Now that full cost-of-attendance athletic scholarships have been given the green light--they'll go into effect for the 2015-16 school year--athletics departments across the country are facing new headaches. It's not so much the expenditure, at least not for the Power 5, but more the gap in cost-of-attendance figures between schools. Some will be able to offer thousands more than others, which has obvious recruiting implications.
This fact certainly hasn't eluded Debbie Yow, as this story by Brad Wolverton of The Chronicle of Higher Education illustrates. The Chronicle obtained numerous emails between Yow and other athletics department employees discussing the matter--some creativity is going to be necessary if State's going to be able to bump its COA figure in any impactful way.
According to The Chronicle, NC State's COA figure is about $2,700, which is a fine chunk of change for an athlete, but rates below the median among Power 5 programs. Within the ACC, that puts State somewhere toward the middle, though pinning down exact figures seems to be difficult, so that could be off. (Note in the linked ESPN article that State's COA figure is different.)
It could be much worse for NC State--I mean, at least we aren't Boston College with its paltry $1,400 COA number. (BC was the only school to vote nay on the cost-of-attendance legislation, by the way.) But State obviously would be well advised to find a way to raise its figure, if at all possible.
Here's one idea they brainstormed in their email conversations:
Among the ideas described by N.C. State leaders is to tap the university's share of the Student Assistance Fund — about $450,000 a year — to "more strategically help us with recruiting rather than making these funds available to all students," as it has done in the past, according to a February 21 email from Carrie A. Doyle, the department's head of compliance, to Deborah A. Yow, the athletic director.
NCSU has been using that fund to give all of its full-scholarship athletes a $300 stipend. State could raise that per-student number, putting some extra cash on top of the COA stipend. Any money taken from the SAF must be used "for the direct benefit of athletes," per NCAA rule; larger figures could be justified, I'm sure, with little finagling necessary.
That makes me a little uncomfortable given that the intent of the fund and its use could become divergent while this whole business technically remains well within the NCAA's rules. This fund is supposed to help the truly disadvantaged kids who really need a boost, and I'd hate for various machinations to shortchange anybody all in the name of recruiting.
At any rate, the SAF can't be the whole answer because other schools have the exact same funds to work with:
"As an athletics program, we will need to search for other legal means via our operating budget to provide additional services or financial support to stay competitive in recruiting," [Yow] wrote. "We will use our SAF (Student Assistance Fund), of course, but others have that fund as well, so we do not gain ground in any significant way."
So the question becomes, where do you find the margins? Where can NC State effectively make up some ground on the schools that will be doling out five or six grand to athletes? And can you imagine Lee Fowler being the man in charge at this point? (I apologize or that nightmarish image.)
No doubt the conversations Yow has had with her colleagues are going on in numerous athletics departments across the country. Iowa State is another example of a school with a relatively low COA figure, though their football coaches don't seem overly worried about it. Maybe they are right about it. Or just in denial. Good ol' Soybean Wind is on record with his concerns, even though Clemson's already in a decent position, COA-wise.
In Oklahoma, the difference in COA between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State is almost $1,500. OSU may have a huge bankroll thanks to T. Boone Pickens, but that's of no matter in this area, which is why the reaction to the cost-of-attendance stipends as they're implemented will be fascinating to watch.
And it'll be interesting to see where NC State's number finally lands, and how the school gets there. There is no bigger issue for the athletics department with just a few months to go until full cost-of-attendance scholarships become reality.