Commissioner's Notebook (9/17/15)
Courtesy: Southern Conference
Release: 09/18/2015
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John Iamarino, Southern Conference Commissioner



Cost of attendance (9/17/15)

The ability for college institutions to provide student-athletes with additional financial assistance to cover expenses related to attendance, commonly referred to as cost of attendance, has received a great deal of media attention since the five autonomy conferences redefined the value of a full grant-in-aid in April of this year. But most fans have no idea that athletic departments have been providing financial assistance to cover many of these same expenses for years through an NCAA-established fund.

The Student Assistance Fund (SAF) is a $75 million fund distributed by the NCAA for member institutions to assist student-athletes with expenses related to academic and personal needs. The allocation of the fund is based upon several factors, including total grants-in-aid awarded; the number of Pell grants awarded; and the number of varsity sports sponsored.

While the SAF was originally tied to a student-athlete’s demonstrated financial need, the NCAA has greatly relaxed restrictions on awarding SAF dollars in the last 10 years. This has enhanced an institution’s flexibility to utilize the fund as it deems most appropriate for its student-athletes and has provided access to the fund to significantly more student-athletes. Among the approved uses of the SAF are:

  • Summer school;
  • Tutoring;
  • Insurance premiums;
  • Medical, dental or vision expenses not covered by another insurance policy;
  • Emergency travel home;
  • A clothing allowance.

The fund may not be used to pay any salaries or benefits to any athletic or academic personnel. It may not be used for any athletic capital improvements or the purchase of athletic equipment. Conferences that sit on the funds rather than distribute them to required thresholds run the risk of the NCAA withholding future distributions. It’s a “use it or lose it” scenario.

The NCAA has stated that SAF dollars may continue to be distributed to all student-athletes, even those receiving a full cost of attendance stipend. The SAF has greatly benefitted thousands of Southern Conference student-athletes over the years. And while not widely known outside collegiate athletic departments, the fund will continue to do so in the future.

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