Cost of attendance stipends for athletes figured to make college sports’ rich and powerful even more so. After all, surely sports oligarchs such as the Southeastern Conference, the Big Ten or the University of Texas could make it rain like monsoon season for potential recruits.
Instead, FIU hopes cost of attendance stipends, voted in by the Power Five conferences and adopted by the so-called mid-majors, can turn into a cudgel upside the establishment’s head. Because they can offer more.
FIU athletic director Pete Garcia said the financial aid math puts FIU’s stipend number around $6,000, among the highest in the nation. For perspective, none of the stipend numbers thrown around at SEC Media Day equals FIU’s. In fact, FIU doubles the amounts stated for Georgia, LSU and Florida.
The formula used is derived from the one used to determine the cost of attendance for non-athletes. FIU students don’t enjoy the relatively cheap college town economics found in Gainesville; Norman, Oklahoma; West Lafayette, Indiana, etc. Also, whether commuting daily from across town or coming twice a year from across an ocean, FIU’s transportation costs tend to be comparatively steep.
For example, the Enrollment Services part of FIU’s website estimates the average personal and transportation costs for a student living in the dormitories at $4,520. The Student Financial Affairs section of the University of Florida’s site estimates the average same two categories plus clothing maintenance (laundry) at $2,070.
In the year and a half since the Power Five schools voted for COA stipends, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators has stated its concern over finagling figures for a recruiting advantage.
In May, FIU president Mark Rosenberg sent a letter to nine FIU directors and the Office of Financial Aid stating:
“With the current costs of attendance discussion taking place across the country, it is imperative we have safeguards in place that the cost of attendance has been calculated accurately and that anyone associated or in the athletic department is not part of the process. I want to make sure FIU is at the forefront of this issue with an accurate and thorough process.”
Can this help FIU in recruiting across the board? When and how will FIU start cutting cost of attendance checks to student-athletes? And how will the athletic department that runs tighter than a fashion model’s belt afford to pony up so many stipends?
Taking the second part first, Garcia said: “We’re going to go full next year for the sports we decide. It’ll probably be most of our sports. Not all of them.”
Bet on the glamor sports, football and men’s basketball, to get covered. That immediately brings the obvious question of Title IX compliance, especially at a school whose women’s teams tend to exceed the men’s in athletic and academic achievement.
Garcia said as far as gender equity in stipends, “I am going to do it as evenly as possible with that in mind.”
Both Garcia and FIU football coach Ron Turner thought this could be a recruiting advantage. The athlete can use the stipend any way he or she pleases. That includes sending a chunk of it back home and living a Spartan existence off the rest.
When redshirt junior defensive tackle Imarjaye Albury came out of Liberty City’s Northwestern High in 2012, he received his share of Power Five conference school attention before going to West Virginia. After a coaching change there, he transferred to FIU in 2013.
“Your high schoolers that don’t really know any better, they go off of things like that [money] or uniforms, little stuff that coaches use to attract you,” Albury said. “But if they know better, they have an older brother or someone who has been through it that’s able to give them advice, I don’t think that should make a difference at all.”
Even if the family’s financially strapped, Albury said he understands, but “I don’t think money should be anything you base your decision off of, period.”
Speaking of financially strapped, this figures to be one large economic boulder on the back of FIU’s athletic department.
The school, Garcia said, told him: “‘We’re in favor of it, but it’s your deal — go find the money.’ And I’m OK with that.
“I’ve been saving up for the last four years, because I knew this was coming.”
The school just signed a seven-year deal worth (FIU hopes) $9.1 million with Van Wagner Entertainment, which will take over some of the ticket, advertising, suites and media rights sales for FIU athletics. Garcia has been to Brazil a few times — and hosted a contingent from popular Brazilian soccer club Flamengo in July — to get a couple of winter soccer friendlies worth $300,000 per game at FIU Stadium. FIU just struck a new sponsorship deal with Pepsi.
“At the end of the day, it’s going to tax our resources,” Garcia said. “But I strongly believe we’ve got to take care of our student-athletes. And I also believe it’ll be a recruiting advantage.”