Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Football teams usually like to have a running back with a downhill style, but on the FCS level, all of the teams are not moving along a level playing field.
The number of football scholarships offered vary up to the maximum of 63, and some are partial scholarships and some are not. The Ivy and Pioneer leagues are two conferences that don't have scholarships but play scholarship programs, and Georgetown even refuses to offer them while playing in a Patriot League in which the other programs have them.
The next advantage has arrived, too. Liberty University has become the first FCS program to provide "cost of attendance" dollars to its student- athletes. The Big South Conference university, located in Lynchburg, Virginia, will begin to offer the incentive to all 20 of its sports this year.
Under the NCAA measure approved in January and set to begin Aug. 1, the cost of attendance of a scholarship can go beyond tuition, fees, books and room and board to include expenses such as academic-related supplies, transportation and other similar items. The value of those benefits can differ by the school, but at the five power conferences that pushed for them - the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern conferences - they have been estimated up to about $2,000 annually per full scholarship.
For partial scholarships, Liberty said it will pay for a percentage of a student-athlete's educational costs.
The cost of attendance dollars are becoming an attractive recruiting tool, especially for a program like Liberty, which would be an exception on the FCS level because most schools are not expected to provide the incentive, at least not initially.
It is not surprising, however, that Liberty would be looking more like an FBS program. The private evangelical university, founded by the late Jerry Falwell Sr., is pursuing a move up from the FCS level, although neither of the FBS conferences that appear to be the best fit, Conference USA and the Sun Belt, have yet to extend an invitation.
"The goal of Liberty athletics has always been, and always will be, to compete at the highest levels of NCAA D-I athletics," Liberty athletic director Jeff Barber said in a university statement. "Having the opportunity to offer full cost of attendance will certainly assist in achieving that goal. The welfare of our student-athletes is always paramount and we believe providing each of them with this support is important."
Liberty under former Kansas and Buffalo head coach Turner Gill, who was brought to Liberty to help guide it to the higher level, appeared in the FCS playoffs for the first time last year, beating James Madison in the first round, and finishing 9-5 as the Big South co-champ.
The Flames ranked first in the Big South and fifth in the FCS in attendance average, drawing an average of 17,016 to six home games.