Wide Variance in COA Calculations with No Good Solution for Power Conferences

Yesterday I explained how the judge’s injunction in O’Bannon simplified the cost-of-attendance debate by making many of the alternatives illegal. Under the injunction there can be no need-based cost-of-attendance stipend nor can the NCAA and its members agree on the value of certain elements of COA. The judge required COA to be calculated:

As defined in 20 U.S.C. § 108711 and calculated by each school’s financial aid office applying the same standards, policies, and procedures for all students.

So that means existing COA calculations are a good benchmark of what athletes might be offered. As the numbers show, that will create some major problems.

A few notes on my methodology:
- I generally used out-of-state numbers for public schools. Travel allowances tended to be larger and the idea is these power conference schools are recruiting beyond state borders.
- I generally used entering freshmen numbers. Again, this is focused on the recruiting angle.
- This is not the full cost-of-attendance gap in many cases. I did not include books and supplies, nor did I include any loan fees or health insurance costs.
- The goal was to approximate how much “pocket money” per year a school might be able to offer a recruit. So only transportation/travel money and personal/miscellaneous expense allowances were included.
- Because school supplies are not included, you can add $250 to $500 to each of these. In many cases you can also add up to $2,000 one-time for purchase of a computer. Case-by-case adjustments are also permitted if the same adjustment is available to all students.

Here is each school’s annual personal and travel allowance (a.k.a. “pocket money”):

ACC
- Boston College: $2,200
- Clemson: $3,608
- Duke: $3,466
- Florida State: $5,356
- Georgia Tech: $1,600
- Louisville: $2,476
- Miami: $3,390
- North Carolina: $3,804
- NC State: $3,488
- Notre Dame: $1,950
- Pitt: $3,300
- Syracuse: $1,596
- Virginia: $3,770*
- Virginia Tech: $2,860
- Wake Forest: $2,400

*Virginia gives a range for transportation, I used the maximum.

Big Ten
- Illinois: $2,500
- Indiana: $3,036
- Iowa: $2,128
- Maryland: $3,824
- Michigan: $2,204
- Michigan State: $2,610
- Minnesota: $2,194
- Nebraska: $3,604
- Northwestern: $2,949*
- Ohio State: $3,346
- Penn State: $4,000
- Purdue: $1,910
- Rutgers: $2,747
- Wisconsin: $4,888

*Northwestern gave no travel cost except for commuter students, so that number was used.

Big 12
- Baylor: $3,882
- Iowa State: $2,430
- Kansas: $3,586
- Kansas State: $4,000
- Oklahoma: $4,500
- Oklahoma State: $4,560
- TCU: $2,700
- Texas: $4,310
- Texas Tech: $5,100
- West Virginia: $1,971*

*WVU forced me to use the Net Price Calculator to find out personal and travel expenses.

Pac–12
- Arizona: $3,300
- Arizona State: $3,358
- California: $2,528
- Colorado: $2,992
- Oregon: $2,340
- Oregon State: $2,577
- Stanford: $2,550
- UCLA: $2,223
- USC: $1,580
- Utah: $5,094
- Washington: $2,679
- Washington State: $3,542

SEC
- Alabama: $3,298
- Arkansas: $4,002
- Auburn: $5,586
- Florida: $3,320
- Georgia: $1,798
- Kentucky: $3,536
- LSU: $3,680
- Mississippi: $4,500
- Mississippi State: $5,126
- Missouri: $3,664
- South Carolina: $4,151
- Tennessee: $5,666
- Texas A&M: $3,100
- Vanderbilt: $2,730

*Vanderbilt only gives “varies” for travel allowance so it was not included.

The takeaway is obvious here. There is no way this will fly. Not only do some schools offer more than others, but there is no rhyme or reason to why one is greater than the other. Why are travel, clothing, entertainment, and other personal expenses more than twice as expensive in Knoxville, TN as in Los Angeles, CA? Why an over $600 difference between the two Los Angeles schools.

But at the same time, the options for doing so are very limited. The power conferences have one way to normalize cost of attendance across all 65 schools: let every school go up to the highest cost of attendance figure, which in this case is Tennessee’s $5,666.

But that has its own set of problems. First, many schools would then be permitted to exceed cost of attendance, some by thousands of dollars. Not only is that philosophically troubling for the NCAA, it also complicates matters with financial aid offices. If a portion of an athletic scholarship exceeds cost of attendance and is not paid through the financial aid office, what is but payment for services rendered?

Second, this would be massively more expensive than some schools were likely planning for. Tennessee’s number is almost twice as much as the Pac–12’s average. A school like Iowa State, already worried about paying for COA scholarships would see the cost go up by more than $3,000 per full scholarship equivalency. At that point, the divide between the haves, the have-mores, and the real elite would begin to show quickly and clearly.

And finally, it does not solve the perceived imbalance of giving athletes the same living allowance across the country when the cost of living varies wildly among the cities where these 65 schools are located.

So the debate is now simple: stick with schools coming up with their own individual numbers or let everyone go to the maximum. But expect it to the vicious. It will pit the have-mores with low COA gaps (Georgia, Michigan, Notre Dame, Alabama, USC) against the haves with similarly small allowances (Wake, Syracuse, BC, Georgia Tech, Purdue, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa State, WVU, Cal, Oregon State). What everyone in the middle decides will say a lot about just how unified and similar those 65 schools are.

Posted on by John Infante
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