Schools object to scholarship plan
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- For the second time in less than two weeks, schools are objecting to a reform measure sought by university presidents and endorsed by NCAA president Mark Emmert.
More than 75 schools are asking to override a plan approved in October to allow multi-year athletic scholarships rather than the one-year renewable awards schools currently provide. That's the minimum number of dissenters needed for reconsideration by the Division I Board of Directors when it meets next month in Indianapolis at the annual NCAA convention. The NCAA announced the change the Friday before Christmas.
On Dec. 15, the NCAA suspended plans to give athletes a $2,000 stipend for living costs not covered by scholarships after at least 125 schools objected. The higher number of protests allows the organization to immediately put the change on hold.
Both measures were pushed by Emmert and adopted as emergency legislation after a presidential summit in August.
"The NCAA and presidents step up with this legislation and then the universities want to vote it down," said Christian Dennie, a former compliance officer at Missouri and Oklahoma who now practices sports law in Fort Worth, Texas, and writes an NCAA oversight blog.
"They say, `We don't have enough money,' and then the coach gets a $2 million raise," Dennie added, speaking in general terms rather than about a specific school. "It's really a resource allocation issue."
The Division I Board of Directors now faces three options: scrap the two reform measures and operate under previous NCAA rules; modify the rule or create a new proposal that would go back to the schools for another 60-day comment period; or allow members to vote on the override, which needs a 5/8ths majority of the roughly 350 Division I members to pass.
A permanent reversal could force the NCAA and its schools to have two sets of standards, with an obligation to honor multi-year scholarship offers and stipend payments for some students but not others.
David Berst, the NCAA's vice president of governance for Division I, said that most schools support the concept of multi-year scholarships but have concerns about how to enact such a change.
"The overriding concern had to do with the time to prepare and plan (for a change) rather than objecting to the concept," he said. "I'm anticipating the rule will still be in effect (after the next board meeting)."
The list of schools objecting to the multi-year scholarship plan, obtained by Dennie and provided to The Associated Press, includes Boise State, Boston University, Indiana State, Marquette, Marshall, Rutgers, Utah, Vermont and Wyoming.
Boise State called the move a "recruiting disaster" that would encourage a "culture of brokering" and pit wealthy schools with larger recruiting budgets against their less well-heeled brethren, while also obligating schools to long-term commitments that may not make competitive sense.
"There is never a guarantee that the incoming student-athlete will be a good fit for the program and the institution," the school wrote in its override request. "If it is a poor fit, the program is put in a difficult situation to continue to keep a student-athlete on scholarship."
Indiana State offered a more blunt assessment, suggesting the change could "create some real nightmares."
The "problem is, many coaches, especially at the (Football Championship Subdivision) level, in all sports, are usually not around for five years and when the coach leaves, the new coach and institution may be `stuck' with a student-athlete they no longer want (conduct issues, grades, etc.) or the new coach may have a completely different style of offense/defense that the student-athlete no longer fits into," the school wrote. "Yet, the institution is `locked in' to a five-year contract potentially with someone that is of no athletic usefulness to the program."
"The current system works. We don't need to get into bidding wars where one school offers a 75 percent (scholarship) for two years and the other school then offers 85 percent for three years, etc., etc. This puts the kid into a situation where they almost need an agent/advisor just to determine the best "deal." Again, if it isn't broke, don't fix it."
Berst, who collects the complaints, has previously said the opposition to the stipend is coming primarily from FCS schools and those that do not play football. Most of the Football Bowl Subdivision conferences, he said, have informed the NCAA they plan to expand their scholarship limits.
The one-year renewable scholarship, with a limit of five years of athletic aid, has been in place since 1973. And while the National Letter of Intent signed by most top recruits includes that caveat, some athletes say coaches on the recruiting trail routinely make more grandiose promises they know they can't fulfill.
In October 2010, former Rice University football player Joseph Agnew sued the NCAA over its one-year athletic scholarship policy. Agnew played two seasons for the private Houston school before coaches told him in 2007 his scholarship would not be renewed. He appealed the university's decision and received a scholarship his junior year but did not receive any tuition money as a senior.
A federal judge in Indiana dismissed that complaint in September.
Earlier this month, former Missouri women's soccer player Ann Alexandra Charlebois sued coach Brian Blitz and the university's governing board, claiming that she agreed to attend Missouri only after Blitz vowed in writing to provide more than $106,000 in support through 2015, with the player and her family needing to contribute only half of her college costs in her first year.
Charlebois received a 50 percent partial scholarship in 2010 as a freshman. After complaining about receiving a similar amount of financial aid this year, she was kicked off the team in September, her attorney said.
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Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press
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