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Athletics: Paying UL athletes to play could mean cuts elsewhere

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, May 18, 2015


UL Athletic Director Scott Farmer is considering two plans to fund paying Ragin’ Cajun student-athletes full cost of attendance, the stipend that’s been approved by the NCAA to cover expenses above and beyond grant-in-aid scholarships.

Paying full cost of attendance could cost UL about $1.248 million next school year, which amounts to an extra $5,888 per student-athlete per year on top of a scholarship valued at roughly $18,000 to in-state students and more than $26,000 for out-of-staters.

Farmer — who is in Montgomery, Alabama, this week for annual Sun Belt Conference spring meetings — said he is "still analyzing different ways to come up with cost of attendance, because we are committed to getting that done."

The options Farmer and UL are considering?

"I’ve studied some plans to reduce operating expenses five percent or up to eight percent to try to get it done," Farmer said. "I’ve also studied a plan to maybe implement the cost of attendance over a two- or three-year period."

The first route essentially suggests an across the board budget reduction for all Cajun sports programs, which last fiscal year operated at approximately $21.5 million.

The second route would invovle phasing in full cost of attendance, and implies the amount per student-athlete wouldn’t be paid in full the first year, but would by the second or third.

Using money generated by the new College Football Playoff system is not an option for UL in 2015-16, because those anticipated funds were previously budgeted for other athletic department operating expenses.

"Have not decided which route we’re going yet," Farmer said.

The UL athletic director has until mid-August at the latest to decide.

Starting that month, schools can provide to student-athletes financial compensation — as part of full scholarships — that more accurately reflects the actual cost of going to college, as defined by the federal government and calculated by each university’s financial aid office.

It applies to all student-athletes, regardless of sport, and for those not on full scholarship, it would be applied on a prorated basis.

So in addition to tuition, fees, books and room and board, scholarships now can also include expenses such as academic-related supplies, transportation between home and school and even laundry.

Pocket money, in other words.

Last February, when it first became known that UL would be paying full cost of attendance, Farmer said the Cajuns had to "in order to remain competitive, because that’s exactly what it’s getting to."

How NCAA Division I schools across the country plan to fund full cost of attendance — or if they even will — was a popular topic of conversation when football coaches and athletic directors from the Sun Belt and other national programs met earlier this month in Phoenix.

It likely is being discussed — informally, if not formally — at the Sun Belt meetings in Montgomery, as well.

Finding ways to subsidize more-lax NCAA rules on schools feeding their student-athletes also is a concern for many programs nationwide.

UL started an NCAA-allowed training table for scholarship student-athletes — one training table meal per day, for athletes only, with costs coming from scholarship money — in the 2014-15 school year.

Because the school offers an unlimited meal plan for all students, UL has the option of offering that to its students-athletes, as well.

The bigger issue for UL now, though, is how to pay for full cost of attendance.

It’s a matter that has athletic directors at countless schools scurrying to come up with a plan — or a way to explain why they won’t pay.

Individual conferences are not mandating that individual member institutions must dole out the cash, or saying they cannot.

Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson previously has said "our position is that our individual universities will manage the new grant-in-aid scholarship provisions."

Some Sun Belt schools are contemplating paying the extra money, but not all will — and it’s possible a majority will not.

Those that don’t could be at a competitive disadvantage, especially when it comes to recruiting student-athletes.

The San Marcos Daily Record recently reported that at present it doesn’t look like SBC-member Texas State will, and that "should Texas State not give out full cost of attendance benefits … it could make it much harder for the program to compete against some of the Sun Belt’s best programs, namely UL Lafayette."

Cost of attendance by the numbers

Starting Aug. 1, schools can provide to student-athletes financial compensation — as part of full scholarships — that more accurately reflects the actual cost of going to college, as defined by the federal government and calculated by individual financial aid offices.

$1.248 million — what it is estimated to cost UL next year

$5,888 — what it will cost per student-athlete per year on top of scholarships

$21.5 million — the budget last fiscal year for all Cajun sports programs