SoCon’s Wofford, VMI will not pay COA

The Southern Conference announced this week that member schools can pay cost-of-attendance stipends to student-athletes in 2016-17, but two schools already have said that they will not.

The presidents of SoCon members Wofford and Virginia Military Institute were among the presidents of seven FCS schools who signed a letter stating that “our institutions have chosen not to offer additional ‘cost of attendance’ payments to student-athletes at this time.”

The letter apparently was published prematurely online, but both Wofford and VMI issued statements confirming their stance. The presidents of James Madison, New Hampshire, Elon, Hofstra, William and Mary, Vermont and Delaware also signed the letter.

Since cost-of-attendance legislation, initiated by “Power Five” conferences, was approved earlier this year, the SoCon’s position has been that each member school should decide whether to pay student-athletes a stipend to cover expenses beyond tuition, books, room and board.

The league affirmed that stance this week with an announcement saying that the SoCon Council of Presidents “has approved a policy to permit member institutions to award cost of attendance stipends to student-athletes effective with the 2016-17 academic year.”

SoCon commissioner John Iamarino said it is still up to each school to decide if and how it will award stipends.

“This is permissive legislation, not mandatory, and provides flexibility for institutions to choose which sports and which individuals they might want to consider, should they choose to award these stipends,” he said. SoCon schools already can use money distributed by the NCAA to help student-athletes through the Student Assistance Fund, Iamarino pointed out.

SoCon member Chattanooga announced earlier this year that it would begin paying a stipend of $2,000 per year to men’s and women’s basketball players this school year.

In its statement, VMI — a military school like The Citadel — said stipends could create division with the Corps of Cadets and within the athletic program.

“The cost of attendance initiative would create a ‘have/have not’ subgroup within the Corps between cadet-athletes and cadet non-athletes,” the school said in a statement. “It would also create a division between athletes who would receive the stipend and those who receive less, or not at all. With nearly 30 percent of the Corps participating in intercollegiate athletics, this initiative could possibly cause discord between cadets in the Corps.”

Wofford athletic director Richard Johnson said his department stands behind the letter signed by school president Dr. Nayef Samhat.

“We remain committed to providing the best liberal arts education for all of our students, of which intercollegiate athletics plays a strong role,” he said. “We look forward to being a part of this national discussion on this and other issues involving student-athletes in the future.”

Citadel athletic director Jim Senter said his school is still considering its options.

“The Citadel will remain focused on utilizing our resources to enhance the experience for all 350 of our cadet-athletes,” Senter said in a statement. “Our senior athletic administrators are constantly evaluating ways to rise to the next level in every aspect of our athletic department, and we will announce specific plans as they are implemented.”

College of Charleston, a member of the Colonial Athletic Association, is paying cost of attendance stipends to its student-athletes this year, along with fellow CAA member Towson.