But, cautioned the Old Dominion athletic director, “let's not also lose our minds over this, and let's be smart and calculating and prudent. Once you make these decisions, and the toothpaste is out of the tube, you're not going back.”
A former administrator at U.Va., Selig appreciates that financial strength, derived in large measure from television networks such as ESPN. For example, the ACC in 2014-15 likely will distribute $20 million-$25 million to each of its schools.
The Monarchs' share of Conference USA revenue is less than $2 million, and with similar limitations, the 62 other Bowl Subdivision schools outside the power five face taxing discussions in the next few months.
On Aug. 7, the NCAA's Division I Board of Directors likely will grant the ACC, Big 12, Pacific 12, Southeastern and Big 12 — aka the power five — the autonomy to offer benefits such as full-cost-of-attendance scholarships, expanded health insurance and 24/7 access to university-provided eats.
Effective for the 2015-16 academic year, those measures figure to be approved in January, with leagues such as Conference USA free to follow suit, completely or partially, collectively or individually. Selig said he and ODU president John Broderick agree that additional benefits should be need-based rather than universal.
“It's taken a lot of time and a lot of energy,” Selig said of the internal debate. “It's been very consuming. This won't be until 2015-16, but for recruiting purposes, coaches need to know (quickly) what they can offer. … You want to support your coaches, but you can't undermine your institutional resources. It's a real balancing act. …
“President Broderick and I are both in agreement that cost of attendance — we think it could be as much as $2,500 to $3,000 per student-athlete — that before we start just handing out $2,500 checks, we want to make sure there is an actual need for that student-athlete and his or her family.”
Selig said need would be determined by formulas similar to those used for federal Pell Grants.
An additional $3,000 for each of the Monarchs' 450 athletes would cost $1.35 million annually. Selig said pro-rating that amount, based on whether the athlete is on a full or partial grant, would trim the expense to $750,000-$800,000. A need-based component would lower the cost to approximately $250,000, which Selig believes the athletic department can comfortably afford, while also absorbing the cost of more meals.
“We're not going to go hog-wild like schools I've heard from the SEC, Big 12, where they're going to spend an extra $750,000 providing meals,” Selig said. “We're just not going to be able to do that. A lot of those schools have their own athletic dining facilities.”
I asked Selig if the autonomy movement among the power five will further segregate Division I along financial lines.
“I don't know how much wider (the gap) could possibly grow,” he said. “To me, what is the ultimate safety net, is that we, the others beyond the power five, what we have to preserve is the transfer rule and the scholarship limitation, because at the end of the day, Alabama can still only give 85 football scholarships, and after you cut through the SEC, and they all get their 85, there's still a lot of football talent looking to go somewhere else.”
The transfer rule requires most athletes to sit out a season of competition when changing schools. Selig believes that is necessary to prevent programs in leagues such as Conference USA, the Mountain West and American Athletic from becoming farm teams for the power five.
ODU's annual athletics budget of approximately $37 million is Conference USA's highest. According to a USA Today database, private donations to the Monarchs' programs have mushroomed more than six-fold, to $3.8 million, in the last eight years, but that hasn't curbed the department's reliance on student fees.
Student fees accounted for $27.1 million, nearly three-quarters, of ODU's athletics revenue in 2012-13, again per USA Today. That dependence is hardly unusual among schools outside the power five, and Selig insisted that ODU, entering its second year in Conference USA, will not raise fees to pay for new athlete benefits.
“That will not happen on our campus,” he said. “Fortunately for us, the conference revenue distribution is going to quickly approach $2 million a year. That is about $1.7 million more than we were getting from the (Colonial Athletic Association). That's going to cover the lion's share of these additional expenses.”
At Conference USA's football media day in Texas last week, league commissioner Britton Banowsky said he expected member schools to vary in their approaches. Selig concurs, expecting the gamut, from full additional benefits to none.
Sure enough, athletic director Chris Massaro of Conference USA's Middle Tennessee State told the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, Tenn., that the Blue Raiders are prepared to offer enhanced grants to all athletes.
“I hate that,” Selig said, “because I think one of the things that keeps conferences strong and cohesive is all institutions doing the same thing. And once you start within your conference having some schools maxing things out, other schools not, doing minimal amounts, I think you start to see disparity between top and bottom, and it could translate to competitive disparity, and I think the rule of thumb in athletics is you're only as strong as your weakest link in your conference.
“But I don't see any way around it. I don't see a movement to unilaterally force every school to apply a certain level of support across the board.”
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