Miscellany

Four-Year Scholarships: The Right Thing To Do, But The Net Effect is Unclear

Four-year scholarships. The B1G encouraged schools to offer them. Other conferences allowed schools to do so. The NCAA is expected to approve them formally within the month. We know at least eight Big Ten schools (Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Illinois) offered them, as did two SEC programs, Auburn and Florida. They are being treated as kind of a big deal, but how significant are they?

Ethically, this is the appropriate thing to do. If the argument against paying college football players is schools providing education, they should guarantee student-athletes the opportunity to complete that education. The practical effect, however, will be more nebulous.

Having the four-year scholarships in place, prevents schools from terminating a kid’s scholarship for something other than academic or disciplinary issues. Theoretically, this protects kids from being a victim of habitual over-signing or being cut by a new coach who wants to hasten the roster turnover (looking at you, Mora). Theoretically.

One trouble is schools will be allowed to offer those full scholarships, not forced. Unless conferences step up, programs that don’t “roster manage,” such as most of the Big Ten, will enact the reform immediately. Programs that do roster manage, certain programs in the SEC, will stick with the one-year renewables. This may offer the four-year schools a recruiting advantage. We’re guessing Auburn will use the scholarships while recruiting against Alabama, but will this outweigh the competitive advantage Alabama gets by culling the weak? Nick Saban’s nefarious reputation is well known. He has landed four of the last five No. 1 recruiting classes.

Another trouble is that even if the four-year scholarships are in place, how much does it change things? It’s rare that a player just has his scholarship revoked, and much of the rest of the chicanery around doing so wouldn’t be covered. Looking at Saban’s casualties, he had 20 discounting Arron Douglas between National Signing Day on August during 2010 and 2011 (Penn State had two during the same period). Six players received medical hardships (must’ve been those collisions at SEC speed), two greyshirted, one decided to play baseball, two were declared academically ineligible. That leaves eight transfers and three non-renewals. Of the non-renewals, Terry Grant and Travis Sikes were not offered fifth years. Rod Woodson was a disciplinary case.

Some might speculate, with little concrete evidence, a significant percentage of the transfers and, perhaps, the inordinate number of medical hardships were Nick Saban telling an upperclassman he had no chance to play and offering him those options. A four-year scholarship would prevent a coach from wielding the explicit termination threat, but does having that protection change a player’s circumstances? Peer and top-down pressure probably force him to accept the medical hardship or transfer anyway, regardless of his right to stay.

A four-year scholarship is the right thing to do. It’s sweet reassurance for the kids at certain schools, but, in practical terms, it could end up being empty PR.

[Photo via Getty]

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