When Boston College cast the lone dissenting vote against the Power 5 conferences' move to increase the value of athletic scholarships by several thousand dollars to cover the projected "full cost of attendance," BC officials suggested that while they knew the vote would ultimately pass, they didn't think they would be the only school to vote against the measure.
That said, being the one and only school to vote "nay" has given them a much bigger platform to express their views on the issue than they would have had if the vote were 71-9 instead of 79-1.
The most recent example came in yesterday's New York Times, in which Brad Bates and Boston College's decision were highlighted:
"We clearly wanted people to pause," Bates said, acknowledging that the college had known that the legislation would almost certainly succeed either way. "It was really more trying to put up a flag."
I will say this: I disagreed with Boston College's vote, on both policy and on optics. In the current landscape of college athletics, with gigantic TV spectaculars and huge salaries for coaches and administrators, allowing players to have at least this modest slice of the pie is the right thing to do. In terms of optics, I feel as though BC's symbolic, somewhat pointless vote will not endear it to many of the athletes it is trying to recruit, especially those from modest backgrounds.
That said, I found myself nodding in agreement with some of the quotes in the Times piece; I think BC has articulated its case well. I think the school is right to suggest that this vote is yet another nail in the coffin for the concept of amateur student-athletes who are truly part of their school's community. What BC at least tries to do with the academic demands it places on its athletes is admirable, and makes me proud to be an alum. A further tilting of the playing field in favor of schools who treat their football and basketball programs as semi-pro teams is not likely to benefit BC, and this vote could be another step down that road.
My opinion, however, is that that ship has sailed, and BC chose to sail away on that ship in exchange for the dollars and exposure it brings to the school. The university certainly has had its opportunities to go the Patriot League route, and has not chosen to do so, making sure it landed in a power conference during the period of great realignment. So acting like it is above the big money world of big-time sports seems a little hypocritical to me, which is why I don't support BC's vote.
That doesn't mean they don't have a point, though, and the article does a good job of explaining BC's reasoning.
In a statement immediately after the vote, Boston College cited three reasons it opposed covering the full cost of attendance, saying it increased expenses, segregated athletes from the general student population and relied on a federal financial aid formula that was "sufficiently ambiguous that adjustments for recruiting advantage will take place."
Boston College's dissenting vote was a reminder that disparities - in resources, in situations, in philosophies - existed not only between the Big 5 and the rest of the N.C.A.A. but also among the 65 universities in the Big 5.
When the time comes, BC will ultimately pay the extra stipends like the rest of the Power 5, but perhaps their dissenting vote can serve notice that the university has a different vision for what college athletics will look like in 10 years' time. Anyone following closely knows that the current structure is unsustainable and likely to change radically in the near future.
I know this will never happen, but to me, a good and fair vision for college athletics that would be in line with what BC is looking for would be for the model that exists in college hockey (and soccer) to exist in football and basketball as well.
Hockey players have options; they can pursue a college scholarship if that's what they want; they can go play in what is functionally a semi-pro developmental league in Canada; they can even turn pro once they're 18 and try to earn a living in the NHL or the AHL if they're good enough. Under this model, there's nothing unfair about the "only" compensation NCAA players receiving being a college scholarship, because it's something the player chooses.
In football and basketball, players have just about no option other than to play in the NCAA. The super-elite players are funneled into the NCAA's monopolistic control over player development; sponsors, coaches, administrators and TV partners make a ton of money off putting these great athletes on TV; and the athlete has no choice but to play without financial compensation and risk injury for at least 1-2 seasons, regardless of whether or not they "came here to play school."
That system—the one that eliminates players' options while making lots of other people rich—is what needs to go. BC is right to suggest that the "full cost of attendance" vote may do more harm than good within the system that we do have now.