FARGO -- North Dakota State University is going all in paying student-athletes.
The school will offer full cost of attendance to all of its scholarship athletes beginning in the 2016-17 season, a move that is expected to raise eyebrows across the landscape of mid-major athletic programs.
It's an estimated $600,000 to $700,000 bill that will be covered with external fundraising, said NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen. The NCAA-approved cost-of-attendance-based scholarship is money for student-athlete expenses beyond tuition, fees, room, board and books. In NDSU's case, a full-scholarship athlete will receive $3,400 per year to do as they wish-a figure set by the school's financial aid office.
Why? Because Larsen said the time demands are different than they were a decade or two ago.
"Could a student probably get a job? Yeah, they probably could but not if we want to be successful with all the things we make them do," Larsen said. "And that is to be special athletes and do great in school and all those things. This certainly alleviates a lot of that."
NDSU is the second mid-major school that plays football at the Division I FCS level to announce its pledge to offer cost of attendance. Liberty University (Va.) announced last April that it is covering cost of attendance for scholarship athletes in all 20 of its sports starting this school year.
The Bison have 192 athletes on athletic scholarship this year, but not all are on a full ride in its 16 athletic programs. In those cases, the cost of attendance would be equivalent to the amount of the scholarship. So if a student was on a half scholarship, he or she would receive $1,700. Because the school is offering cost of attendance across the board, there are no Title IX concerns, Larsen said.
Larsen, starting his second year at NDSU, said the athletic department has already received "significant" donations to pay for it. Asked if he's confident the remaining funds will be raised, he said, "one of the things I've said since day one is you never underestimate our fan base and the people who support the program."
Larsen said it was essential for recruiting that NDSU join the cost of attendance parade, which originated with power conferences Big Ten, Big 12, Southeastern, Pac-12 and Atlantic Coast. Where the recruiting argument mostly comes into play for NDSU is with the next-level of Division I conferences. In the case of FBS football, that would be the Mountain West and Mid-American conferences.
"For us it was about who you recruit against," Larsen said. "We're recruiting against programs that are going to offer this. We thought it was important to give our coaches the tools to be apples to apples with those programs."
Total cost of attendance for athletes at the University of Wyoming in the Mountain West conference, for instance, is expected to total $718,000, according to CBSSports.com. The website reported two programs in the 13-school Mid-American are undecided about offering cost of attendance and two others declined to provide any information.
It's doubtful many schools that play FCS football will offer, either. With the exception of wrestling, which competes in the Big 12, NDSU's other programs-like men's and women's basketball-play in the Summit League, and no Summit school has yet made its cost of attendance plans publicly known.
NDSU's athletic department budget this year is $18 million.
"I think it's an individual institutional decision," Larsen said. "If a school isn't recruiting against a program that isn't offering, there may not be a need."