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O’Bannon Case Clears Up Cost of Attendance Debate

The O’Bannon decision may not have a major impact in college athletics for a couple years and if it stands as is, may not have a major impact by itself at all. But it will do one thing immediately. It will make the debate over cost-of-attendance scholarships very easy. The decision prevents the NCAA from setting a cap on athletic scholarships below the cost of attendance. That has two major ramifications for the cost-of-attendance question, both of which should mean a proposal gets passed without significant opposition and which applies to more schools and teams than expected. First, the idea of a cost-of-attendance proposal that results in scholarships that are capped below an individual school’s cost-of-attendance are nonstarters. That includes the ACC’s need-based proposal. It also includes proposals which envision the NCAA setting the value of elements of cost-of-attendance. And it certainly means no return to the NCAA’s original $2,000 miscellaneous expense allowance idea. Second, it also means that individual conferences will likely not be able to choose to keep the maximum athletic scholarship at the full grant-in-aid level. The injunction entered against the NCAA prohibits the NCAA, its members and conferences from agreeing to limit the grant-in-aid to below cost-of-attendance. The decision is only binding in the Northern District of California. But given the plaintiff’s victory in O’Bannon, the odds of winning a preliminary injunction in another district against a conference would be very good. It had appeared that implementing cost-of-attendance scholarships was going to be more difficult that expected with the power conferences all having slightly different ideas. No longer. Now only one proposal will be allowed under the injunction: a rule which permits institutions to provide athletic scholarships up to their published cost of attendance, not some substitute number created by the NCAA or limited to athletes with financial need. And that rule will likely apply to all Division I institutions. An individual school may decide not to provide cost-of-attendance scholarships, but it seems unlikely that a conference will test its luck by saying no conference member can provide COA scholarships.

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