At Least 15 Athletics Programs to Offer More Than $4,000 in Extra Aid to Athletes

By Brad Wolverton and Sandhya Kambhampati | Chronicle of Higher Ed | April 9, 2015


The University of Tennessee and four other major-college athletics departments are set to offer players an additional $5,000 or more in scholarship assistance starting this fall, according to a Chronicle analysis of financial-aid allowances at the 65 wealthiest NCAA institutions. Ten other athletics programs have plans to distribute at least $4,000 more in aid.

The money, part of a new spending allowance approved in January by the five biggest conferences, allows Division I colleges to cover the full cost of players’ scholarships. Previously, colleges could cover only the cost of a basic scholarship — tuition, fees, room and board, and books.

The change was designed to direct more money to players as television money has expanded. But disparities in what programs can offer have put new pressure on college budgets and altered the dynamics of recruiting.

Spending power among the five biggest conferences — the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pacific-12, and Southeastern — varies greatly.

Three of the top four programs are from the Southeastern Conference: Tennessee ($5,666), Auburn University ($5,586), and Mississippi State ($5,126). A total of seven SEC programs are among the top 20, according to the analysis, which included a review of institutions’ financial-aid websites and cost-of-attendance figures that the colleges report to the federal government.

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The University of Louisville, from the Atlantic Coast Conference, has the third-highest number ($5,202).

The Big 12 Conference also has seven programs in the top 20, led by Texas Tech ($5,100), Texas Christian University ($4,700), and the University of Oklahoma ($4,614).

Beginning in August, Tennessee can start providing players with about $630 more a month than it does now, according to its cost-of-attendance figures. The extra money is designed to help cover athletes’ out-of-pocket expenses, including travel and cellphone bills. (The numbers are based on a nine-month academic calendar. Players who stay for summer school could receive three more months of payments.)

Not everyone has as much to give. Three private colleges have the lowest cost-of-attendance numbers among the 65: Boston College ($1,400), the University of Southern California ($1,580), and Syracuse University ($1,632).

Boston College voted against the cost-of-attendance measure at this year’s NCAA convention. It was the lone dissenter, citing concerns about recruiting advantages that certain institutions would gain as a result of the change. The college did not immediately respond to a Chronicle inquiry about whether it would offer the additional aid to players.

Elite private institutions sometimes underestimate students’ personal expenses in their published cost of attendance as a way of limiting the sticker shock that can accompany their tuition bills.

Last week, before the final rounds of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, in Indianapolis, athletics officials from several programs toldThe Chronicle that they have had conversations with campus admissions and financial-aid officials about raising their institutions’ cost-of-attendance figures.

Having a higher number means they would have more money to offer players, which can be crucial in recruiting. Some recruits have already mentioned cost-of-attendance differences as being a factor in their decisions.

Colleges are given great latitude in calculating the numbers. But at least one athletics official said that it would be difficult to persuade the admissions office to increase the university’s cost-of-attendance allowance, even if it would benefit the athletics department.

“If we’re talking about a few-hundred athletes versus 5,000 or 10,000 incoming students, who do you think is going to win that battle?” said the official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions. “The admissions department is going to put their number up there because they’re marketing the school.”

[View the Chronicle’s chart of data here.]

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