ATHENS -- Tae Daley is a high school football prospect who already knew he would have to make his college choice based on a number of factors. Now there could be another one -- how much money each school can offer him ... legally and NCAA approved, by the way.
And there could possibly be a difference of thousands of dollars from school to school.
“It would be a factor. But, then again, it wouldn’t,” said Daley, a free safety who will be a junior this fall at Northside. “If a school says they’re going to give me $5,000, but this school says they’re going to give me $3,000, then $5,000, that’s better than $3,000. But, then again, it all factors in to what school is offering it.”
The reason that Daley and other recruits could have this to consider is because of the cost-of-attendance issue. Schools will be allowed, starting in the upcoming school year, to pay athletes the stipend for the so-called cost of attendance, as calculated by their respective financial aid offices.
But the fact it varies from school to school is creating plenty of worry about potential recruiting advantages.
“It’s a massive issue,” Georgia men’s basketball head coach Mark Fox said. “Obviously the coaches are going to talk about it. The (athletics directors) are going to talk about it. The presidents are talking about it. So it’s at that level of leadership, and hopefully ADs can come to a decision, and presidents.
“It’s a game-changing issue.”
Essentially, cost-of-attendance is a way for major schools to provide stipends to athletes without calling it an outright payment for services. It’s a reaction to several court rulings against the NCAA, including the Ed O’Bannon case, which have challenged whether college athletics are really amateur. The athletes bring in so much money, they should get a cut, lawyers have argued, and courts have agreed.
But not every school has the resources to provide stipends. So last year, the NCAA gave autonomy to the so-called power five conferences (SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12) to make their own rules. The schools have moved to do so for this coming school year.
The devil, however, is in the details.
“I think when cost-of-attendance came out and it was gonna be $2,000 across the board, it seemed like a good plan, and it made sense,” Georgia football head coach Mark Richt said. “That was in everyone’s mind, ‘Let’s get this cost-of-attendance thing going,’ because everybody visualized it being that very thing. Then it became something different than that, and it became a concern for a lot of people to have the equity involved in that area.”
Georgia’s cost-of-attendance has been set at $3,221 per year. That’s broken down as $2,346 for “miscellaneous living expenses” and $875 for transportation costs. The miscellaneous expenses include estimated costs for items such as clothing, laundry, cleaning supplies and a “communications package.” The information is culled from the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, according to Georgia compliance director Jim Booz.
Georgia’s transportation cost is an estimated average calculated by assuming four trips per semester from Warner Robins, since it is a mid-point for in-state students. For out-of-state students, it’s a round-trip plane ticket to Chicago, chosen for its central location.
But Auburn calculates its cost-of-attendance at $5,684, according to its school website. Georgia estimates it is in the middle among SEC schools.
Why the difference? And how does each school calculate it? Well, that’s unresolved and something the SEC will seek to resolve in Destin, Florida, at its summer meetings.
“There’s nothing that I’ve seen that says this is how everybody computes it,” Richt said. “Everybody computes it in their own way.”
Greg Sankey, the incoming SEC commissioner, first said in March, “We’re going to follow the expectations of legal outcomes first.” But the concerns of schools, including Georgia, appear to have made it a more pressing issue.
“No one wants it to be the deciding factor between a guy going to your school or not, especially if you’re on the lower end of it,” Richt said. “Obviously there are some schools who would probably be like, ‘Hey, we like it because we’re giving more than other people.’
“There’s time between now and August 1 to see if this thing could become more equitable. And I think that’s what most people are shooting for.”
SEC spokesman Herb Vincent pointed out that the schools are already used to calculating COA through financial aid offices, “and will continue to do so.” But Vincent acknowledged that the conference will discuss the concerns of Georgia and others.
“We will continue to discuss as a league how cost of attendance will impact our institutions,” Vincent said in an email this week. “The important thing to know is that our institutions will apply the same standards for student-athletes that they do for students in the general student population. The intent is to provide full cost of attendance for all student-athletes.”
One potentially thorny issue has been decided by Georgia. It will provide COA stipends to all athletes, not just football and basketball. That was decided “early on,” said athletics director Greg McGarity, who expects every SEC school will do the same.
“We can all afford it,” McGarity said. “We have the revenue being provided through the SEC Network and additional TV revenue. I would say that more would, especially in the big five (conferences).”
Otherwise, the issue is still new enough that confusion reigns. McGarity recently said he had spoken to an ACC athletics director that day and asked how they would handle it. Such discussions are happening all over the Power Five conferences this summer.
“I’m not so sure that we’ll be able to get our hands around this in its entirety in year one,” McGarity said. “The new autonomy rules that we all wanted and fought for, now we’re able to live in that world of autonomy, and we’ve got to be able to figure out how to solve our problems.”
Daley was recently at a recruiting event at South Carolina, one of the schools that has offered him a scholarship (Purdue and South Florida have, as well). Daley remembers Steve Spurrier, the Gamecocks’ head coach, telling players they would soon be paid money “to get through school and live off that money.”
Daley thinks that’s a good thing, not surprisingly. But he doesn’t think it would be the deciding factor. If his clear favorite school is offering less, that won’t be a deal-breaker.
“I’m still going to my favorite,” Daley said. “Money is just money. It isn’t everything.”