FARGO, N.D. — Football Championship Subdivision powerhouse North Dakota State said Thursday it will provide thousands of dollars in stipends to scholarship athletes in all 16 sports beginning next year, a move that could persuade other mid-majors to follow suit.
The plan to pay for the full cost of attending college originated with the most influential conferences at the Bowl Subdivision level, which approved the legislation in January after gaining autonomy from the NCAA. Athletic scholarships have historically covered tuition, fees, room, board and books.
NDSU officials say the additional cost will be up to $3,400 per full scholarship.
“This is not our student-athlete coming in and picking up a paycheck because they rushed for 200 yards or they threw a no-hitter or whatever it may be,” athletic director Matt Larsen said. “This is to cover the costs while they’re here as a student-athlete for North Dakota State.”
Larsen said the decision should allow his coaches to stay competitive on the recruiting trail, where they often go against larger schools to land a player. The Bison football team, which has won four straight FCS titles, has gone head-to-head with Wyoming, Minnesota and other FBS schools over several recruits.
“To say a student-athlete is going to choose North Dakota State over another school for $3,400, I don’t think that will be the case,” Larsen said. “But it allows us to be in the same realm as some of those schools that we recruit against.”
Some FCS schools have said they would offer stipends in some sports, but only one other mid-major, Liberty University, has announced it will give cost of attendance scholarships for all 20 of its sports. The Virginia school has also said it would like to play at the FBS level.
Larsen said the stipends are not a step toward FBS for NDSU. “This is really what’s best for North Dakota State,” he said.
Patty Viverito, commissioner of the Missouri Valley Football Conference that includes NDSU and last year’s FCS runner-up, Illinois State, said the school representatives at the league’s annual meeting “were not so inclined” to favor stipends in all sports.
She said the subject also came up recently during a meeting of FCS commissioners in Bristol, Connecticut.
“I think everyone else in the room was saying that they really thought that FCS was situated pretty well in terms of being different from FBS and that it was probably not in our best interest financially, across the board, to try to keep up with FBS in this regard,” Viverito said. “When a major competitor makes a different choice, that may cause people to rethink that.”
Athletic department officials at Illinois State, South Dakota State and the University of North Dakota did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment. An NCAA spokeswoman did not return a phone message left by The Associated Press.
NDSU has an athletic department budget of $18 million. Larsen said the stipends will be funded through private donations. He said several anonymous benefactors have agreed to pay for half of the initiative for the first three years.
“As I’ve said from day one, we have the best fan base in the country,” Larsen said. “No doubt about it.”
Larsen also announced Thursday that NDSU plans to increase financial support for baseball, men’s golf and men’s track and field, in order to put all 16 sports at the maximum scholarship level.
“When people try to tell me that this is a football school … we don’t want to have a tiered system within our program,” Larsen said.