WVU sports: Summer school changes in works
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- As the West Virginia athletic department spends more money and uses more red ink than before, the Mountaineers have actually found a way to take one cost that nearly tripled in two years and reduce it by more than 30 percent in one year.
No longer will WVU be taken to school in its summer session.
"Any kid that needs summer school to stay on track for a degree or, quite honestly, to stay eligible, we'll get that student-athlete in summer school," Athletic Director Oliver Luck said. "But if somebody just says, 'I want to take 12 hours this summer so I can graduate in three years,' we may say no to that."
Big sports and small sports have seen their student-athletes on scholarship remain on campus for part or all of the summer session in recent years to handle academic and athletic duties for their teams. As the habit spread, the costs escalated.
WVU spent $934,956 on summer classes in the 2007-08 fiscal year and $812,106 the following year. By the 2009-10 year, the number jumped to $1,506,728 and then $2,405,598 a year later.
Part of that growth has to do with rising tuition costs, but part of it can also be traced to the number of student-athletes who prefer or are required to be on campus and working out with teammates during the summer for their upcoming seasons.
Whatever the justification, it was an alarming rise and a big chunk of WVU's total scholarship bill. In the 2009-10 year, WVU's equity report listed its "Athletically Related Student Aid," which includes summer school, at $6,957,621. A year later, the number was $6,643,098.
Michael Szul, the school's associate athletic director for business, said WVU began addressing the summer school concern in the fall of 2010.
"We instituted a litmus test on all applications that we received (was the aid necessary, did they need the course due to it not being offered in the Fall or Spring term, etc.)," Szul wrote in an email. "By implementing the above procedures, we hope that we will be able to achieve more of a projected increase in summer school vs. the dramatic increase that we realized (in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 fiscal years)."
In the 2011-12 year, WVU lost about $12.9 million in athletics, due in large part to paying an enormous exit fee to leave the Big East early and join the Big 12. Yet WVU also saw the benefits of the more stringent summer school policy.
The athletic department, which Szul said pays the summer school bill from the Mountaineer Athletic Club and revenue received from logo licensing, spent just $1,654,206. Luck told the faculty senate earlier this month he expects the athletic department to lose around $50,000 for the 2012-13 year. The goal again is to see the summer school policy do its part.
"We still exercise some discretion with regard to what we pay for," Luck said.
There is the case-by-case evaluation applied to every request, but also a financial factor. Szul said decisions could vary from year to year based on available funding, which is affected by how much money is donated to the MAC. The cost could dip if donations are low, but it could rise and WVU would have planned for it and have it covered.
The cost could also jump because of necessity. Following the 2011 season, the FBS and FCS decided to make its student-athletes pass nine hours in the fall semester, as opposed to just six, and maintain the required progress toward graduation (40 percent after four semesters, 60 percent after six semesters and 80 percent after eight semesters).
If a football player didn't make the cut, he'd be suspended the first four games of the following season. An appeal was available for first-time offenders in which he could have the suspension removed as long as he passed a combined 27 hours during the fall, spring and summer sessions.
"If a student-athlete comes to us and says, 'I need this class in the summer to stay eligible,' then absolutely, we'll pay for that," Luck said. "If he comes in and says, 'I need this class to stay on track for my degree and this is a tough math class I'd rather take in the summer than the football season when I'm stressed out,' then absolutely, we'll pay for that. But if the request is just to get 12 hours in the summer to graduate in three years, that probably gets denied."
The other somewhat inevitable increase is WVU's desire to improve its Olympic sports to better adjust to life in the Big 12. Many of those sports compete in the fall or have a preseason program that happens during the summer.
"We probably didn't spend any money five years ago on summer school for volleyball student-athletes," Luck said. "Now we are. (Head coach Jill Kramer) wants them on campus, maybe just for the second summer session, so we're bumping up the summer school numbers there. We're certainly paying for more kids to be in summer school in that regard now, which is why we have to be more selective with other requests."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.