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.


  1. I wonder how many are offering it across all sports, as opposed to the "big 3".

  2. This is a great article that I wish I read 18 months ago during my daughter’s recruiting process. As you stated there are many things that go into making a final decision on what college your child commits to as a student-athlete. All things being equal I did not influence my child’s final decision because this would be her experience I will be just along for the ride. Ultimately, I was happy with her choosing JMU because the program’s success and the college atmosphere in Harrisonburg. I always felt regardless where she picked she was going to get an excellent education.
    So on to the issue of COA, I think for me as a parent it doesn’t come down to the additional money the school is going to give to my child. I would not want my child to have to take COA as the make or break decision to her dream school. However, the overwhelming concern for me is future success of the program. For obvious reasons let’s look at the ACC where the top was Notre Dame and the bottom is Clemson for WBB, in the CAA, JMU-Towson. The thought of a recruit at Clemson getting to play ND, Louisville and North Carolina 2x a year alone is a recruiting draw. Even a bottom of the rung program has the draw of playing a really good/elite programs day in day out. Now throw in COA…
    In our situation VA sent us recruiting letters but we never reached out to them just because there were many “unwanted” things going on, on campus and in the town that made it less desirable to us at the time and who know if we would have ultimately fit in with the program. But we felt we didn’t need to go there when we had a SUCCESSFUL program like JMU recruiting our daughter. Fast forward 18 months, Kenny Brooks gone and I read a parting interview where he referenced COA and it’s obvious from that interview he saw the writing on the wall. So what’s to follow for our daughter in the next couple of years? JMU has the pieces in place to make a strong run in the near future but what does her Jr and Sr seasons hold?
    In my mind, because I can’t prove this but using common sense, how long before the recruiting classes and talent starts to veer away from JMU because of their staunch stance against COA. Not every child comes from a situation where their parents can support even a full ride scholarship student. I would never fault a child that just said I am going to school X because they offer COA. What I do fault are the 9 schools that say no way to COA, you are saying I only want the group of kids whose parents can pick up the rest of the cost of college… I am not here to argue the merits of that. What I am arguing is the fact that you are putting your current student athletes behind a competitive 8 ball.
    I would say if I knew then what I know now, as a parent that wants to see their child excel in all aspects of the student athlete college experience I would have suggested she take a long range look at what is in store for her. Listen I have witnessed the success of JMUs women’s sports excellence… BUT has the administration set the program up for continuing that tradition. The playing field has changed, JMU is lacing up their Chuck Taylors in a Jordan, Kobe and LeBron dominated world... Time to keep up before “WE” get left behind.

  3. Thank you JMU for stepping up and keeping your program competitive... I will rest easy knowing the ball is now in the programs court.