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Did a Pandora's Box Open Along With Full Cost of Attendance Stipends?

When the five big money conferences gained extra autonomy, one of the first things they did was allow more money to pay for athletes' cost of attending school. How much is that?

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Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Surprise surprise, an issue involving the NCAA is more complicated than it seems.

I don't know about you, but when I read about the "full cost of attendance" debate over the last few years I imagined a flat rate where every student-athlete got their full-ride scholarship plus $3,000 a semester, or whatever.

"We talked about it, and student-athletes will get XXXX amount," said the imaginary college sports authority in my mind. "Throw 'em a bone, right?"

Not exactly.

First off, the stipends will vary from school to school based on a complicated formula. In fact, it could be that no two schools nationwide pay the same amount.

From Dan Wolken's excellent breakdown of the issue in USA Today:

Each college's financial aid office is required under Federal guidelines to publish a full cost of attendance number, which includes an estimate of incidental expenses. Exactly what is included in that number, however, can vary from school to school and even from person to person depending on factors like distance from home or whether they have a child.

Well that sounds like a barrel of fun. And once we accept the numbers will be different from school to school, we also accept the money will be a tool used to lure the best athletes. That sounds like some other sports leagues you may be familiar with.

Auburn is already on the case. While most SEC schools have posted FCOA numbers in the $3,000 range, future Tigers will get $6,000, according to Athletic Director Jay Jacobs.

"Certainly having a higher number than most in the Southeastern Conference is going to be helpful (in recruiting," Jacobs told USA Today. "Having the lowest number in the SEC could be hurtful. The way we recruit and the quality of student-athlete we want, we hope that number isn't a deciding factor but human nature says it could be depending on the circumstances."

This is the Pandora's Box mentioned in the headline: in theory this could run off the rails and become a free-agency style bidding war. Maybe some people wouldn't mind that given the overwhelming anti-NCAA mindset prevailing right now, but most probably didn't have this in mind when debating FCOA. Certainly, if you're a fan of an Underdog, this would be bad news.

Before we go too far down that path: I don't think it will happen. The SEC, including Auburn, supported a rule that would force schools to report what they're including in the FCOA numbers, including any variances from the school's average cost. The rule was voted down this time. That could change next year.

It would be nice to know, for example, how AU arrived at a number nearly doubling that of its conference peers.

Many small-conference schools have already said they will provide FCOA, or at least haven't ruled it out. So how do they measure up?

Here's a good breakdown of cost of attendance estimates at Pac-12 and Mountain West schools. The picture painted is rare: there appears to be no gap between the rich and the penny-pinchers. USC's FCOA is estimated at $1,580; Nevada's is $4,494.

B1G breakdown shows that for the 2014-2015 school year, Penn State student athletes will receive, $4,788. Ohio State's kids will get $2,454. However, those numbers could change by July, when schools have to designate any changes.

The seemingly random disparities are a curiosity at this point. Without additional oversight though, what would stop the moneyed schools from pumping those numbers up, up and away from their poorer competitors? We already know college sports programs can be skilled at working the accounting department when they want to.

Time will tell. The schools would probably rather not pay more for their football programs than they have to. More importantly, college athletes hardly ever turned down scholarship offers under the supposedly suppressive old system. There's no need to go crazy with ever-expanding dollar amounts.

It is something to keep an eye on though. What exactly did we open the door to?