Virginia Tech outlines new pact with athletes

Virginia Tech is putting in place a program that is essentially a pact between the school and it athletes.

Athletic director Whit Babcock on Thursday unveiled what the school calls ''The Pylons of Promise,'' a long-in-the-works document outlining how the university will respond to changes completed last weekend at a landmark meeting of the so-called Big Five conferences.

The changes are ones each of the 65 schools in the Big Five, and many others, will need to address before they take effect in August.

Most notably, the changes will allow schools to increase the value of athletic scholarships by several thousand dollars to cover the actual cost of attending college, beyond the traditional tuition, room, board and books.

Virginia Tech intends to provide the maximum allowable cost of attendance for men and women in each of its 22 athletic programs, Babcock said. He attended the NCAA meeting and supports the Big Five gaining some autonomy from the NCAA. He said by phone Wednesday night he believes the biggest winners will be the athletes.

''With what coaches make, ADs make, when you spend millions on facilities and other things, it's a little tough to justify that we haven't been taking care of our student-athletes a little bit better,'' he said by phone Wednesday night, noting that today's scholarships rules were crafted in the 1980s.

Babcock says the amount the school will be able to put in athletes' pockets will be determined by a federally mandated formula. He estimates the cost to Virginia Tech will be $850,000 to $950,000.

The plan, Babcock said, is designed to keep schools competitive in a changing landscape. All 65 schools in the Big Five likely will take similar measures before August.

''If we're going to have a comprehensive athletic department, we're going to go to full cost of attendance in every scholarship in every sport,'' he said, adding that some schools may find such financial costs easier to absorb than others.

''There may be changes on down the road,'' he said. ''Until then, we're all in.''

The Pylons of Promise also details several other changes for Virginia Tech athletes:

The school will allow its coaches to offer four-year scholarships that are guaranteed regardless of whether athletes perform on the field as hoped. Only academic issues or misconduct can result in the loss of the scholarship.

The school will assist, or possibly provide, athletes in securing ''loss of value'' insurance that protects their potential earning potential as professional athletes while they are in college.

A potential NFL draft pick, Babcock said, might be more likely to stay in school ''if you knew there was insurance that would pay you pretty well if, God forbid, you had a career-ending injury.''

Schools also have a Student Assistance Fund available, through which they can provide aid for incidental expenses, such as an emergency trip home or a dental procedure. The fund is administered by the school, but funded with $425,000 per school by the NCAA, which monitors its use.

Babcock said the new guidelines will intensify the pressure on coaches to make good recruiting good choices. He added that most programs at Virginia Tech and elsewhere, even while allowed to continue to offer year-by-year scholarships, will ''very quickly'' move toward four-year commitments.

Leaders at some schools outside the Big Five have questioned whether these new rules will widen the gap between the top 65 schools and the rest. Babcock allows for that possibility, but he was gratified that any talk of increasing FBS-level football scholarships from 85 to 95 never gained traction.

The lower-rung Atlantic 10, which held meetings in conjunction with the convention, announced Wednesday its members will offer cost of attendance scholarships to men and women in basketball.

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