Two days before the College Football Playoff title game, Joel Hale, an offensive lineman for the eventual champion Ohio State, outlined his monthly budget.
After getting his tuition and books paid for through his football scholarship, Hale receives a $1,300 monthly check for off-campus living. Around $750 goes toward rent, with another chunk used to fill up his close-to-$100 a tank F-150 pickup. And at 6-foot-4, 310 pounds, the man has to eat, though an increase last year in team-provided food surely helped. Not much is left over at the end of the month.
“I’m 22 years old and not paying my own bills,” Hale told the Star-Telegram during the CFP media day in January. “That’s hard whenever you have a mom that’s at home paying for everything.”
Manageable yet tight budgets like the one Hale described are what the Power 5 conferences hope to address starting in August, when athletes at the 65 member schools can begin receiving increased financial aid to meet the full cost of attendance.
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The measure was approved in January with a 79-1 vote that included all football-playing schools in the Big 12, Pac-12, Big Ten, SEC and ACC and 15 student-athletes. Meeting the full cost of attendance means covering the gap between what a full athletic scholarship pays for — tuition and fees, books, room and board — and the actual cost to attend a university.
“I think the idea today was mainly just looking at what are the true costs for an individual — a student — to attend an institution,” TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte said. “I think the difference today is that the group of five is in a position to make sure that the needs and wants of our student athletes are met. And it’s the right thing to do moving forward, and that’s why there was an autonomy vote put forth by the five conferences.”
At TCU, that extra aid will be around $4,700 a year, likely dispersed monthly, said Mike Scott, the university director of financial aid. Scott’s office calculates that figure annually using local costs of living rates, airfare prices for travel and miscellaneous expenses such as food.
“The cost of attendance is everything,” Scott said. “Miscellaneous costs. In the past, those have not been covered by an athletic scholarship.”
Current student-athletes have the opportunity to get those miscellaneous fees covered, but only through grants and loans. Under the new plan, which was announced independently by the Big 12 in December, those fees would be covered for athletes on full scholarship.
In sports such as baseball, where full scholarships are divided among the team, head coaches will be able to divide extra funds at their discretion.
To get to this year’s number, TCU issued a survey to undergraduates and received around 1,300 responses. After weighing other factors, the $4,700 figure was determined, with around $1,200 of that with travel expenses in mind.
Because those figures are calculated by each school separately, there inevitably will be variance.
“The federal guidelines tell you that these are the costs you have to account for, but it doesn’t tell you how to do it,” Scott said. “It’s flexible.”
But Scott doesn’t see the new model turning an increase in aid into an arms race, with schools tinkering and inflating their yearly figures to woo recruits. Neither do Del Conte, TCU compliance director Ike Ukaegbu or Horned Frogs football coach Gary Patterson.
From the figures he has seen, Scott said the difference between TCU’s projected figure and other Big 12 schools isn’t more than $500 in either direction. When doled out on a monthly basis, the difference would be less $100.
“For most Power 5 schools, it’s going to be in the same ballpark,” Ukaegbu said.
Patterson’s not concerned with any potential recruiting edges.
“If a young man chooses to go to a different place because of $100 a month, and not choose the right place for him, what he’ll find out is that he’ll be losing a lot more than $100,” Patterson said. “As long as we have a close-to-equal playing field, the ones that are winning are that student-athletes are getting better taken care of.”
Covering the full cost of attendance has certainly been the biggest step taken by collegiate powers toward player compensation.
In recent years support has swelled for a pay-for-play model more in line with professional sports.
A National Labor Relations Board representative ruled last year that the Northwestern football team could unionize. A lawsuit from former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon resulted in a judge ruling college athletes should be paid for the use of their name, image and likeness. Even the Power 5 autonomy further weakened the NCAA, the enforcer and fort of amateurism in college athletics.
But Del Conte doesn’t see the cost of attendance decision as an “either/or” reactionary move. He said the concept traces back to the 1980s, but that the Power 5 autonomy provided the “momentum shift” to spark the change.
“I think it was important to have a unified front to say this is where we’re at today,” Del Conte said.
It’s that unified front, Del Conte points out, that will benefit the five conferences as they have to deal with the evolving nature of college athletics.
“You never know where the next ball is going to drop,” Del Conte said. “This is a really upheaval time in college athletics.”
From a compliance perspective, providing the additional cost of attendance funds is likely the ceiling within the current framework of NCAA rules.
“I think this is really the most they can do,” Ukaegbu said.
It also might be the most money all schools can equally afford.
The extra aid will come from current operating expenses, and athletic departments typically don’t make a profit. As Del Conte points out, “it’s really not run with true business principles.”
“I have two revenue sports — football and men’s basketball — that have to run an athletic program of 523 athletes,” he said. “So if you’re in the business world, if you have 19 shampoo products and only two make money and the rest don’t, do you still keep all those products? No way, right?”
TCU should be OK financially, Scott said.
“Overall, the intent of what we’re trying to do is a good thing,” he said. “I don’t think it’ll be that difficult, other than the schools that will just have a hard time coming up with the funding. We’re very lucky right now, because we’re in a position to do that.”
Ryan Osborne, 817-390-7760
Cost of attendance at TCU
2015-16 Tuition: $40,6030
Student government fees: $90
Room, rent, food: $13,000
Books, supplies: $1,200