Editor's Note: This is part two of a four-post series on the politics of college football.
It's an issue so overcomplicated and fraught with dissension and hurdles that even the President of the United States dodges questions about it.
When he sat down with The Huffington Post for an interview a month ago, Barack Obama said the following things about student-athletes' compensation:
In terms of compensation, I think the challenge would just then start being, do we really want to just create a situation where there are bidding wars? How much does an Anthony Davis get paid as opposed to somebody else? And that, I think, would ruin the sense of college sports.
This is essentially the same shrug of the shoulders that those who had opposed the College Football Playoff had once upon a time brandished loudly and proudly: it's such a difficult issue, how could we possibly begin to find a solution? The political argument of whether the student-athletes deserve to be paid (yes, they do) and, in turn, of whether a cost of attendance stipend would be appropriate compensation (no, it would not), is what clouds the discussion around this topic.
Listen, for example, to Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson's interview with The Times-Picayune: Mr. Benson appears concerned mostly about what effect this stipend will have on competitive balance in the FBS.
What's the solution when you can't really debate the merits of something? Strip away the arguments, forego the debate and examine the core issue.
While it remains to be seen just how many things, and how much money, each school will throw under the "cost of attendance" umbrella, the picture is clearer for the student-athletes. Here's a guide to help you understand what a full cost of attendance (FCOA) allowance means for the students who will actually receive the money.
No Student Left Behind
First, you look at the schools in the NCAA and realize that they all have settled on the same thing: that if student-athletes are to receive this stipend, then all student-athletes should receive it. Virginia Tech and its 22 sports programs. Boise State's 235 student-athletes. Liberty. Louisiana Lafayette. Pick a school and, if it has decided to offer this stipend, said school appears to have decided to compensate all its student-athletes equally.
...Because all student-athletes are equals? Well, to the extent that said student-athletes are individuals who partake in a sport at an American establishment of higher education, then yes all student-athletes are equals.
That's how you understand that many key individuals from NCAA schools are sophists: if college football makes $2.1 million in profits at the University of Wyoming and is part of college athletics, and Wyoming basketball is also part of college athletics, then basketball also makes a profit at Wyoming. (Likewise for students: if students on the football team deserve to be paid, and members of the gymnastics team are students too, then members of the gymnastics team deserve to be paid.)
Except that Point After tells you that this isn't true, because sophists are frauds. But you understand that this discrepancy is the crux of the big political argument, so you let it go because you don't fight that battle.
What Does "Cost of Attendance" Mean?
Now that you know that all student-athletes are equals, you wonder next what falls under the FCOA umbrella. Starting Aug. 1, student-athletes will not only receive money for tuition, books, fees and room and board, but their scholarship will include a sum for "academic-related supplies, transportation and other similar items."
Scott Former, Louisiana's athletic director, told The Advertiser that, "It also includes some expense money for supplies and laundry, traveling back and forth home." At Ball State, this allowance will grant each scholarship athlete an extra $3,050 per year—about $254 per month.
It's not great, but maybe it's enough to pay for another visit home. And who wouldn't like to see mom and dad an extra time or two per semester (or three, since maybe the NCAA has paid for them to come see your games)? Cajun baseball player Joe Robbins explained to The Advertiser that, "It's always nice to get something to put in your pocket after a road trip or something."
Ah yes, now you understand that this stipend isn't a version of the pay-for-play that many have been advocating for a while now. At Ball State, this allowance translates to a 16.5 percent increase, from $18,460 to $21,510 per year—good, but a far cry from the profits that the NCAA manages every year. With this stipend, student-athletes will (maybe) not go to bed hungry, but also still won't be allowed to sell their game-worn jersey.
The More Things Change...
So you look at it all and decide that such a stipend likely won't change the landscape of college athletics all that much and that these sums of money, while fun, aren't exactly a "form of compensation for hard work."
In other words, this decision probably does not spell doom for college football's bag men.