Thursday, April 28, 2016

NCAA cost-of-attendance and why it matters

Editor's note: Since we wrote the post below, ODU, JMU and Longwood have agreed to pay cost-of-attendance for women's basketball.

It's called the cost-of-attendance (COA) -- which is tuition, fees, books, supplies, room and board, transportation and personal expenses -- everything that goes into attending college full time for nine months.

Some schools give it -- including all in the Power 5 -- and some do not as part of the recruiting process. The amount varies by school, but COA is not a random figure. Financial aid officers at each school determine the amount and an athlete's personal situation can figure into the equation, whether that be because of medical, child care or transportation expenses.

We break it down below, but here's the crux:  The stipends that schools are now allowed to give have the real potential to be an issue further stretching the divide between the haves and the have nots.

There's always been a difference between Virginia/Virginia Tech and ODU/JMU. Now there's a difference between ODU and VCU, between JMU and Radford noting the COA figures below.

Think of it this way.

You're a college athlete, which is frankly, a year-round job even if it's a job you love. Given the commitment required to be successful -- practices, games, travel, conditioning, rehab in addition to a full academic load -- you cannot have an outside job. So that pizza that you want to order on Sunday night, that haircut, that trip home over the holidays -- all that factors into the cost of attending college, Unlike your peers who are not athletes, you don't the money to pay for it as you didn't work a summer job, a work-study job or anything of that nature as your commitment is to your team.

The new rule allowing COA stipends passed Aug. 1 after a vote by school and athletic reps from the five wealthiest conferences. It was seen as an answer of sorts to the ongoing national discussion about treatment of college athletes who receive no salary while coaches negotiate seven-figure contracts and television revenue balloons for the elite programs.

So in addition to scholarships that cover tuition and room and board, COA covers everything else. However, the NCAA did not mandate schools to offer it.  When recently hired Virginia Tech coach Kenny Brooks noted that cost of attendance will affect recruiting, he was essentially discussing the elephant in the room for schools not committed to the idea. Here's why that's a problem.

Programs including JMU and ODU already have to compete with the Power 5 and all the resources a big-time program can offer. That can be the difference between flying commercial to get back to campus the morning after a game vs. flying charter right after a road game so an athlete is in class the next morning. Power 5 schools can afford to pay coaches and assistants more money. They often have practice facilities with all the bells and whistles (though the new VCU facility isn't exactly a shack). Many can boast television contracts that provide that coveted exposure a smaller conference cannot fathom. Shae Kelley left ODU for her final year of eligibility because of the air time playing for Minnesota would give her on the Big Ten network; Kelley was drafted and now owns a WNBA championship ring.

How much does COA affect a recruit's decision making? Here's what we found out from visiting Boo Williams' Nike Girls tournament last weekend (a place where we caught up with Virginia's Joanne Boyle, said our hellos to new JMU coach Sean O'Regan and had an extensive chat with Hampton's David Six).

COA is such a new concept, teenage girls aren't necessarily asking about it, though several recruits we talked with are only talking to Power 5 schools to begin with. Right now it's a tool those coaches who offer it aren't shy about mentioning. It's not all the rage just yet, says Boo, noting, "It's too new." Now when it comes to recruiting guys, they're more savvy to it, he noted -- not surprising as girls basketball recruiting is still in its early stages compared to the boys.

In our state, JMU, Old Dominion, William and Mary, Hampton, Norfolk State and Longwood did not offer COA stipends in 2015-16.

The following schools gave these amounts per athlete:

George Mason: Average stipend of $3,600

Liberty: the first FCS school to offer cost of attendance in all 22 of its sports; figures not disclosed

Radford: Average stipend of $3,500

Richmond: Average stipend of $1,300

VCU: Average stipend of $4,100

Virginia: $3,180 for in-state undergrads; $3,600-$4,600 for out-of-state undergrads

Virginia Tech: Stipends of $3,280 in-state and $3,620 out-of-state

Hampton's Six said while COA makes the job tougher for coaches from schools that don't offer it, he continues to rely on what he can sell. "You can't buy family," he says. "You can't buy seeing your name in bronze if you win an NCAA tournament game, offering a kid a chance to do something at a program that's never been done before.

As for COA, "I don't worry about what I don't have," he says.

Presidents at JMU and William and Mary were among nine leaders from Division I schools in opposition to COA. According to a Sept. 26, 2015 story in the Richmond Times-Dispatch that quotes from an letter on each college's website: "The widely held public opinion that athletic programs at every institution are 'profit centers' for the institution and that the athletes are being taken advantage of in the quest for revenues is simply not true."

Though ODU has not announced plans to offer COA, athletic director Wood Selig hasn't ruled it out for the future. While the MEAC is allowing each of its member institutions to decide on COA, commissioner Dennis Thomas said it is an unlikely course for conference schools at this time.

While we list these numbers, we're not passing judgment. It's not a stretch to say that non-Power 5 schools face a much larger financial burden than the big boys; they simply do not have the revenue stream that television contracts and major college football provide. The A-10 is helped, in part, by being a basketball-centric conference.

The bottom line for WBB is this. Recruits make college decisions based on a number of factors. They talk to coaches and potential teammates. Some have family connections to a school. Campus life is a factor and of course, academic reputation comes into play. Television exposure, or lack thereof matters as do practice facility, arena, fan base and of course, the intangibles. Elena Delle Donne could have gone to any school in the country and chose Delaware.

COA is not going to be the only factor in luring recruits to a program. But it is an enticing enhancement not easily dismissed. Much like per-diem money is coveted among athletes as it's real dollars and cents, imagine being an 18-year-old kid and having a few extra grand to reduce your financial stress if you want extra cheese on that pizza or a trip home for the few days off you have for Christmas break.

Schools who don't offer it say they have priorities, and that is understandable given a college's mission. But understanding athletes have priorities, too, that often boil down to money has the potential to be a game-changer that will make the great divide even greater.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on cost-of-attendance. Share with us on Twitter @LadySwish.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Why the news about Tyler Summitt is so profoundly disappointing

A few days after the national championship during a time when the WBB world should still be celebrating the accomplishments of UConn and the grit of Syracuse, we are reading about a coach resigning for having an inappropriate relationship with one of his players.

Nothing's worse than that in this sport, but here's why many in the WBB community are having a hard time coming to grips with the news. The coach is Tyler Summitt, boy wonder, son of Pat Summitt, who needs no description before her name.

More than a decade ago, I talked with Pat Summitt in her home and she opened up a pair of French doors that revealed to me her son's bedroom -- mural on the wall, king-sized bed, window overlooking a lake. Lucky kid, I thought. Both of us LadySwishers chatted with him when Tennessee was sent to Norfolk for NCAA first and second rounds, and he was a delight, answering questions repeatedly that he had probably been asked before.

The last time we saw him was after the Lady Techsters came to the Constant Center on Jan 7 and downed Old Dominion in a regular-season game. He didn't give an ordinary press conference afterward. The aplomb he showed as a 25-year-old coach was striking, made even more so by his addressing Louisiana Tech's role in the sport, noting the pioneer effort of the program, one he made a point of ensuring his own players recognized. When asked about his mom, he was glad to answer. It would be hard to make a better impression.

In fact, for most of Tyler's 25 years, he's done nothing outwardly wrong, being by his mother's side during the early days, graduating from Tennessee and earning the praise from his mother's peers who, no doubt, saw his potential. As an assistant at Marquette,  he was lauded for a work ethic that earned him a head coaching job at 23. You figure he knew the scrutiny he'd be under, having to prove to others there was more to him than pedigree, but remember, this wasn't a kid who ran away from being Pat Summitt's son. He embraced the role and the spotlight that came with it, seemingly wise beyond his years. If you watched the interviews of Pat and Tyler about the dementia that changed her life, you walked away again impressed by his maturity.

As part of the WBB community, we've watched Tyler become a man and rooted for him just a little bit more because we are losing Pat. That's among the reasons this hurts so much. We had him slated as head coach at the University of Tennessee one day, but given the news of Thursday, that will never happen.

If you are a mother yourself, you want to shake him and shout, "What were you thinking?" While we might not like it, many men commit adultery. But he's a coach -- a mentor put in charge of young women, a role model, an ambassador of the sport who given his lineage, is unlike any other. Some have speculated that his youth was a red flag for his hiring, but we dispute that and any attempts at explaining this away. This isn't something young coaches do; this isn't something male coaches do; this is something he did. This is on him solely and while many might say he should have known better, we say he did know better. And it happened anyway.

Our feeling is profound disappointment, an emotion we imagine is magnified 100 times more in places like Knoxville and Ruston. The kid all of us watched grow turned into the man who screwed up. We live in a society where people mess up all the time and turn their lives around. We wish that for him, and especially his wife and the player involved.

We don't pretend to know how aware Pat Summitt is of the events of the last 24 hours. But for the first time since she was diagnosed, we hope this disease can be a shield, because as hard as we find this to stomach, we can't imagine what his mother would say.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

#onlyinWBB do we give head jobs to men with no experience coaching women

We're at the point in the season where coaches come and coaches go. And we remain amazed at the lengths some folks will go to put a men's basketball assistant in charge of their women's basketball program.

The latest example of the ol' inside-the-athletic-department shuffle came, unfortunately, within our stomping grounds over at Norfolk State. A few weeks ago, the Spartans named men's basketball assistant Larry Vickers head coach of the women's team after a bizarre 11-game stretch in which he ran the women's team while still assisting the men's.

It didn't go unnoticed in the WBB community.

Norfolk: Now its official. Larry Vickers, Norfolk mens asst (w/no experience coaching women, except as interim HC) is new HC.

Give NSU credit for expedience. Vickers got the job officially just 24 hours after the Spartans lost by 24 points in the first round of the MEAC tournament. In fact athletic director Marty Miller acted so quickly, we wonder if the job wasn't Vickers' from the moment he took over the 0-16 Spartans from Debra Clark in mid-January.

Still, the speed at which the Spartans moved to lock in Vickers, who had never been a head coach before, begs several questions. Among them:
  •    How much due diligence was performed before NSU made this hire?
  •    Did Vickers really show so much during a stint in which the Spartans went 3-8 that no other    candidates earn serious consideration?
  •    Is this really the way to fill a head-coaching vacancy in a Division I program?
None of this is meant as a knock on Vickers, who has bled Green and Gold as player and men's coach at NSU. Maybe he'll get up to speed quickly in the women's game. We certainly hope he does.

Our issues are with the process that led to Vickers getting the gig, and the misguided idea that experience in the men's game makes one fully qualified to lead a D-I women's team.

According to the NCAA's own research on gender diversity, 66 percent of Division I teams were coached by women in 2009-10. That number has declined every season since and was at 58 percent in 2014-15, the last year of the study.

We asked Hall-of-Fame coach Marianne Stanley about the trend. "It's disturbing," she said. "There certainly are a number of qualified women who should be coaching at all division levels. I think it's incumbent upon athletic directors to do their due diligence and identify them."

We don't have a problem with a lot of the reasons men get women's head-coaching jobs. And when one considers that all four teams in this year's Final Four were led by men, clearly such a move often pays off big. But it's one thing when women don't get jobs they interview for. It's another when women don't even get the chance to apply. And frankly, it's even another when you call upon an assistant down the hall from another program to take over your women's team while staying in his current position, as happened with Vickers for most of the conference season.

And while this clearly impacts women, it's an issue for men working in the women's game as well. We know of one male assistant on a Division I women's team who was very intrigued by the NSU opening. His hiring would have addressed one of the Spartans' biggest issues over the past decade or so - the inability to attract in-state recruits.

We'll never know how he would have worked out. More importantly, Norfolk State will never know, either.

Former Olympic coach Anne Donovan said she's not in favor of any kind of gimmick that would require ADs to include a woman in a pool of hiring candidates, but like her former coach Stanley, she doesn't like the direction WBB coaching is headed.

"A lot of it comes down to who do we want coaching our young women? what kind of mentors are they?" she said. "If I'm hiring, whether it be for a head job or an assistant position, .I"m going to look at every quality candidate. If the best candidate is a guy he should get the job I would hope."

As for the "basketball is basketball" arguments we commonly hear when a women's basketball outsider moves down the hall to take over, consider the case of former Virginia Tech coach Dennis Wolff. Wolff came with ample men's basketball coaching experience. Still, he struggled initially in his debut  coaching women, particularly in recruiting. Without a network in the women's game, Wolff relied heavily on international players to fill out his roster for two or three recruiting cycles before Tech could make inroads in the state and region.

Furthermore, over the years we've had several men who have coached both men and women tell us that while plays are similar, the best ways to motivate and get the best out of one group may not necessarily be ideal for the other. 

Vickers has 11 games of experience coaching women. Is that enough? Norfolk State is betting that it is. 

It's a gamble we wish Norfolk State, and others schools considering a men's assistant to lead their women's team, would think long and hard about. Our sport -- and the women coaching and playing in it -- deserve that.