Boston College made headlines earlier in the week after casting the only vote against legislation to pay for the full cost of attendance.
Athletic director Brad Bates wants to make it clear that the Eagles will adhere to the new legislation, set to be implemented as early as August. But the university has multiple concerns about the issue, forming the basis of its "no" vote.
Among them: adding expenses to athletic departments that already are struggling to generate profits; troublesome scenarios that could lead to eliminating non-revenue sports if the increased expenses become unmanageable; and the disparity between cost of attendance figures across campuses, an issue that could ultimately lead to recruiting advantages.
"We're trying to be true to what our institutional culture is and what we believe should be how we approach intercollegiate athletics," Bates said in a recent phone interview. Bates points to the small number of athletic departments generating a profit. According to a report from the NCAA published in August 2014, that number was 20 on the FBS level.
"The rest of us are all relying on institutional subsidies and a lot of those subsidies come from student fees at many institutions," he said. "So with increased costs of higher education, we keep passing legislation that's increasing our costs. We're putting a lot of pressure on athletic departments to really seriously look into eliminating sports, which ultimately hurts student-athletes rather than helps."
Schools already have begun to eliminate sports, even before this legislation passed. According to Bates, 15 different schools have cut a total of 66 sports since 2010. UAB drew the biggest headlines of all recently, when it chose to eliminate football to save costs.
"If that's not symbolic of the strain of the cost of athletics at an institution, I'm not sure what is," Bates said.
The NCAA report showed expenses are growing at a higher rate than revenues -- despite all the cash television and sponsorship deals have generated. Just as troubling, the five Power 5 conferences had an average loss of $2.3 million. That loss climbed nearly eight times higher -- $17.6 million -- at all other FBS schools.
Now more costs will be added to the bottom line, and those costs will vary from school to school. Full cost of attendance means an additional payment for miscellaneous expenses, including travel back home. At Boston College, the average cost for these expenses is $2,200, bringing the total scholarship figure to roughly $63,000 a year.
We can use another ACC school as an example. Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock announced Thursday that the Hokies' cost of attendance per student-athlete would add roughly $2,500 more to each scholarship, costing the athletic department between $850,000-$900,000 more per year.
Bates said Boston College would be in the same ballpark. But he also noted there is flexibility in how the full cost of attendance is determined.
"It's a very complicated formula, but it allows some leeway in how you interpret it," Bates said. "Some school's gaps are less than $1,000 and some schools are over $6,000. That will be significantly exploited in recruiting."
In order to increase revenues to cover the full cost of attendance, schools will be looking at new and creative ways to bring in more money, whether through corporate sponsors, ticket sales or donor gifts. But issues will remain as long as legislation continues to pass increasing spending, at rates that exceed income.
Everybody can agree full cost of attendance is good, in principle. But in the excitement to get the first big piece of autonomy legislation passed, perhaps there was not as much forethought given into how, exactly, athletic departments would begin to pay for it.
"People made an assumption that this was going to pass easily and they didn't necessarily want to attract attention by voting no, but I also think there was some naivety about the integration of this policy," Bates said. "I'm not sure that everyone fully comprehended the types of issues we're talking about right now."