Wake up Call
One linebacker goes down with an injury and is done for the year. A second linebacker injures his ankle; out for three weeks. The third string guy suffers a concussion and is also out for at least a couple of weeks. The head coach is now forced to start players he would rather not have running around the field, at least not in crucial games. Sound unrealistic? Head football coach Ken Collums and his Wildcats had to deal with a multitude of injuries this season on the defensive side of the ball including at the linebacker position.
It quickly became obvious his team did not have the personnel to deal with a large number of injuries, especially on one side of the ball. Players had to be moved around to unfamiliar positions to accommodate all the mishaps. This is what life would be like at a private Christian university playing Division II football under the annual block tuition plan.
There are currently two primary pricing models used in higher education. One of these is a per-credit model, which was used at ACU before block tuition was enacted. The other is called a block model. Under the block model, students pay one flat rate for tuition and they can take a block of hours within that rate. ACU’s plan is based on 30 hours and allows students to take up to 36 hours across an entire year for one price. Many private and state universities have moved to the block tuition plan.
“We decided to do an annual block tuition plan so students could take 15 hours in the fall, 15 in the spring and six in the summer and still take full advantage of the block,” said Kevin Campbell, Chief Enrollment Officer. “Students felt that taking 18 hours a semester was too much for them to still have a social life and be involved in other activities.”
The goal of block tuition is to shorten the time it takes students to earn a degree, ultimately saving them and their families money and reducing the amount of debt after graduation. This plan also lets families know the exact amount they are going to pay in any given year. In the past, parents would have to guess the amount based on how many hours their son or daughter was taking that semester.
Campbell said the effect annual block tuition has on athletics depends on the sport. Overall though, he likes what it has done for the athletes.
“It affects the sport more than it does the athlete,” he said. “The athletes that are on scholarship will be getting a little more now. A few of the sports have had to be more creative in how they use those scholarship dollars, but in theory it should be good for the athletes as well as the students.”
The Move to D-I and Block Tuition’s Affect on Athletics
The NCAA has categorized every sport in Division I as either a head-count sport or an equivalency sport. In Division II, all programs are equivalency sports. Scholarships in head-count sports can only be given to a set number of athletes and they have to be all full scholarships. So for instance, if a sport offers 10 scholarships, 10 athletes on that team can receive scholarships each year. For equivalency sports, there is also a set number of scholarships, but teams are allowed to divide those scholarships between multiple athletes. For example, a team that can offer a total of six scholarships could award three full rides, divide the fourth and fifth between two athletes and split up the last one between three or more athletes.
ACU is moving to D-I in the fall of 2013, so some coaches and players will be dealing with head-count rules instead of just equivalency across the board. The sports which will be changing to head-count are: men’s and women’s basketball, women’s tennis and volleyball. All other sports will remain equivalency. Football is a little tricky because in D-I it is the only sport that is divided into two subdivisions, Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) and Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). ACU is moving to FCS which is still categorized as an equivalency sport. FBS on the other hand, is head-count.
“In the head-counter sports it really levels the playing field in a sense,” said Jared Mosley, Director of Athletics. “Even between public and private schools that cost difference is still there and it’s a little bit of an impact but not near as much as in Division II. We have been splitting scholarships and trying to compete with schools that are half of what we cost.”
Mosley said athletics kept the university from going to block tuition sooner than it did.
“There are some pretty significant impacts that block tuition can have on the competitive nature of our programs,” he said. “But there are benefits that the students are going to get as well. They can take a large number of hours and spread it out over a full calendar year. That’s great for student athletes, given their schedules.”
Mosley said the sports most affected by block tuition are ones where the roster sizes are larger than the number of scholarships coaches have to offer. Football is the most obvious. Men’s and women’s track and field and baseball and softball are also hurt more than other sports.
Scholarships before block tuition were defined as 30 hours by the NCAA. Mosley said there were few athletes who would take the full 15 hours each semester so there would be some left over. Those extra hours would be used for partial scholarships to provide depth on rosters.
“When we made the switch to block tuition, it changed to one price,” he said. “We can’t take that savings and offer it to somebody on the back end. In essence, we have fewer student athletes receiving athletic aid. That hinders sports where you need depth.”
“Several of our sports have seen those challenges in this first year,” Mosley said. “They are trying to understand how to navigate that and are rethinking how we award scholarships. In football we are probably going to have 8-10 less athletes receiving aid. It definitely cuts into the quality of your backups.”
Fortunately, moving to Division I helps ease some of the pain brought on by the block tuition plan. D-I levels the playing field for football, men’s and women’s basketball and baseball.
“In Division II we split scholarships up a lot and tried to get a lot of people on to maximize our dollars,” Mosley said. “In Division I there’s limits on how you can do that. Block tuition won’t affect us as much with the Division I regulations.”
The Football Perspective
Block tuition has more impact on football than any other Wildcat sport, which is why Coach Collums was more emotional when he learned ACU was moving that direction.
“After I got up off the floor after fainting,” Collums said jokingly, “I pouted a little bit. The words block tuition at a place like this, where the cost is already high, adds to a major challenge.”
Division I FCS regulations allow football coaches to hand out up to 63 full scholarships per year. They can divide and conquer those 63 anyway they see fit as long as they do not surpass 85 total players receiving financial aid.
“Block tuition, in our department, basically caused the cost of tuition to go up about $6,000 per year,” Collums said. “We only had 57 guys on scholarship last season. That is 11 or 12 below what we had the previous year.”
“I had to spend money on keeping my own guys instead of going out and finding new players. That’s why we had only 57. Ideally in a Division II school, you want between 75-78 guys. That’s a healthy squad.”
Collums said block tuition at the D-II level over a long period would be very challenging.
“It would be hard to keep the success we’ve had,” he said. “It was already hard enough recruiting against schools that cost only $16,000. For education though, there’s nothing better.”
The move to D-I will free up more money for scholarships, but Collums said ACU will still have less guys on scholarship than other schools in the Southland Conference because of our cost.
“We probably won’t ever come close to the 85 max players on scholarship, but going Division I allows us, in recruiting, to match other schools dollar for dollar on the cost of the kid,” he said. “That kid isn’t going to owe any money to go to school.”
The Volleyball Perspective
Block tuition does not have quite the same impact on volleyball as it does with some of the larger sports. Volleyball is a head-count sport in Division I and regulations allow up to 12 full ride scholarships per team. That is compared to eight full scholarships available in Division II, although those eight can be broken down and distributed in anyway the coaches see fit.
“There are some challenges in regards to managing scholarships since we aren’t paying by the hour anymore,” said head coach Kellen Mock. “But I love block tuition. It allows for our student athletes to have tremendous flexibility in how they take care of their hours.
Athletes have never been able take summer classes and have them paid for. Under the annual block tuition model, that is now possible.
“Few of my girls take more than 12 hours in the fall because we are on the road so much,” Mock said. “Most of them were having to take summer school anyway and pay out of their pocket.”
“Our athletes are now getting a more complete ACU experience,” she said. “They aren’t taking summer courses at community colleges.”
Mock said for her sport, block tuition is not a bad thing. A majority of her players come with more of an academic mindset than an athletic one since there is not a promising future beyond college volleyball.
“The girls aren’t coming here to play professional volleyball,” she said. “So our sport is different than a lot of the others. I’ve got a lot of players who’ve had academic success in high school and have been awarded a good scholarship. That saves our program money. But I will say, block tuition and Division I go hand in hand. It makes everything clean and crisp in the Division I model.”
Mock said head-counter sports are very simple since you can only have so many players on scholarship. She hopes to have a roster of 15 once they go to D-I.
“It’s easier to attract a walk-on student athlete in Division I than it is in Division II simply because their going to get D-I experience,” she said.
“We’re all going to be able to cover the cost of more athletes’ educations in Division I. At the same time, it’s an even greater commitment on the athletes’ part because we’re making so much of an investment in them.”