Friday, May 29, 2015

Legal precedent exists regarding cost of attendance and a level playing field

Cost of attendance stipends are a serious source of concern among coaches and athletic administrators. Those who cannot afford the stipend, or believe they are disadvantaged in recruiting because their stipend is less than their competitor's stipend, are trying to figure out ways to "level the playing field."  Those who can afford them and are able to offer stipends greater than their peers are resting easy.

Coaches and administrators at Georgia are concerned about the impact their lower cost of attendance stipend for student athletes will have on recruiting.  Men's basketball coach Mark Fox is seeking a way to "protect a level playing field" and calls the differential a "massive issue."  And Georgia Head Football Coach Mark Richt has shared his concerns, indicating he's discussed the matter with attorneys to figure out a way to "level the playing field."

Alabama Head Football Coach Nick Saban is no less vocal about the issue, calling the disparities a "nightmare."

USA Today Columnist Dan Wolken calls out the SEC's complaints in a lengthy article, saying "the SEC should be above whining and complaining about level playing fields."  And the NCAA is very clear that it no longer is concerned about equality.  Consider these quotes from NCAA President Mark Emmert prior to high-resource schools achieving governance autonomy.  Those with sufficient resources and the ability to pay the stipend can do so, and won't be restricted by those who cannot do the same.  The NCAA changed its governance to reflect this philosophical shift.

The legality of "leveling the playing field" with schools agreeing on (a lawyer would call it colluding) the amount they will collectively offer is dubious at best.  The grant-in-aid and cost of attendance stipend is institutional financial aid.  And there is very relevant and applicable case law that involved the Ivy League and other institutions who were accused of anti-trust practices regarding financial aid in the 1990's.

The Ivy League ultimately agreed not to conspire when determining financial aid awards for individual students but the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) continued to defend their practice.  MIT eventually settled and was forced to change its policies as well.  The following white paper from the American Bar Association provides additional insight and numerous other articles about the legal precedents exist.

The courts ruled colluding over financial aid awards were "plainly anti-competitive."  In light of the current legal challenges facing college athletics, any decision by the NCAA or specific conferences to restrict cost of attendance stipends would be swiftly met with a lengthy and expensive legal challenge that would be hard to justify over variations in stipends of a few hundred dollars per month.




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