Liberty University athletic director Jeff Barber is the first to look at his cards and makes a call. All in, he says.
Yes, the private school from Lynchburg, Va., has already announced it will fund all of its scholarship athletes with the recently NCAA-approved cost of attendance measure, a stipulation meant to give student-athletes monies beyond the cost of a tuition, books, fees, room and board. None of the other 124 FCS schools have shown their cards, but you can bet everybody is looking around the table, seeing who has a poker face and is still thinking of funding cost of attendance. And who is out.
North Dakota State is thinking about it.
“Philosophically, it’s something we believe in from a recruiting standpoint,” said athletic director Matt Larsen. “I think philosophically in terms of the demands on a student-athlete academically, athletically, meetings, study halls – all those things – it’s very difficult to go out and get a job and pay for some of those expenses above and beyond tuitions, fees, room, books and board.”
For the broad picture, here are three key details to cost of attendance:
E Only scholarship athletes are eligible to receive cost of attendance. Furthermore, the amount they could receive depends on the percentage of scholarship they are receiving. For instance, if an athlete is getting a 75 percent scholarship, he or she would be eligible for 75 percent of the total cost of attendance.
E Cost of attendance does not mean a school is increasing the number of scholarships. At NDSU, for instance, if a full ride that consists of tuition, fees, books, room and board is considered to be $15,000 and the maximum cost of attendance set by the financial aid office is calculated to be $3,400. That scholarship would actually be worth $18,400.
– Title IX is part of the equation. Example No. 1: The University of North Dakota announced it is working on a plan to fund 18 scholarships in men’s hockey with additional cost of attendance as well as 18 women’s women’s scholarships at sports yet to be specified.
“We haven’t made a decision on that yet, but we have to do it fairly quickly,” said UND athletic director Brian Faison.
UND is making the plunge in men’s hockey for the same reason everybody else is doing it across the country: recruiting. The cost of attendance was born at the power-five conference level consisting of schools in the Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC, Atlantic Coast and Big 12. Armed with big television contracts that provide millions of dollars to their athletic departments, it’s a way to further ease the demands of student-athletes, they say.
Since UND hockey competes with Big Ten schools, Notre Dame and Boston College for hockey recruits, the decision was easy for Faison.
“You have to make sure the coaches have all the ammunition on their side,” he said.
As for other sports, like football, it’s a wait-and-see proposition. If some FCS schools adopt cost of attendance, the question is simple: Will the subdivision further be a case of the haves and have nots?
In the last 16 years, only 10 programs have won FCS national championships with three – NDSU, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern – winning multiple times. Appalachian and Georgia Southern have since moved to FBS, but there still remains a select several that generally are considered built to win at the FCS level.
The last time a school from other than the Missouri Valley Football Conference, Colonial Athletic Association, Big Sky Conference or Southern Conference won a national title was in 1987 when Northeast Louisiana (now Louisiana-Monroe) from the Southland Conference did it.
So history says even if a majority of the schools from the power four conferences in FCS offer cost of attendance, the balance of power in the subdivision probably won’t change.
“We’re not increasing the number of scholarships,” Larsen said. “We’re increasing the cost of scholarships.”
Liberty will most likely be the experimental case and you can bet athletic directors will be paying attention to football signing day next February. Will Liberty get higher-rated recruits? Big Sky commissioner Doug Fullerton isn’t so sure.
“Let me ask you this: what kind of player are they going to get at Liberty that they don’t already get?” he said. “Who are they going to steal from? Are they going to steal players from the Sun Belt? They already compete with them. I don’t know where they’re going to steal players from. Maybe I have a parochial view but out here in the west, we have three people that play football – Mountain West, Pac-12 and us. We don’t recruit the same people. They’ll be getting the same kids, it will just cost them more.”
NDSU would counter that it recruits football players against the likes of the second tier of FBS schools like the Mountain West and Mid-American conferences. The Bison signed five players in the 2015 recruiting class that reportedly had offers from Wyoming of the Mountain West.
At least one player, offensive lineman Trenton Mooney from Lamar, Mo., said at least one Mountain West school offered him cost of attendance. And he still came to NDSU.
“I think it comes down to who you compete against,” Larsen said. “It comes down to a necessity of: do you need it to compete at the same level that you’ve been competing? To me, it’s who you’re competing against for recruits.”
Not all FCS schools compete for FBS recruits, Larsen said, so they probably don’t even need to discuss cost of attendance. Besides Liberty, he said he has yet to hear of any other FCS schools come out and say they’re doing cost of attendance.
A bigger question for NDSU, and for all FCS schools for that matter, is how it would pay for the added expense. It’s the job of NDSU associate athletic director for compliance Colleen Heimstead to manage the number of each scholarships for each sport. For instance, if head football Chris Klieman wanted to know where he was at with the number of scholarships he has on the team right now, he would contact Heimstead. The same would hold true for cost of attendance.
The NDSU compliance office must be notified by July 1 of every year how much each student-athlete will receive if they’re on scholarship. Heimstead said it’s not certain if each student-athlete’s cost of attendance would change during the year – if NDSU does offer it.
“The difference in grant-in-aid and cost of attendance could be different for each student-athlete depending on where they’re from, where they’re living; different dorm prices,” Heimstead said.
Larsen said NDSU will not make a decision either way on cost of attendance until the 2016-17 school year. South Dakota State athletic director Justin Sell said the target date for the Jackrabbits to determine their future status on cost of attendance is this November.
He said there are many more questions than answers.
“It’s too early to push any panic buttons,” Sell said. “We’re all trying to search out the answers.”
Like Fullerton, Sell wonders if a school offers a student-athlete an extra couple of thousand dollars in cost of attendance will make a difference in the balance of power in the FCS.
“If we offer $4,000 and NDSU didn’t, would that be enough to sway a kid?” he said. “Most of us don’t know the answer to that yet. You have a marketplace that we’re not familiar with.”
It’s a poker game nobody is familiar with, either.
Fullerton said the Big Sky has a permissive policy with cost of attendance and basketball will probably benefit. But he has yet to hear of any of his league schools diving head first into it in football, although he also said he sees the day where Montana and Montana State in their recruiting battles offer it on a limited basis.
“The real question,” Faison said, “is how are you going to pay for all of this? That’s where the real challenge is.”
** COA defined
The NCAA defines cost of attendance as “in addition to tuition, fees, books and room and board, the scholarship will also include expenses such as academic-related supplies, transportation and other similar items. The value of those benefits can differ from campus to campus.”