Student athletes at University of Richmond are given special privileges that other students do not get, such as early registration for classes. However, student athletes no longer have the privilege of choosing to live on or off campus.

The athletic department notified athletes Nov. 22 via email that, starting this semester, student athletes would be required to live in on-campus housing. The policy allows for current athletes who already live off campus to stay, and for fifth-year athletes to move off campus.

The policy was implemented because of a trend that the athletic department identified: a higher percentage of student athletes live off campus compared to the rest of the student population.

"We had seen that the proportion of student athletes moving off campus was increasingly higher than the student body," Maura Smith, assistant athletic director for compliance, said. "The website advertises 92%, and we had fallen to 79% of our student athletes on campus, so we were disproportionate compared to the rest of the student population."

Smith said the athletic department felt they needed to close that percentage gap because the University prides itself on students living on campus.

"If Richmond is going to pride itself on being a residential college -- that you come here and you live here for four years -- then we as a sect of the University need to uphold that mission," Smith said.

The policy has upset student athletes such as sophomore Nick Vergos, who had planned on moving off campus, and are now speculating about the motivations driving the decision.

"The reason I think they're doing [it] is because scholarship athletes when they were approved to move off-campus got the money guaranteed for housing in check form," Vergos said. "So I think it's the University not wanting to extend the housing money in cash form our way."

When the university writes full-scholarship athletes these checks, they are valued at the price of the Spider 17 meal plan and a freshman residence hall double dorm, Smith said.

The prices of the Spider 17 and freshman residence housing are $2,180 and $2,325 each semester, according to the University of Richmond website. This means that each scholarship athlete that moves off campus receives $4,505 in a check from the university each semester.

Vergos said the decision was also problematic for student athletes who were not on scholarship, who would no longer be allowed to decide if they wanted to live off campus.

"There's a kid who's a walk-on who is mad because he might not be able to move off campus, and it's his money," Vergos said. "He's paying and it's his money and his decision. He shouldn't have to pay to live on campus because the University is telling him so."

Vergos said he wanted to move off campus so he could have a more comfortable living space.

"Living off campus would allow me to have my own room and more importantly furnish it with my own queen to king size bed, which is important for four to five 6'3 plus grown men living together," Vergos said. "They're building these new apartments and new dorms and everything, but it's still not the same as having the opportunity to live off campus. Like having your true own room--in the apartment you're still living with someone."

Before laying out the policy, the athletic department gathered input from student athletes about why they wanted to move off campus.

"We went to student athletes and said why are you staying on or why are you moving off," Smith said. "And we brought those reasons to these meetings where we asked for other people's input. We saw that the needs of our student athletes would be met within the new housing stock."

Besides gathering this information from student athletes, the athletic department did not consult student input regarding the policy.

"We're professional adults that work in this industry, and every decision is made in the best interest of the university and the athletic department," Smith said.

"We use our judgment with other adult industries on what is best. That is our job. In our opinion the student athlete is best served by living on campus. This was a decision made within administration and input from other departments, and it didn't require student athlete input."

Vergos said he thought this new policy could also make recruiting more difficult for coaches.

"We were told when we committed here that we were allowed to move off campus after our second year if we were approved," Vergos said. "And I think this will probably be a big hit for recruiting when we tell students that until your redshirt senior year you're going to have to be on campus all four years."

Smith said many departments offered input when the athletic department formed the policy, but that ultimately it is an athletic department decision.

"That decision did not incorporate student athlete input in the policy. I know we dropped sports and they dropped debate and it's some decisions are made in the best interest of the university and the department, and there's not an open forum before the policy is made."

Contact reporter Clay Helms at clay.helms@richmond.edu