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Power Five Approve Cost of Attendance for Student Athletes at NCAA Convention

It came as no surprise that the Power Five conferences easily passed the cost of attendance measure being considered at the NCAA convention on Saturday. The final vote tally was 79-1 in favor of going to scholarships that cover the full cost of attendance, with 64 of the 65 schools and all 15 of the student athletes voting in favor of the proposal.

The lone dissenter was Boston College, who released this statement later in the day:

“Boston College is concerned with continuing to pass legislation that increases expenses when the vast majority of schools are already institutionally subsidized. The consequence of such legislation could ultimately hurt student-athletes if/when programs are cut.

“This legislation further segregates student-athletes from the general student population by increasing aid without need-based consideration. Legislation already exists for student-athletes in need through pell grants and the student-assistance fund.

“We have concerns that the Federal Financial aid formula is sufficiently ambiguous that adjustments for recruiting advantage will take place.”

The concerns raised by Boston College are valid. I’ve repeatedly said I think more sports will be cut at schools as the cost of supporting teams rises. Let’s face it – most schools don’t have the cash to cover cost of attendance, estimated to average $3,500 per student athlete, just sitting around in their bank account. In my opinion, that means one of two things will have to happen at many schools: subsidies will have to rise or sports will have to be cut.

We’ve already seen cuts being made around the country the last few years, from Maryland cutting seven sports to Temple cutting five sports to smaller cuts like the equestrian team at Kansas State (and likely more equestrian cuts with the NCAA possibly discontinuing the sport). Most schools carry more teams than the NCAA required minimum, so you often hear the cuts called “right-sizing,” meaning the athletic department is trimming sports to match its budget (you can read more on that here).

That budget will now be undergoing big changes at many schools as they adopt the cost of attendance measure. The figure will vary from school to school, because cost of attendance is determined by the financial aid office at each institution pursuant to federal guidelines. The range is said to start as low as $2,000 and go up as high as $6,000, and as the statement from Boston College alluded to, there is some concern that schools will be able to inflate that number while still staying within federal guidelines and gain a recruiting advantage.

Although passed solely by the Power Five conferences, the Group of Five (as well as non-football Division I members) will live under the same rules and can also choose to offer scholarships that cover cost of attendance. It marks the first time since 1975 that student athletes will receive additional monies for living expenses as part of their scholarship. Called “laundry money” back in the 1970s, the additional expense package was eliminated by a vote of the NCAA members in 1975. Currently, student athletes either have to qualify for need-based aid, like the Pell Grant, or apply for funds from the Student Assistance Fund if they need extra cash for travel, clothing, graduate testing fees or other necessities.

Saturday’s vote follows the O’Bannon ruling last fall, which forbid the NCAA from setting scholarships below cost of attendance for football and men’s basketball student athletes. The judge in O’Bannon wasn’t required to take Title IX into consideration in her ruling – schools, however will. That’s why you’ll likely see cost of attendance stipends offered across the board for all student athletes.

Schools can begin implementing the new rule for the 2015-16 school year.

Written by Kristi Dosh