Challenge to NCAA scholarship plan falls short

Posted Feb. 17, 2012, at 8:08 p.m.

INDIANAPOLIS — The NCAA plan to offer multiyear scholarships will go forward.

The NCAA said Friday that 62.1 percent of 330 Division 1 schools called for an override during an online vote this week, falling just short of the 62.5 percent majority needed. Some 90 percent of the Division I membership voted.

“I am pleased that student-athletes will continue to benefit from the ability of institutions to offer athletics aid for more than one year, but it’s clear that there are significant portions of the membership with legitimate concerns,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said. “As we continue to examine implementation of the rule, we want to work with the membership to address those concerns.”

The rule was put in place last October, giving schools the option to offer multiyear scholarships instead of those that need to be renewed annually. It took effect immediately and a number of schools confirmed on the Feb. 1 national signing day they would be giving out scholarships that no longer have to be renewed annually, including Ohio State, Auburn, Michigan, Michigan State, Florida and Nebraska.

Critics of the annual scholarships had said athletes were unfairly losing them for poor performance or after they had become injured.

Still, there was enough opposition to the multiyear scholarship plan to force the override vote. In January, NCAA leaders decided against making any changes, with board members saying it was intended to improve student-athlete well-being and noting that the rule wasn’t mandatory.

“I recognize the complexities of this issue. The impact of staying the course is relatively minor,” Emmert said in January. “If we err, it will be on the side of students.”

Middle Tennessee State President Sidney McPhee, who led the working group that proposed the multiyear grants, said his group will work to address any concerns.

Those opposed to the multiyear scholarships contend the change will cause multiple problems. Some say wealthy schools have a built-in recruiting advantage, particularly because each school could decide whether to keep the annual scholarships or adopt the new system.

Other schools, such as Indiana State, wrote to the NCAA that many coaches, particularly in the Football Championship Subdivision where the Sycamores play, don’t stay for five years. The school believes that by making longer commitments to athletes, new coaches could be forced to keep players that don’t fit their system for multiple years.

The new rule would allow scholarships to be awarded for as little as two years, for junior college transfers, or as long as four or five years for incoming freshmen.

In recent years, annual scholarships have come under more scrutiny, including a preliminary inquiry from the Justice Department that did not go any further. The scholarship change has many supporters, too, including some who are regular critics of the NCAA.

“I’ve always said we should give multiyear scholarships, and not that those can’t be taken away, but right now the athlete has no rights,” David Ridpath, past president of The Drake Group, said in October. “The coach can cancel those for any reason, and the reason usually is they find a prettier girl to bring to the dance.”

Another controversial proposal — the $2,000 stipend for scholarship athletes to cover miscellaneous expenses — is still under review. Options are expected to be discussed in April.

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