Why colleges will spend more—a lot more—on athletes this year

Unlimited food, cost-of-attendance coverage pushing expenses up

Major-college athletes will receive almost $160 million in additional benefits resulting from two NCAA rule changes, according to a USA Today analysis. 

As of Aug. 1, Division I athletic scholarships can cover more than just tuition and fees, room and board, and books. They also can include personal expenses and transportation, although it is not a requirement.

And following an April 2014 vote, Division I schools may also provide all athletes—scholarship or not—with unlimited snacks and meals.

The invisible costs of higher education

The changes came amid salary growth for coaches, NCAA executives, conference commissioners, and athletic directors; increases in television rights revenues; Congressional pressure to improve treatment of students-athletes; and antitrust lawsuits against the NCAA.

USA Today based its analysis on budget data from more than 100 of the 128 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools and interviews with officials from non-FBS conferences. 

The estimated new spending for the coming school year at public institutions—which account for two-thirds of Division I schools—is about 2% of the schools' combined athletic operating expenses from 2013-2014.

Schools in the Atlantic Coast (ACC), Big 12, Big Ten, Southeastern (SEC), and Pacific-12, as well as a few others, are covering all students-athletes' cost-of-attendance. Others decided to completely cover some teams while partially covering others—or simply partially covering all.

"Institutions are going to really have to work hard to address where those [cost of attendance] dollars come from, and I think they're going to have to look really hard at philanthropy because it's going to be a dangerous road if you just keep increasing the general student body athletic fee," says Bernadette McGlade, the Atlantic 10 commissioner.

At Florida State University, officials calculated the coming year's contractual obligations, costs of attendance and food, and then cut 2% of expenses in other areas to fund the $2 million in new scholarship costs and $400,000 in meals and snacks. The booster club and athletic department are now considering raising the donation level necessary to earn various benefits.

At January's NCAA convention, SEC officials pushed to implement mandatory reporting requirements on how each school calculated their costs-of-attendance, but the proposal was not passed. Five months later, SEC leaders voted to adopt the policy within their own conference.

Now, institutions must submit their cost-of-attendance figures and methodology—complete with campus CEO and senior financial aid officer certifications—to the SEC by July 15 each year. They must also provide the conference with information about students who were granted aid increases in their budget based on "professional judgement," as is permitted by federal guidelines.

According to USA Today Sports, the schools with the highest cost-of-attendance scholarship budgets are:

1. Auburn University, SEC, $2,100,000;
2. Florida State University, ACC, $2,000,000;
2. University of Wisconsin, Big Ten, $2,000,000;
4. Pennsylvania State University, Big Ten, $1,750,000; and
5. University of Tennessee, SEC, $1,700,000.

There is "an enormous amount of newly found interest in how schools come up with their cost of attendance," says Justin Draeger, president and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. "It's not just coming from the athletic department. It's coming from the board or trustees or the president's office in relation to how their cost of attendance compares to (those of) other schools within their conference" (Berkowitz/Kreighbaum, USA Today Sports, 8/19).  

Thoughts on the story? Tweet us at @eab_daily and let us know.

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