HOOVER, Ala. — Texas A&M senior Julien Obioha was asked to move from defensive end to defensive tackle this spring.
The New Orleans native, a former Brother Martin standout, gained 20 pounds for the switch and is trying to add more. So he has a pretty good idea of how he’ll spend the new cost of attendance check approved by the “Power Five” conferences this offseason.
“Food,” he said this week at Southeastern Conference Media Days. “I’ve got to gain weight.”
Kentucky offensive lineman Jordan Swindle weighs 310 pounds. He’s not trying to gain weight; he’s trying to keep it all on for the upcoming season.
That means his check of about $2,284 will go to the same place.
“Food,” he said.
LSU running back Leonard Fournette blurted out one word when asked how he’ll spend the cash.
“Groceries,” he said.
College football players, and other athletes, have an additional $2,000 to $6,000 coming their way this fall, and most of them — according to a poll of players at Media Days — will spend the extra dough on grub.
Athletic scholarships this year for the “Power Five” schools will cover what’s known as the full cost of attendance.
Scholarships will go beyond the traditional room, board, tuition and books. The extra money is for other incidental costs of attending college — mainly transportation.
“They can use it for whatever they need,” said Miriam Segar, senior associate athletic director at LSU. “They’re excited about the opportunity. It’s like your boss saying, ‘Hey, you’re getting a pay raise.’ ”
The boost varies by school and athlete. For example, Mississippi State, Auburn and Tennessee will offer an extra $5,000 on average per year, while schools like Kentucky, Georgia, Texas A&M and Alabama are below the $3,000 mark.
LSU is distributing $3,200 a year (or $1,600 a semester) for those living on campus and about $3,800 for athletes living off campus, Segar said. That money will be added to the room-and-board allowances regularly distributed to athletes of head-count sports like football and basketball that give full scholarships.
The money will be added to the scholarship pool of equivalency sports and will be dispersed to athletes by the head coach, Segar said. Sports like baseball and softball are equivalency because they can distribute partial scholarships.
In all, LSU will spend $1.3 million to $2 million extra per year, said Mark Ewing, the school’s senior associate athletic director over business. The department has an athletic budget of more than $100 million.
An athletic scholarship at LSU previously had cost $21,000 for in-state residents and $38,000 for out-of-state athletes. That included tuition, fees, housing, a meal plan and books and supplies, according to the school’s website.
“The difference now is we can pay transportation and miscellaneous,” Segar said.
How schools reach their cost of attendance number remains unclear. The university handles that, Segar said — not the athletic department.
Cost of attendance is defined under the Higher Education Act, a federal law that governs federal student-aid programs.
“There are a set of 10, 11 or 12 elements that are specified,” new SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said. “Within that Higher Education Act is the ability to vary from individual to individual and university to university.”
The problem with all of this? Some schools can offer as much as $3,000 more per year to a recruit than others. For example, Tennessee’s figure of $5,666 is well above Kentucky’s $2,284.
Will this affect recruiting? Not really, SEC coaches said this week.
“I guess we’ll find out in February when they sign,” said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, whose school pays about $4,200. “If some schools can give a little bit more, so be it. Supposedly, the federal government regulates this. The chief financial officer at each school sets the number, and that’s just the way it is. Let’s go play ball. We’re not going to worry about it.”
“Obviously, we’d like to have a balanced sheet across the board,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “If you lose a guy over $1,000 here or there for his cost of attendance, maybe that’s part of it. There’s nothing you can do.”
Many coaches, including Alabama’s Nick Saban, say they haven’t pitched the extra money during the recruiting process.
“Honestly, we didn’t really talk about it at all recruiting-wise,” Missouri’s Gary Pinkel said.
In all, 28 of the 65 “Power Five” schools will be able to pay more in cost of attendance than LSU will be allowed to pay, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. LSU ranks ahead of SEC schools like Alabama ($2,892), Texas A&M ($2,706) and Georgia ($2,598).
LSU coach Les Miles has expressed little concern about the varying numbers in the past.
The players are just happy to have such a boost in their finances, but it does come at a risk, Arkansas coach Brett Bielema said.
“You give a young man — 18, 19, 20, 21 (years old) — with a little bit of pocket change, with a lot of money to make bad decisions, things can go sideways in a New York minute,” he said. “So you got a kid that’s never had $1,000 in his pocket, and all of a sudden he’s got $2,000. That’s dangerous. That leads to dumb decisions. I think we have to monitor that as coaches and be aware of that.”
Segar said LSU has conducted workshops this summer on financial responsibility and will have more this fall. Ole Miss has done the same, Rebels coach Hugh Freeze said.
“We’ve already brought in a financial management team from a local bank that has been very thorough in explaining to them,” he said. “We’ve broken down the exact distribution of how it’s going to work at our place and trying to give them a budget to work off of to make sure that they’re being responsible with that money that they’re given.”
Fournette knows how he’s using his extra cash. Those groceries won’t be for him alone.
“I’m taking care of my daughter,” he said, referring to 6-month-old Lyric. “Anything I can buy to help out with her.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv.