- Associated Press - Sunday, May 10, 2015

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) - For student-athletes, it’s good news.

For schools having to fund it, it’s a challenge. Yet it’s something most feel they have to do to remain competitive.

Athletics departments at the NCAA Division I level will leap into uncharted territory Aug. 1 by providing the full cost of attendance to existing scholarships for student-athletes.

A full scholarship covers tuition, room and board, books and fees. Monies tacked on to that for cost of attendance are designed to cover other expenses, such as academic-related supplies, transportation, laundry, cellphones and other day-to-day expenses.

Most schools in the Power 5 conferences - Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pacific 12 and Southeastern - have the resources to cover the addition without doing major restructuring of their athletics budgets.

The collection of conferences commonly known as the Group of Five - the Mountain West, American Athletic, Conference USA, Mid-American and Sun Belt - generally have fewer funds available.

Still, many have had to find ways to pay the cost of attendance to maintain a certain level of competitiveness in recruiting.

Like the University of Wyoming.

“If you don’t do it in certain sports, you’re putting a fork in yourself,” athletics director Tom Burman said. “You have no chance of winning a recruiting battle if someone else is offering full cost of attendance.

“We had to do it, and everyone else is figuring it out.”

Schools can’t just pick a dollar figure for cost of attendance.

Phil Wille is UW’s associate athletics director for internal operations. He said schools must go through their respective financial aid offices to help calculate the number and also take into consideration certain federal government guidelines.

Wille also said the cost-of-attendance figure applies to the entire student body. For instance, if students are on presidential scholarships at UW that include cost of attendance, that figure applies to them as well.

Other criteria include the actual cost of a scholarship - full or partial - at each school, along with things such as cost of living in that community.

After all the numbers were crunched, UW came up with $3,240.

That means that every student-athlete - male or female - who is on full scholarship will get an extra $3,240 per year for cost of attendance.

If a student-athlete is on half scholarship, that number is cut in half.

Matt Whisenant, UW’s deputy athletics director, said it will cost the school between $750,000 and $800,000 annually to fund the cost of attendance stipends.

He also said the money will be distributed in four increments - at the beginning and end of the fall semester and the beginning and end of the spring semester.

“This is a game-changer,” Whisenant told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle (https://bit.ly/1PbGOeS). “We’re on board full-speed and moving forward with it. We’ve been in discussions about this for over a year.”

UW’s athletics fundraising arm - the Cowboy Joe Club - and the state will fund cost-of-attendance costs for 2015-16.

Legislation recently was passed requiring the state to match dollar for dollar what the Cowboy Joe Club raises.

“That’s an enormous step for us,” Burman said. “The challenge will be if we can figure out a way to work with the leadership to keep that ongoing.

“If we can, we’ll be able to fund this for the foreseeable future and be able to continue to compete. Not just compete, but get better.”

But what if that funding stream dries up?

“We would be in a world of hurt,” Burman said. “We would have to, probably, make some decisions about reducing other areas of our program. I don’t think you can choose not to fund it.”

Other Mountain West schools have similar and different funding plans for cost-of-attendance.

Utah State athletics director Scott Barnes said via email that his department got $1.5 million from the Utah legislature to support cost of attendance and extra meals for student-athletes.

Max Corbet, Boise State’s associate athletics director for communications, said the funding will come from the athletics department, including fundraising, ticket sales, etc.

Of the schools that responded to questions on how they are handling cost of attendance, UW’s $3,240 is among the lowest in the MW.

Corbet said Boise State won’t know its final figure until the middle of summer, but he added it will be around $5,100 per student-athlete.

That figure is by far the most in the MW so far.

And according to data from the Chronicle of Higher Education, Boise State is one of six Football Bowl Subdivision schools in the country to offer more than $5,000 per student-athlete on full scholarship.

Most MW schools are funding cost of attendance in some form.

Some, like Colorado State, Hawaii and Nevada, said they could not provide dollar amounts. Others who did respond are offering $3,000-$3,800.

But Air Force is not because it is a service academy. Troy Garnhart, sports information director there, said: “All 4,000 cadets (at the academy) are the same, and we are technically a non-scholarship school under the NCAA guidelines.”

But therein lies a major concern for coaches and athletics departments.

Let’s say your school and Boise State are recruiting the same athletes.

They find out they can get $5,100 from Boise State and $3,200 from your school. It’s only logical to assume that if the student-athletes view two schools as even in recruiting, they’ll pick the one that offers the most cost-of-attendance money.

“We’ll use it in our recruiting,” UW track and field/cross-country coach Bryan Berryhill said. “It comes into play a little more when you’re recruiting an athlete who is looking at other schools that might not be able to move forward with cost of attendance.

“Any time you can add more dollars to the scholarship offer, it’s a big factor on where they decide to go.”

UW and most schools are in the process of educating their student-athletes on what will happen with cost of attendance. But right now UW’s athletes don’t know a lot about what’s coming.

“I’m not really sure about all that money stuff, but it sounds good,” redshirt freshman safety Chavez Pownell Jr. said.

Added junior wide receiver Tanner Gentry: “I’ve heard about it. But at the same time I’m not too worried about it. (UW) pays for my school, but it can’t hurt, for sure.”

Senior quarterback Cameron Coffman transferred to UW from Indiana last year. He said, with a smile, that he’s not complaining that he and other student-athletes will get more money. But he also said he doesn’t think it’s necessary.

“I feel like we get enough money now if you budget your money right,” he said.

Not all sports at schools provide full scholarships for student-athletes. Most revenue-generating sports - such as football, men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball - do.

But non-revenue sports, such as track and field and cross-country, do not. They get a certain amount for scholarships and may split it as the coaches see fit. Some may be in full scholarship, some may be half, some may be one-quarter.

“Most of our kids are paying for something to go to school,” Berryhill said. “A thousand dollars here, $500 there - that all goes to help pay for college for these athletes. Maybe they get to work a little bit less during the summer or during the school year.

“(Cost of attendance) gives these kids another resource to get better and spend more time not only training but in the classroom.

“Going to school full time, working and being a full-time athlete can get tough and stressful. Taking that stress away in whatever way we can will only help every athlete.”

___

Information from: Wyoming Tribune Eagle, https://www.wyomingnews.com


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