Cost of attendance could be divisive issue at SEC spring meetings

Cost of attendance could be divisive issue at SEC spring meetings

May 24th, 2015 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Georgia football coach Mark Richt, left, is hoping for a more level playing field in cost of attendance since Richt's Bulldogs are not offering as much as Auburn and Gus Malzahn. (UGA photo/John Kelley)

Photo by UGA photo/John Kelley

With new guidelines come new concerns, and it's no different for the Southeastern Conference as it prepares to debate the change in cost of attendance.

The power five conferences -- the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 -- passed a cost-of-attendance measure in January that enables those leagues to cover incidental costs for their athletes beyond tuition, room and board, books and fees. Each cost-of-attendance figure is calculated by the university's financial aid office and reported to the federal government.

Because SEC schools have turned in estimates ranging from Tennessee's $5,666 that will be added to each athletic scholarship to Texas A&M's $3,100, there obviously are differing views entering this great unknown.

"As we move forward, I look for those to change across the board," Texas A&M football coach Kevin Sumlin said earlier this month. "Right now, with the rule stating that each institution will set it, there could be some real discrepancies based on location and town size and travel. There are all kinds of things, and with any rule change, there are all kinds of things that could present growing pains in the first year.

"Whether or not that puts us at an advantage or disadvantage, I don't know, but we're going to find out here really quick."

Cost of attendance is expected to be a dominant topic this week as the SEC holds its spring meetings in Destin, Fla. The meetings begin Tuesday and wrap up Friday, when outgoing commissioner Mike Slive will announce the revenue distribution.

"There will definitely be discussion about cost of attendance and the different ideas on which direction we should go," said Herb Vincent, SEC associate commissioner, "but it's hard to predict what will take place because things can develop during the week as far as some ideas gaining traction and others not. Those numbers have been developed by the academic side of the university and are now in the athletic world and have come to everyone's attention, and we have to learn how to deal with them.

"There are some legal outcomes that have to be dealt with that are not finalized, so this will certainly be one of the hot topics."

Tennessee, which has to go outside its state to recruit more often than schools such as Texas A&M or Georgia, has the highest cost-of-attendance figure nationally. Auburn is second with a $5,586 estimate, while Mississippi State is fourth at $5,126.

Georgia's cost-of-attendance estimate is $3,221, which has Bulldogs coach Mark Richt pushing for an evening of the field.

"No matter what happens this year, in my opinion I don't think it will be long before it becomes equitable," Richt told the Athens Banner-Herald before a recent speaking engagement. "If it doesn't happen this year, I think relatively soon it will. I don't think it's going to be a four- or five-year thing. I think it's going to be at most a one-year thing.

"That's just my opinion, and it may be that everything gets squared away before August because there's still a lot of things happening between now and then that could change everybody's numbers."

Ole Miss could be among the more interesting test cases in the early stages.

With a cost-of-attendance estimate of $4,900, Ole Miss ranks among the top 10 of the 65 schools in a power five conference. Yet what if the Rebels lose an in-state prospect to Mississippi State or a Memphis recruit to Tennessee because of a slightly lower figure?

"I'm curious to see that," Rebels coach Hugh Freeze said. "Even though there is a difference of a few hundred dollars with us and a couple of our league opponents, I can't see that being the ultimate decision for a kid in choosing a school. I may be wrong, and I think all of our coaches would say that they wish everybody was the same.

"With this coming from a financial aid point of view from each university, I don't know if that can ever happen. There are still some things I'm certain I don't understand about it."

Estimates provided by the schools could be adjusted in the months ahead. The SEC was unsuccessful in trying to push NCAA legislation that would provide more transparency in cost-of-attendance totals.

Alabama coach Nick Saban has referred to the varying estimates as a nightmare, and it's a topic the SEC expects to thoroughly delve into this week.

"We're for our kids getting everything that they deserve and can come their way," Freeze said. "A lot of thought has been put into this, and there are still some cases in the courts that could ultimately change everything one way or another, but right now we're going to be able to give them more money to make up for some of the cost of attendance, and we're very supportive of that as a league."

Said Sumlin: "Now that these numbers are public, there is about to be more scrutiny as to how they are derived and why there are such big differences."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.


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