. I want to give all our student-athletes the same opportunities within the rules. If we make a decision based on economics, we’re treating our children differently and I don’t want to do that.”

Neither the SoCon nor the CAA has taken a league-wide position on cost of attendance. Iamarino said the SoCon is likely to leave the decision up to each member.

“Several conferences have mandated cost of attendance in certain sports,” Iamarino said. “I think the vast majority of Division I, and I’m guessing our league as well, will leave it up to the individual institutions. But these are all questions we are wrestling with right now.”