By Ken Reed

USC athletic director Pat Haden is boasting about how progressive his school is by offering four-year scholarships to football and men’s and women’s basketball players.

In a statement yesterday, Haden said, “In taking this action, USC hopes to help lead the effort to refocus on student-athlete welfare on and off the field.”

I’m sure Haden is bruised today from patting himself on the back so excessively yesterday. It’s somewhat ironic that USC is boasting about leading the way on the student-welfare front, given it’s fairly sordid history of NCAA rules violations, probations, etc.

Haden didn’t mention a couple things. For one thing, USC is far from the first school to take this action since the NCAA re-allowed four-year scholarships in 2011. Several Big Ten schools already offer four-years scholarships, as do a few other schools in the major conferences. Moreover, Northwestern has taken a bigger step, offering four-year scholarships in every sport on campus. USC’s plan is to only offer revenue sport athletes the four-year option.

Nevertheless, a high-profile school like USC taking this action is a positive.

Four-year scholarships (they should become five-year scholarships if an athlete is red-shirted) empower student-athletes and protect them from over-zealous coaches and athletic directors who currently have the power to drop athletes from scholarship due to injury or athletic performance – even if the athlete is excelling in the classroom. In practice, one-year “renewable” scholarships are really one-year “revocable” scholarships. That’s not a system that values athletes as students. It’s a system that’s unethical and unfair to the students.

Multi-year scholarships were once the norm in the NCAA. The NCAA dropped multi-year scholarships in favor of one-year revocable scholarships in 1973. The move saved coaches and athletic directors money while simultaneously giving them more power and control over their athletes.

Today, coaches have a great amount of control over college scholarship athletes, on and off the playing fields and courts, including where they live, what they eat, when they eat, what campus activities they can partake in, how long they can go home in the summer, and in some cases, what classes they take. From the athletes’ perspective, under a one-year revocable scholarship system, sports have to be their top priority on campus or they risk losing their financial aid. A student that’s fully meeting a school’s academic standards, as well as team rules for his/her sport, should not have a scholarship pulled because the coach believes the student’s athletic performance is subpar.

A four-year scholarship system is a significant improvement. But there is still room for abuse. USC, Northwestern and other schools now offering four-year scholarships must put policies in place that prevent coaches or athletic directors from running off (literally, in some cases) athletes they deem aren’t performing well enough.

To maximize protections for student-athletes, all athletic scholarships, should be managed by the institution’s financial aid office. Of course, coaches would retain the right to offer athletic scholarships to whomever they wish if the students meet NCAA and institution requirements. However, after the athlete accepts the scholarship offer, management of the scholarship would move to the school’s financial aid office.

The fact several big-time athletic departments are now offering four-year scholarships vs. one-year revocable scholarships is a positive trend, one that hopefully will pick up momentum across the NCAA. However, there are still many miles to go on the college reform front. Scholarships are just one area needing significant reform.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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