An interesting "bullet point" popped out of Henry Cordes's Omaha World-Herald article on UNO Hockey this week that is important for fans to take note of:
"UNO still isn't ready to implement full cost of attendance scholarships. [Alberts] said he's not sure how many other major hockey schools are doing so, but he said he doesn't feel UNO is at a competitive disadvantage at this point. UNO will continue to evaluate the situation."
Some readers might not be familiar with "full cost of attendance scholarships." This is a new movement in the world of NCAA athletics.
Such scholarships allow schools to pick up the costs for things like "travel expenses," "personal expenses," and "meals and snacks." The NCAA has a Q&A on the topic, and the expenditures will vary based on the school, but will generally range from up to $1,000 to around $6,000 annually, according to a CBS Sports survey about the cost of attendance impact.
In essence, it covers more than tuition, room and board, and required books. It changes the definition of a "full scholarship."
The nation's five wealthiest NCAA-member conferences voted to approve the move. As of Aug. 1, 2015, the new expenditures by schools are now allowed (but not required).
According to USA Today, the resulting changes mean students are receiving $160 million in additional benefits each year as part of this program. The USA Today article includes a video interview with reporter Steve Berkowitz, and he discusses the changes and research he did for the story.
North Dakota Already Offering "Full Cost of Attendance Scholarships" for Hockey
In a blog post last week, I talked about the announcement that North Dakota had decided to dissolve its men's baseball and golf programs.
Eliminating those two sports will save the UND athletic department $750,000 annually, according to Brad Schlossman's article in the Grand Forks Herald.
What was more interesting was to learn that North Dakota already offers "full cost of attendance scholarships" for its men's and women's hockey programs. The university will introduce those scholarships for ALL sports starting next season (at an estimated cost of $731,000).
It's worth noting that the money saved from the eliminated programs is essentially the same amount of money the "full cost of attendance scholarships" will require for funding.
(Note: Miami (OH) will also be an NCHC school offering "full cost of attendance scholarships" for hockey.)
While UNO said this week that it "isn't ready" to implement "full cost of attendance" scholarships, College Hockey News reported in an interview with Dean Blais on Oct. 21, 2015, that UNO would be offering the scholarships:
"'It's all part of the college hockey 'arms race,' with 'full cost of attendance' scholarships being added to it this year, something UNO will be doing.
'It's one thing after the next,' Blais said. 'That's just the way it is. You don't have to like it, but that's the way it is.'"
It seems, at least for now, that UNO is in a "holding pattern" regarding the additional expenditures for their athletic programs -- including hockey.
What Are the Consequences?
While no one knows the long-term effects of this move by NCAA institutions, it could further the gap between the "haves" and "have nots." It could allow "Power 5" conferences to further increase their competitive advantage over smaller, less financially stable schools and conferences.
As it regards college hockey, there is little doubt that a conference like the Big Ten (along with schools like Notre Dame and Boston College) will have an increased advantage (and will have the budgets to sustain such expenditures for hockey).
As Adam Wodon of College Hockey News points out, we "haven't even gotten into the potential fishiness when it comes to determining what the full cost of attendance is."
Where Will UNO Go From Here?
While the continual "arms race" can create financial burdens and instability, UNO needs to carefully consider its path forward.
One of the selling points during the construction of UNO's Baxter Arena was that the program would finally have a full-time practice facility.
That was a "sticking point" UNO coaches and administrators suggested had been used against them during recruiting battles with other schools.
The difference between an average season and a Frozen Four appearance can oftentimes come down to a couple of players on a roster.
The question is whether "full cost of attendance scholarships" will create gaps between NCHC-member schools.
It also brings into question whether conferences like the NCHC should have policies in place regarding the sorts of scholarships its member institutions offer -- in order to keep a congruent level of competiveness.
The Final Sum Game
UNO made the decision to invest $90 million on a hockey arena in order to be more competitive, and maximize its revenue potential.
The university needs to realize that lack of "full cost of attendance scholarships" could make it more difficult to land a top-tier player in recruiting battles with other institutions -- including fellow conference schools.
While some might not think it will make much difference in the near term, recruiting is a "game of inches," and you have to give your coaching staff every advantage possible.