Jimmy Smith, the football coach at Cedar Grove (Ellenwood, Ga.) High School, looked at his three players, Netori Johnson, Tre’ Shaw, and Justin Shaffer, standouts in the Class of 2017, and asked this recruiting question:
“If Kentucky and Auburn were recruiting you, and you thought the quality of the education was the same at both schools and the playing time was the same at both schools, but you knew Auburn was going to give you this for expenses, and Kentucky was going to give you this for expenses, where would you go?”
Smith pointed to a sheet of paper listing Cost of Attendance (COA) stipends for each of the 14 SEC schools. Auburn’s number was $5,586. Kentucky’s number was $2,284.
Shaw, a defensive back who has 24 offers, didn’t hesitate with his answer.
“War Eagle,” he said with a smile.
There are a lot of “ifs” in Smith’s question there, and for some kids, no doubt those will matter. (Note what Netori Johnson had to say about his Alabama commitment, for example.)
But there are plenty of high schoolers out there for whom I suspect money will indeed talk loudly. And recruiters will take note of who they are and target their sales pitch accordingly.
Rush Probst, the head coach at Colquitt County High School, which has won back-to-back 6A titles, said some recruiters already are trumpeting their stipends. COA is “huge” in recruiting, Probst said.
“Coaches are using it in two ways: to get in the mix with a kid or close the deal,” Probst said. “Bret Bielema has used it. He’s like me, he doesn’t beat around a bush. There’s a big difference in what one school can offer over another and kids are told that.”
Probst said he cannot blame high school football players if they pick a school based on the size of a monthly check.
“They can’t work for four years from the time they show up on campus; they are in football,” Probst said. “When are they supposed to have jobs? They need money. With all the money being made in the game, I can’t blame kids for thinking about it.”
This is not the kind of talk Greg McGarity wants to hear, dammit.
SEC athletics directors met in Birmingham, Ala., for their annual December meeting earlier this month. Greg McGarity, the Georgia AD, said COA would come up in discussions.
In a fall meeting, the athletic directors of each school had to submit the data they used for arriving at the Cost of Attendance stipend. The criteria and the methods for arriving at the COA, McGarity said, was different for all 14 schools in the SEC.
“No two were the same,” he said.
McGarity would like to see a more uniform method of arriving at the Cost of Attendance, perhaps along guidelines provided by the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Labor. It might remedy arbitrary calculations.
There are charges that athletic departments, and their recruiters, are influencing schools’ Cost of Attendance calculations. The COA applies campus-wide, not just to athletes, but if you have been following the influence of college football nationally it is not hard to imagine athletics’ influence on campus-wide issues.
If an athletic scholarship out-of-state is worth $42,000, schools do not want the actual Cost of Attendance (travel to home, etc.) to be much higher and scare away all prospective students. Schools have an incentive to keep the COA number low.
Obviously, there are schools in the SEC that would like to level the playing field, so to speak. There is quite a difference between a monthly check for $620 and $253.
“There are several of us who would like there to be some threshold there,” McGarity said. “Those at the top are not worried about it. Those at the bottom are concerned about it. There is more concern from those where it could be a recruiting disadvantage.”
And here I thought the Georgia Way was a recruiting advantage.
Welcome to the new amateurism, folks.