Mike Casazza: WVU figures out financials as NCAA figures out its future

MORGANTOWN — Even in the presence of swirling story lines that seem destined to forever change the relationships between colleges and student-athletes, there remains some static at West Virginia University. More than two years ago, the athletic department began making budgetary plans to accommodate a $2,000 stipend for those on scholarship. The Mountaineers never stopped running the numbers.

As the NCAA’s plan went back them, that extra bit of money would account for the difference between what a scholarship provides and the true value of what it costs a student-athlete to live on campus. It was forward thinking encouraged by the NCAA’s then-bold move in October 2011 to allow the stipend. Before that Christmas, 160 schools voted to override the legislation, which was the first of a few defeats for the proposal.

The Mountaineers, though, were preparing for what they believed was inevitable, and they’ve revisited the topic again. It’d be silly not to because every available indication suggests anything or everything beneath the NCAA umbrella could change, whether it’s letting student-athletes form unions or treating those on scholarship as employees.

So WVU wondered if part of the change would again be a stipend. The school thought that maybe in the suddenly litigious environment a flat fee would violate some antitrust provisions. It looked at its athletic scholarship and all that it covers. It looked at the cost of attendance.

The difference would then be a school-specific stipend, something every university could be prompted to provide if such legislation passes again in the future.

Athletic director Oliver Luck said the total cost of attending WVU is about $1,700 greater than what a scholarship covers. In an NCAA where stipends are again approved and schools must issue them in a like manner, where the stipend is the difference between the cost of attending and the value of the scholarship, WVU’s stipend would be about $1,700. It would be higher at some schools and lower at others, and of course that would become a part of recruiting combat.

That number led WVU down another road and people wondered if the stipend would be taxable as income. Quickly, though, Luck and his brain trust in the athletic department started thinking about another matter. What if student-athletes become employees? What if scholarships are then interpreted in a wholly different manner? What would quarterbacks and small forwards have to declare on a tax return?

Luck said the tax experts at WVU believe a return would have to account for about $12,000, and that’s before someone gets an offseason job as a valet at a hotel or a caddy at golf course and adds a couple thousand dollars on top of that. The only things that would be tax-free for a student-athlete would be tuition and fees.

Whatever avenue the NCAA eventually travels — or more accurately, whatever its members allow it to travel — there are repercussions to consider. There’s a movement to provide the full cost of attendance and a movement to pay the stipend. In either scenario, there’s a pressure on the school to extend itself a little more than before, and that’s a major concern at a lot of places.

Boston College sponsors 29 sports, almost double the Division I minimum of 16. Records from the U.S. Office of Postsecondary Education show the Eagles with total revenue of $916,912 for the 2012-13 year. The University of North Carolina has 26 sports and showed total revenue of $9,699. Even Stanford, which has 36 sports, but cleared $2,150,742, would have to be mindful of new expenses.

What happens if all those schools and all the others, whether well-off or not, have to pay their student-athletes an additional sum of money? What if any school develops a spending conscience? You could very easily see schools drop sports, which was already happening across the country, and the most vulnerable ones are the ones that are least protected.

That affects student-athletes who don’t fill the stands, and probably never intended to since cross country and rowing and the like aren’t popular spectator sports and the appeal of golf and gymnastics and swimming and diving varies from place to place.

It seems to be a severe side-effect of a decision aimed at compensating football and basketball players for the time they spend on their sport and the money they make their universities. None of that even accounts for the Title IX implications or the possibility the NCAA may one day sense the pinch upon its members and mandate only a dozen Division I sports, the latter seeming possible now as a way to grant schools in the major conferences greater autonomy within the NCAA as opposed to independence outside of it.

Never mind if Ohio State would stick with 37 sports or if WVU would carry on with 17. The question then becomes if they or anyone like them could, or perhaps even should.

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymailwv.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu. Follow him on Twitter at @mikecasazza.

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