News, On Campus, Athletics

ACC Advocates Closing Cost Of Attendance Gap For College Athletes

It wasn’t explicitly on the agenda, but one topic came up often during side conversations at the NCAA athletic director meetings in Dallas last week. Boston College’s Director of Athletics Brad Bates spoke with other leaders of college athletic programs about stipends, the cost of attendance gap, and the implications of potential reforms to provide benefits to athletes that were removed nearly 40 years ago.

“I think there’s a lot of naivete in terms of what that means and what the implications are,” Bates said last week of the approximate $2,000 to $5,000 gap not provided by full athletic scholarships in schools nationwide. “I don’t have all the answers for it right now, but we’ll hopefully know more in the next couple months.”

The answers may need to come sooner than that. The Atlantic Coast Conference released a statement on Tuesday promoting five priorities that the conference is sending to the NCAA as a part of the organization’s new autonomy structure—one of which was meeting college athletes’ full cost of attendance.

Conversations with BC’s financial aid and compliance offices this week, as well as a look into federal government and university websites for aid and athletic scholarships, have given a clearer look at the cost of attendance gap.

A full grant-in-aid—the maximum allowable amount an NCAA institution is authorized to provide to an athlete—covers tuition, required fees, room, board, and required books for classes. At BC, that adds up to around $62,000 per year for students living on campus, but that amount does not represent the full cost of attendance. The BC financial aid website lists a $2,200 “books and miscellaneous” fee as well. The University expects books to cost about $1,000 a year, according to BC’s Associate Athletics Director for Compliance Carly Pariseau.

That leaves a $1,200 gap between what is provided to full scholarship athletes and what BC’s financial aid office has determined is the actual amount it costs to attend the school.

That $1,200 total consists of personal expenses such as toiletries, laundry, local travel, school supplies, and other miscellaneous expenses. The federal government requires schools to factor these personal expenses into their total cost of attendance, and it varies across the country. One thing that does not vary, though, is that the money cannot come from athletic scholarships. NCAA member schools voted in 1975 to remove the expenses from scholarship packages, according to meeting minutes obtained by the Indianapolis Star, but there’s been a push in recent years to bring them back.

It was a part of the unionization movement at Northwestern this spring, the ruling in the O’Bannon vs. NCAA case this summer, and the August vote to give autonomy to schools in the five major conferences, which includes the ACC. The issue was almost resolved in 2011, but enough schools—including BC—voted down an NCAA plan to provide $2,000 stipends to full scholarship athletes that the gap remained.

Maggie Powers / Heights Graphic
Maggie Powers / Heights Graphic

Either through a court ruling or an official vote, BC will likely have the option to provide the full cost of attendance to athletes at some point in the near future. Bates addressed the issue of additional benefits last week, before the ACC release.

“Every time you talk about additional benefits of some sort, I think you’re diluting the value of the education at Boston College,” he said. “Our student-athletes on a full ride are receiving a quarter-of-a-million-dollar education, as you’re fully aware of. I think dismissing the magnitude of that value is a mistake, because a Boston College education is an unbelievable opportunity. So, we’ll see what the discussions are in terms of cost of attendance and the legal interpretations and the stipends, but my personal feeling is that the whole conversation should start with the fact that this is a very, very valuable and prestigious education that our student-athletes are receiving, and it’s a privilege to be able to earn a scholarship to be a student-athlete.”

There was also a potential downside of increased benefits, from his perspective.

“I think anything you do that further segregates student-athletes from the student body is not a good thing for student-athletes,” Bates said. “I think the more integrated they are and the more they’re treated like the rest of the campus, I think that’s a context for greater formation and development and growth.”

BC’s Director of Student Financial Strategies Bernie Pekala said that the cost of attendance figure listed on the BC website is a basic number, but that it changes from student to student with personal financial aid packages. The $2,200 filed under “books/miscellaneous” was determined after surveys and conversations with students. Pariseau said that if BC eventually does provide the full cost of attendance, any aid from the federal Pell grant program would be added to the total. The book costs can vary from the $1,000 University estimate, and so can the personal expenses. Students can also receive a travel allowance on top of what is listed if they aren’t local.

Still, the $1,200 is a fair estimate of what BC would be allowed to add to full athletic scholarships if reforms allow for the cost of attendance to be covered. It is a total that is audited and submitted to the federal government, and it can help estimate how much BC would have to spend to close the gap.

There were 351 BC students who received athletically related financial aid during the 2012-13 season, according to data provided to The Heights by the athletic department. Assuming that all 351 of those students received full athletic scholarships and would qualify for the $1,200 personal expense, in order to estimate the largest total cost, BC would have needed around $421,000 to close the gap that year. For comparison, BC spent more than $3.9 million in 2012 on salaries for former basketball coach Al Skinner, then-Director of Athletics Gene DeFilippo, then-football coach Frank Spaziani, then-basketball coach Steve Donahue, and hockey coach Jerry York, according to its IRS Form 990.

BC’s cost of attendance gap is on the low end for the ACC, which Pariseau credits to it being a private institution where most of the students live on campus. Virginia Tech’s website lists nearly $5,500 of personal expenses, and the University of Pittsburgh’s is $3,300. The conference average is around $2,100.* While multiple groups are fighting for the cost of attendance gap to be closed, there isn’t unanimous support among college athletes. This Twitter interaction between BC Heisman finalist Andre Williams and then-freshman running back Myles Willis from October is one example of the dissonance:

Bates has been paying close attention to these potential reforms, and he said the school will address them if they become official.

“You can’t hold your breath and just wait,” he said. “You’ve got to keep planning and moving and making decisions. All you can do is move forward given your current context and then as the landscape evolves, you’ve got to anticipate how it could evolve, but also adjust if there are significant changes taking place.”

A university spokesman did not return a request for additional comments from Bates yesterday after The Heights’ conversations with compliance and financial aid and in light of the ACC release.

*The average was calculated using the personal and travel expenses listed on every school’s cost of attendance website. The University of Louisville did not list these expenses, and Duke University combined everything in a total along with books, which are covered by grant-in-aid.

Featured Image by Graham Beck / Heights Senior Staff

October 2, 2014