Cost of Attendance and USC’s Penalty

Last Updated on June 5, 2014

USC Football - Flickr by @jshyun

There are two things I wanted to touch on today, neither of which merited an entire post. Since they’re somewhat related in that USC may have ended up in their current predicament because players aren’t compensated fairly and thus lured by outside offers of assistance, I’m going to combine them into one post.

Increasing Scholarships to Include Cost of Attendance

College football commentary is abuzz this week with the news that Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney and SEC Commissioner Mike Slive have both made public that they are considering cost of attendance scholarships. Athletic scholarships currently cover room, board, books and tuition. Many claim there is a gap of several thousand dollars where players struggle to be able to do things like take their girlfriend to dinner. Non-athlete students can cover these costs with a part-time job, while athletes already have a part-time job with their athletic involvement. Proponents of paying players, or at least increasing scholarships levels to include cost of attendance, say it’s this gap that allows agents and other outside influences to lure players into breaking the rules.

The first issue I see in allowing athletic scholarships to include the cost of attendance is that it may widen the gap between the have and have nots. If University of Georgia can afford to offer these scholarships but Mississippi State cannot, will this

into a player’s decision?

Also, if you provide these scholarships to some athletes, I think you have to offer them to all athletes. As we’ve discussed here many times before (most recently in this post: Problems with Paying College Athletes), only 14 programs are turning a profit without institutional support. That means going to more costly scholarships is likely to produce an increase in institutional support and even more pressure put on sports who do not generate enough revenue to support themselves.

Cost of attendance is included in some academic scholarships, so on that basis I have trouble saying athletic programs shouldn’t consider it. However, I simply don’t see how they can afford it without creating other problems. I also don’t think it will suddenly resolve the issue of agents and other outsiders luring players with money and benefits. For guys who are willing to cross that line, a few thousand dollars in extra scholarship money is not going to stop them.

USC’s Penalty

Here’s another fairness argument invading every piece of college sports commentary I read. You know how I feel about the fairness discussion. Yesterday all the chatter was about whether or not USC’s penalty is fair.

Many think it’s not fair to punish current players who weren’t around when the violations occurred. I’ve only seen one other solution, however, which is fining USC. I’ve seen several commentators propose that USC should be stripped of all gate receipts, television revenue and BCS revenue from the 2004 season.

Who will this really punish though? It’s unlikely that USC is operating their athletic department in the black without any institutional support. Therefore, those millions of dollars would be taken from the University’s general coffers. Does the rest of the student body deserve this? Would the University pass on this loss to the athletic department by limiting their budget? Perhaps, although I’m not convinced. And if they did pass it on, who would suffer? Sports other than football, I’m sure. Athletes who certainly shouldn’t be punished for misdeeds on the football team.

This is simply an unfortunate situation where the penalty cannot be directly aimed at those who were in the wrong. Instead, it’s aimed at the football program as a whole. It’s severe and certainly meant to be a deterrent. It’s a message to the rest of college football that the NCAA can and will inflict damage to programs thumbing their nose at, or at the very least choosing to remain blissfully ignorant of, NCAA regulations. It sets a scary precedent for programs like UNC and Ohio State who are currently under investigation.

Do you have a better idea for a penalty? Would love to hear them!


  • Kristi Dosh

    Kristi A. Dosh is the founder of and has served as a sports business analyst and contributor for outlets such as Forbes, ESPN, SportsBusiness Journal, Bleacher Report, SB Nation and more. She is also the author of a book on the business of college football, Saturday Millionaires. Kristi is a sought-after consultant and speaker on topics related to the business of college sports and a former practicing attorney. Click to learn more

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