Beginning in June 2016, the NCAA will increase its funding of Division I schools to help finance academic projects and other programs assisting student-athletes. But in a move addressing a recent hot-button issue, the $18.9 million hike will allow schools to offer cost-of-attendance stipends.
Approved by the NCAA Board of Governors in January, the NCAA will subsidize a $55,000 payment to each of its nearly 350 Division I members. The cost-of-attendance stipend allowance is a break from the NCAA's past requirements, which centered around academic funding, and will be left to the discretion of individual institutions.
Montana, for one, will not use its increased funding to help students pay the difference between what an athletic scholarship can cover and the university's full cost of attendance, UM athletic director Kent Haslam said Wednesday morning.
"This doesn’t change what we would do with cost of attendance," Haslam said. "It is certainly a nice addition to what we can do, but it doesn’t suddenly open the gates and allow us to do cost of attendance. It just doesn’t do it."
The difference between cost of attendance and what an athletic scholarship covers, which typically includes tuition, room and board, books, meal plans and various fees, is valued at nearly $3,800. If Montana was to pay that for each of its scholarship athletes, it would run the athletic department between $600,000 and $700,000.
Though the NCAA's offering is a 78 percent increase of what the association already gives to Montana to support various academic programs and student-athlete needs, it is less than 10 percent of what the school would need to address the cost of attendance differential.
"There are just so many other needs," Haslam said. "It gives you the opportunity to use that money for cost of attendance, but right now that’s not our plan."
Rather, Montana will utilize the backing to strengthen the academic programs it already offers its student-athletes. With the completion of the student-athlete academic center slated for fall, Halsam said it's more prudent to increase access to summer school classes and to offer support to Montana's academic advisers.
Using the money to support those two areas will likely increase each student-athlete's chances of graduating in four years, Haslam said.
"Summer school is just a great way to keep them on pace to graduate and fill in some of the holes that they might encounter during the regular school year just because of the demands of being a student-athlete," Montana's AD said. "... I personally think summer school is one of the best kept secrets in higher education."
Thanks to NCAA regulations that went into effect last summer and allow men's and women's basketball and football players to workout with their respective teams as long as they are enrolled in summer school and are making satisfactory progress toward a degree, Haslam said the department's decision could also benefit those teams.
"It’s a great time to have them be able to work out," he said.
Kathleen McNeely, the NCAA's chief financial officer, told USA Today that athletic departments' use of the money would be limited to the types of expense covered under the NCAA's student assistance or academic enhancement funds. The Student Assistance Fund is intended to help students pay for computers or emergency trips home.
The funds are financed through cuts in the association's operating budget and through reallocation of money that had been diverted to an NCAA endowment fund, McNeely said. She added that future payments will be subject to annual inflationary increases.
Undoubtedly, some schools will use the funds to aid cost of attendance, which has become an issue as more cash-strapped schools search for ways to compete with the larger Power 5 programs that benefit from generous TV contracts and have no problem issuing cost-of-attendance stipends.
Without the ability to make a serious dent in the deficit, Haslam said it is more important that Montana addresses matters – he mentioned challenges from mental issues or eating disorders as possible issues – that can benefit its student-athletes.
"I think there is a better way to support and fund those first before we look at increased stipends," Haslam said, "but where it’s going you just never know."