Monday, May 23, 2011

“Cost of Attendance” is a wedge that will split the world of College Football

image It’s the ultimate financial wedge. Both the Big Ten and now the SEC are speaking publicly harmoniously about amending NCAA rules to allow schools to cover not only the costs of an  scholarship (tuition, room, books and fees), but also provide a per diem allowance to cover everyday costs such as clothing, medicines, toothpaste and other necessities.

As Jon Solomon correctly points out, this is likely to become a recruiting issue, in more ways than one. As some states begin passing and enforcing legislation compelling schools to disclose the estimated cost of attendance, the schools with successful programs located in areas where the cost of living is bearable (Tuscaloosa, Auburn, Gainesville, Baton Rouge…) will have an instant advantage over schools located in areas with a much more painful cost of living (Los Angeles, Boston, Miami). Coaches will exploit that advantage.

But if the NCAA adopts legislation allowing schools to cover all costs—regardless of location or cost of living index—that advantage goes away, but it puts small schools in non-BCS conferences at an even greater disadvantage. To be certain, schools will be covering the cost of living for all athletes—not just those in the revenue generating sports. Depending on the individual schools’ financial situations, that could lead to massive doses of red ink and likely result in some schools dropping programs.

It will also lead to a large number of smaller schools opting not to participate in a cost of attendance construct. In fact, that is a near certainty, and so will the need to create a “super division,” made up of several dozen of the top FBS schools, divided into “super conferences.”

How might that look?  Well, Vanderbilt might decide that the SEC is no longer a viable venue for its football program, and drop out. Miami, another private school, might leave the ACC, along with Wake Forest or Maryland. It would start a trend of conference realignments of biblical proportions. When all the dust settles, you’d likely end up with six to eight conferences, with memberships averaging around the magic number of 12 schools.

The minor bowls would cater to the remaining conferences and schools, while the big bowls would host the new mega-conferences and big schools.

And those schools would produce the FBS National Champion (playoff, plus-one, etc). Who would have thought that cost of attendance might ultimately be the impetus for finally devising a system for determining the National Champs on the field?

Is it a dream? Perhaps. But cost of attendance is more than just a blip on the radar screen. It’s a great big financial wedge and it’s going to a fascinating game to watch.

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