A Little Student-Athlete Leverage: NCAA Institutions Roll Out Multiyear Scholarships

07/02/2012 03:51 pm ET | Updated Sep 01, 2012

Student-athletes about to sign NCAA National Letters of Intent may receive multiyear scholarships instead of the one year renewable scholarships that have been the standard since 1973 (I know too well because that was the year I entered college and got the news that my athletic scholarship would be renewed on a year-to-year basis). This multiyear scholarship of two to five years has been an option for NCAA member institutions since first being approved by the NCAA Division I Board of Directors last October and affirmed following a failed attempt at overriding the action of the Board in February of this year. However, this will be the first full recruiting season that the rule is not subject to a membership override vote.

So, as a reminder (or first notice) to all of those student-athletes -- and parents -- heading into this National Letter of Intent recruiting season, ask the right questions. What should recruited student-athletes and their parents be asking recruiting coaches? "Are you offering me a multiyear award?" The answer given by the coach will provide a recruit both valuable information as to a school's level of interest in him or her as well as how an offer from a school providing a multiyear scholarship compares with a school awarding only a one year renewable scholarship. It is expected that the answers will vary.

Where are we in the evolution of this multiyear scholarship process? Not all schools and conferences are on board. 330 institutions voted in the attempt to override and of that number 62.12 percent voted to override the multiyear rule. A 62.5 majority of those voting was required to override the rule. So, obviously, there was not overwhelming love for this change. This will probably be a fluid process with this coming academic year, in all sports, being one to watch closely. In the end it is all about competing for students to attend and play sports for a given school.

The objections by opposing NCAA member institutions range from the financial impact the increased scholarship/financial commitment will have on their school (read, this will add further to the already out of control "college sports financial arms race") to the negative impact on coaches to create teams in their image (coaches can be saddled with players that a previous coach made a mistake in recruiting).

The one year renewable path was set in the 1973. It was this original move away from multiyear scholarships that allowed, in the worst instances, that players could be "run off" so that their scholarships could be taken and redistributed to players that better met the needs of the coach. Those cases were made worse if that former student-athlete had no way to continue to pay to attend that institution once he or she lost their athletic scholarship.

Under the former rule scholarships were renewed annually and could be taken away for virtually any reason. Schools may now, if they choose, guarantee scholarships for the student-athlete's entire collegiate career and further not be able to revoke the scholarship based solely on athletic performance. But the pressure remains on student-athletes to remain students, because scholarships could still be taken away due to poor grades, academic misconduct or other forms of improper behavior.

At some levels there may be an institutional or conference decision not to award multiyear scholarships. In those instances, it may be difficult for a coach to have an exception made in a given setting for an individual student-athlete. But aspiring student-athletes should be aware that the NCAA rules now allow for the possibility. As is the case so often in life, if you don't ask you might not get.