Full cost of attendance passes 79-1

ByMitch Sherman ESPN logo
Sunday, January 18, 2015

FORT WASHINGTON, Md. -- The power players in collegiate athletics enacted historic change Saturday at the NCAA convention, passing the first package of autonomous legislation, headlined by a full cost-of-attendance measure that will supplement student-athletes' scholarships with unprecedented dollars.

"It's a big day for student-athletes," Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. "The benefits now available to student-athletes are more significant. This is a big step forward and a response to a changing circumstance for the 21st-century athlete."

The discussion and vote Saturday outside Washington, D.C., thrust fully into the spotlight the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 after the Division I Board of Directors granted autonomy to the Power 5 conferences last August to create rules free of the full NCAA membership.

Full cost of attendance passed on a 79-1 vote from the panel comprised of 15 student-athletes -- a historic event in its own right -- and the 65 schools of the football-driven leagues.

Boston College cast the lone dissenting vote, according to NCAA tabulations.

Stipends, determined by institutions under federally created guidelines, have been estimated at $2,000 to $4,000 annually. They are designed to cover the cost-of-living expenses that fall outside athletic scholarships.

Group of Five and other non-football playing Division I conferences can opt to enact the proposals passed Saturday as early as next fall.

Other approved measures establish a concussion safety protocol and a discretionary student-athlete assistance fund, allow for student-athletes to borrow against potential future earnings to purchase loss-of-value insurance and prevent schools from removing scholarships based on athletic performance.

By far, though, the most groundbreaking legislation, according to leaders of the Power 5 conferences, governs cost of attendance.

Full cost of attendance was initially passed by NCAA legislators in 2011 but voted down by the full membership. There will be no such veto this time; the Saturday vote was final.

"You can't miss the significance of this day," said Greg Sankey, executive associate commissioner of the SEC. "The five conferences showed the ability to use this opportunity in a meaningful and positive way."

After a turbulent past year, in which the NCAA's model of amateurism met challenges in the form of a move by Northwesternfootball players to unionize and a loss in U.S. district court over the ability of student-athletes to earn money for their names, images and likenesses, change was imminent.

ACC commissioner John Swofford described the events of Saturday as "very appropriate and long overdue."

"It's one afternoon, but it's really been the last two years that a lot of this has been vetted and discussed," Swofford said. "Full cost of attendance was critical. It had to pass. It was a part of modernizing the collegiate model."

Swofford said he was especially pleased with the involvement of the student-athletes -- three from each Power 5 league -- in the discussion forum on autonomy before the late-afternoon vote. His colleagues agreed.

"They clearly participated," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said. "They clearly impacted people. I would say, going forward, if you're interested in your proposal having a good chance of passing, you need to bring them into the construction of the proposal process.

"Their voice is even more powerful than their number."

Big 12 representative Ty Darlington, a junior offensive lineman at Oklahoma, argued for a more comprehensive set of requirements on concussions. He introduced an amendment to refer the proposal for additional review.

The amendment failed, and the original SEC-sponsored proposal passed with 64 votes and approval from four conferences after an assurance from NCAA chief medical officer Brian Hainline that the legislation would serve as a starting point in handling head injuries.

Several of the student-athlete representatives spoke passionately against the proposal that prohibits the removal of a scholarship for athletic performance. They argued that such a rule could inhibit team chemistry and undermine coaches' authority.

"People forget that it is our job to perform," Florida baseball player Josh Tobias said.

Ultimately, the scholarship proposal passed by three votes after receiving late support in the discussion period.

"How can we say that we put the student aspect of a student-athlete first," Northwestern soccer player Nandi Mehta said, "when we're going to inhibit a student-athletes' ability to get an education based on athletic performance?"

North Carolina State athletic director and former basketball coach Debbie Yow said all coaches make mistakes in recruiting.

"That is no reason to take their scholarship," Yow said.

The opportunity for such debate was widely applauded.

"We have the freedom to act autonomously," Wake Forest president Nathan Hatch said, "but we have the responsibility to do so wisely."

Conference commissioners and other leaders in attendance agreed that the changes ratified at this convention signaled a new way of doing business in college sports.

"I am so happy that we are driving the vehicle of reform," South Carolina president Harris Pastides said. "The alternative is courts, federal and state government and the interest of corporate America."