Multi-year Scholarships: Why Not Ask?

Submitted by Brian on May 31st, 2013 at 3:50 PM


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The NCAA repealed a longstanding prohibition on multi-year scholarships a couple years back. Uptake has been surprisingly slow, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette details:

…nearly two years after that legislation, multiyear scholarships are rare, not publicized by universities and largely unknown by the athletes. According to data of 82 universities at the Division I-A level obtained by the Post-Gazette through open records requests, only 16 have offered more than 10 multiyear scholarships. Thirty-two of the universities have offered between one and 10, and thirty-four have not offered any.

Ryan Squire, the associate athletics director for compliance at Illinois, remembers that when the legislation was passed in 2011 many schools "were all calling around saying, 'What are you going to do, what are you going to do?' And they said, 'We're kind of going to hope other schools aren't doing it.'"

Ryan Squire can get away with saying that because Illinois is an exception to the rule, giving a "majority" of its athletes four-year deals. Fresno State has gone all-in. Michigan State has gone four-year-exclusive in football. Most everyone else has tried to avoid the topic altogether.

This is an issue that shouldn't exist at all anymore. Schools should no longer have a total limit of scholarship athletes in any sport, but rather yearly caps that encourage retention instead of summary execution. In an environment where every stakeholder with an ounce of power is busy holding down costs that aren't administrator salaries, that's never going to happen.

There is a point in time during which the students have the power: when they're being recruited. If Jabrill Peppers wants a four-year deal at Michigan, or anywhere else, Michigan will trip over itself to get him the proper paperwork. If a marginal recruit isn't offered one, he knows the deal. The common theme in these stories, however, is that players—and I imagine by extension their parents—are at best vaguely aware of the terms of their scholarship:

"The multiyear, the first one, I think," said Boyd, a Clairton High School student who signed with the Panthers in February.

He thought about it for a moment longer. He then asked his coach, Tom Nola. Boyd reconsidered. In fact, he thought, his scholarship lasted for only one year with a renewal option.

"I've never had a parent bring it up to me and I'm around a lot of people," says Montour High School football coach Lou Cerro. "I'm not sure why the NCAA and the coaches are keeping this a secret. It doesn't make any sense."

"I'm not sure," tight end Brent Wilkerson said. "I hope I'm on scholarship for four years."

Penn State safety Malcolm Willis said he was on a renewable scholarship and preferred it this way, saying, "you have to earn your scholarship."

John Infante:

“The bigger failure is not that the school isn’t adopting” multiyear aid, John Infante, a former compliance officer at Colorado State University, told us, “but that we’re not seeing this market develop where kids know there is the potential for multiyear scholarships and negotiating for that.”

So what to do?

Well, isn't this somewhat on recruiting reporters? Recruiting reporters are the number one avenue that recruits have to express themselves in the media; I'd guess the ratio of reporter contact to coach contact most recruits have is 10:1. Coaches are obviously loathe to mention the possibility of multi-year aid; reporters shouldn't be.

But I have literally never seen an article in which the reporter asked whether Recruit X is seeking a multiyear scholarship and which schools are amenable to that request. Not only is that information interesting, but by asking the kids you get the kids to ask the schools and hopefully chip away at the gap between the rules and recruits' knowledge of them. This goes triple for anyone covering Michigan State or Illinois or Fresno State (if recruiting reporters covering Fresno State exist), schools that will look on that sort of question as beneficial to their interests.

Ask the kids about which schools are offering them four-year rides, and the mystery of slow uptake will resolve itself either way.



May 31st, 2013 at 4:05 PM ^

When the NCAA first announced the policy change, I assumed coaches would use it to their advantage in recruiting. if you are Mark Dantonio, why wouldn't you ask Drake Harris whether M promised him a four-year ride? I guesd because then MAC coaches might ask the same thing of State recruits. Still, you eventually reach a bottom.


May 31st, 2013 at 4:11 PM ^

Eh, I don't think it would matter much: recruits are confident in their ability, and the (better) team offering the renewable scholarship will just tell the recruit "as long as you work hard and stay in the right, your scholarship will be renewed" the recruit will see no difference between the 1-year and 4-year.  After all, how many recruits have their scholarship unrenewed (save Bama and LSU)?


May 31st, 2013 at 4:24 PM ^

Recruits think they are invincible.  Because we keep telling them they are.  

We live in an era where an entire high school lets out early so that all the students can fill the gym so that some miscellaneous 3-star linebacker that nobody's heard of can announce where he is going to college.

Unfortunately, the really good recruits don't actually think they will be in school for 4 years.  The marginal recruits are looking to move up the D1 school food chain and are not willing to rock the boat by demanding a 4 year scholarship from Wisconsin when the only offers they have are from MAC schools.

Marley Nowell

May 31st, 2013 at 4:20 PM ^

No one ever thinks they will be the one who doesn't become a starter and have to worry about maintaining their scholarship.  I am surprised that more parents aren't asking about this.


May 31st, 2013 at 4:32 PM ^

Has Michigan ever not renewed a scholarship for a player that is in good academic standing, but is a marginal conributer to the team athletically?

I know some fifth year scholarships have not been extended, but that is for players that have or should have graduated in 4 years.  

I can't think of any marginal players that have been outright booted.

Note that even Alabama does not typically cancel scholarships.  They funnel the players they are trying to cut into medical hardship cases where they can't play on the team but can still keep a scholarship.  That may be why you don't hear more protest about the lack of 4 year scholarships.


snarling wolverine

May 31st, 2013 at 4:49 PM ^

Yeah, I think most schools have operated all along under the assumption that a scholarship is a four-year promise.  The debate seems to be largely splitting hairs.  If there's a reason why most coaches won't officially commit to four-year scholarships when they're unofficially doing it, it probably has something to do with discipline; perhaps it's harder to kick a guy off the team if he has a four-year ride?  

Bo Glue

May 31st, 2013 at 6:31 PM ^

I disagree that there is an insignificant difference between a renewable scholarship and a four-year scholarship after reading articles like this one:

Some schools are definitely predatory and a four-year scholarship would make it the school's best interest to protect their atheletes.


May 31st, 2013 at 6:49 PM ^

Playing devil's advocate here, but under what circumstances can a multi-year scholarship be revoke?  I assume failing academically can get your scholarship revoked, but is that confirmed as true?

What about being a scumbag?  Can your multi-year scholarship be revoked if you commit a crime?  What if you're just a jerkbag who stops trying during practice?

Seems like there's quite a few schools who do not offer multi-year scholarships but still effectively honor scholarships for multiple years irrespective of on-field performance.  Maybe they opt for single year scholarships to hold kids accountable and prevent them from devolving to complete d-bags, which I feel like is not necessarily a bad thing.


May 31st, 2013 at 4:34 PM ^

You are dealing with largely naive teenagers on one side and opportunistic admins on the other, I'm not shocked in the slightest how little had come from this rule change. Everyone wants to keep his options open. And while I am not aware of the terms of a multi year scholarship, my guess is that it has common context requirements, including binding clauses for both parties. So if a kid signs with MSU for four years but wants to leave, who is to say that the school would release him. With single year scholarships, a kid can presumably leave at the end of the year, with all the usual hoops excepted

snarling wolverine

May 31st, 2013 at 4:40 PM ^

Schools should no longer have total limit of scholarship athletes in any sport, but rather yearly caps that encourage retention instead of summary execution.

What is the difference between a limit and a cap here?


May 31st, 2013 at 4:44 PM ^

Yearly cap = you can offer no more than 25 scholarships per year.  If you retain all guys, every year, in theory you could maintain 125 scholarship athletes on your team.


So, perhaps put more clearly (IF I understand Brian correctly), a yearly cap would still have an overall limit (unless Brian means you accept transfers en masse over and above the 125 hypothetical number I posed), but the focus would be on yearly limits to encourage retention from year to year.


May 31st, 2013 at 5:09 PM ^

I think what Brian is suggesting, and I very much agree with this, is there is no overall limit, just the annual limit.  Trasnfers would count toward your annual number.  That way, there is no incentive to "make room" either by coaxing guys to transfer or medical hardship or whatever.  Teams would actually have an incentive to keep guys on the team because, even if that kid isn't as good as they though, he's still better than no one, and if your retention is very good, you could have over 100 scholarship players at any given time.  This is an advantage, but one you have earned by doing things the right way.  And I'm all for that.  


June 3rd, 2013 at 9:03 PM ^

Who is to say the limit would be 25 per year?  I would think the annual cap would be closer to 17; 17x5=85.  The reason, Title IX.   Smaller schools (read smaller money) won't quietly stand for it if football scholarships are effectively raised to 100+, that means there must be that many more scholarships for females.  The very reason why football scholarships were reduced to 85.


May 31st, 2013 at 5:09 PM ^

I don't know what our paperwork officially says, but I think we can safely assume a scholarship offer from Michigan does not come with strings attached (other than staying academically eligible and out of trouble).  There are countless examples of guys who never made an impact on the playing field but were here until graduation.  




May 31st, 2013 at 5:17 PM ^

The spirit of your comment is right, but I feel it necessary to point out that there are an enormous number of strings you failed to mention, particularly related to amateurism. In response to a post about a gripe, let's not forget to gripe. 


May 31st, 2013 at 5:29 PM ^

The amateurism requirements apply to athletes all schools.  It's not something particular to Michigan.

If the question is, "Aside from fulfill NCAA responsibilities and not get in legal trouble, what does a student-athlete at Michigan need to do to hang onto his/her scholarship?," then the answer appears to be "nothing in particular." 




May 31st, 2013 at 5:46 PM ^

It's not really speculating.  We are a rather in the know website/fanbase.  Speculating would be "Michigan usually does the right thing, so I'm sure we do the right thing here too."  But this is more of "I've not heard of Michigan attaching strings to their scholarships outside of asking a player to stay eligible and out of trouble."

snarling wolverine

May 31st, 2013 at 5:42 PM ^

I don't think it's fair to say that "recruits shouldn't trust schools."  Yeah, we all read about the crazy grayshirting cases and such, but the vast majority of college athletes don't go through that.  Most stay on scholarship for four years at the school that recruited them.  

And regarding U-M in particular, why should a recruit not trust Hoke or Beilein?  When have they ever cut a kid for on-field performance?




May 31st, 2013 at 5:52 PM ^

I don't think they're simply saying "trust us."  They're saying "look at how we've handled this in the past." 

Think of a job interview.  When asked if you're good for this position, one guy says "Yes, I'm good.  Trust me." and the other guy hands over his resume and references showing how he has performed that job well in the past.  

Or maybe the better analogy is an interview, but the other way around.  A prospective employee asks for benefits, and one employer says "Trust me, we'll get you benefits" while the other employer says "We've always given all of our employees an outstanding benefit package.  Feel free to speak with any of them about it and I'm sure they'll agree."

NYC Blue

May 31st, 2013 at 5:00 PM ^

As others have said above- how many instances of schools pulling scholarships after, say, 2 years are there?

There is that quote from the player saying he wants to "earn" each year, but no one is kicked off the team for poor performance.

Players lose scholarships for cause- arrests etc.  If the argument is that these players should have 4 years guaranteed regardless of how they conduct themselves, then I fail to see the imperative here. (that being said, I am sure that even 4 year scholarships have clauses allowing them to be revoked in these cases)

Please, Brian or someone else who feels strongly about 4 year scholarships- can you explain the concern to me?


May 31st, 2013 at 5:12 PM ^

I think such instances are probably limited to -- ahem ahem -- other schools in the southern region of the country, however, data alone on that wouldn't tell the whole story, I'm assuming.

That is -- and I don't know that this happens, but we can all infer based on what we read -- those numbers wouldn't include kids who weren't contributing fast enough (say, first two years) that were strongly encouraged to transfer, or cold-shouldered by the staff, etc.

And above all this, I guess I fall on this side of it; for everyone saying, "it's not necessary, it's rare that it happens," I'd respond, "it's also really easy;  if it's rare that a kid's schollie isn't renewed unless there's very good reason, why not formalize that 4 year commitment with appropriate revocation clauses for 'good reason'?"  In other words, to those that think the informal practice is essentially 4 year scholarships, what's the objection to formalizing it?  Any contract has a revocation clause... but formalizing the 4 year scholarship might clean up some of the nefarious behavior that is suspected to be going on at some schools, at no real cost, you know?

snarling wolverine

May 31st, 2013 at 5:21 PM ^

I have no objection to the 4-year rule, but it seems to me that's it's mostly a bureaucratic issue and not really the groundbreaking change that some (including Brian apparently) think it is.

Regarding guys being encouraged to transfer . . . how would a 4-year ride do anything to change that?  Actually, wouldn't a coach have even more incentive to do that kind of stuff if his underachieving guys are on 4-year scholarships?



May 31st, 2013 at 5:29 PM ^

And let me be clear -- I like the 4 year scholarship, but I'm not storming the castle over it. I just *think* I understand Brian's point, and if so, I tend to agree with it.


To your question -- maybe, but frankly, I think it would more likely encourage coaches to -- you  know, coach! -- kids who aren't insta-starters, developing them rather than cutting bait with them for the next hot recruit (again; anecdotally, this practice seems rare and limited to certain schools in the SEC). 


Coaches would likely think twice about straight up blackballing a kid becaus some kids might say, "fine, I still love this school," and other players will see the shitty treatment the coach is giving him.  All speculation, but my *guess* is that the implied threat of nonrenewal -- even if rarely used -- is a tool coaches can use.  And I'd be for taking that implied threat away.

NYC Blue

May 31st, 2013 at 7:13 PM ^

I love me some SEC bashing as much as the next guy, but there is no evidence of this happening anywhere.

I am as loud as any (well, maybe not ANY) to criticize Saban's abuse of the medical rules to get players off the team.  And I think that oversigning is pretty sleazy.  But with folks like Brian and others watching (and I am not disparaging them, I want them to watch like hawks for abuses), we have never, to my knowledge, heard of any team abusing the 1 year scholarship by not renewing a player for performance related issues.

So, given all the attention paid to Division I schools, I believe that this is a rule that even the most slimy of coaches will not abuse.  And NOT because they are such good people, or because they care about the athletes, but simply because if they took away a player's scholarship for poor play, there would be such a massive (justifiable) outcry that the coach/AD would lose their jobs, the 1 year scholarship would be banned, and the school would be at a huge disadvantage in further recruiting.

And I looked at the Atlantic article referenced by the poster above.  It was all about schools giving poor (or no) medical care to players.  Absolutely disgraceful, but of no relevance to the discussion we are having here.



The FannMan

May 31st, 2013 at 5:38 PM ^

Or the NCAA could mandate that schools must notify recruits of the issue with a plain statement. Something that says, "NCAA institutions can offer single or multi-year scholarships" should work. This should be required early in the process. Then require each LOI to have two boxes and make the school check one box before the kid signs. That way, the recruit know what he is getting and what the other option is.

(This does assume that the NCAA wants the kids to know the rules. Now, lets check the weather in Hell.)

Jaqen H'ghar

May 31st, 2013 at 9:07 PM ^

Even people who pay (regular students) for all of their schooling aren't guaranteed for 4 years (or more) of schooling. Two straight semesters of academic probation and you are out. If you have to perform to a certain standard even when you are paying for everything you should have to perform to a certain standard when everything is free.


May 31st, 2013 at 10:44 PM ^

If all scholarships were held against the tally for 4 full years, regardless of what happens to the student, it would change the incentives for the offering school dramatically. Offering schools would be less likely to on students who have high risks of not completing - poor grades, behavioral problems, etc, and be more likely to try to help people along who are struggling. Right now it's better to have someone off the team than on the bench because it frees up a slot earlier. Similarly, if there were a max # of slots per year, rather than at a time, people wouldn't get "hinted" off the team, assigned fake injuries, etc, for the same reason. These are really positive changes. These would require NCAA to make rules changes that would help the students and cost the schools money, so they're impossible.

They're also not exactly what Brian seems to be talking about. A school making a promise is cool because it raises the bar for a commitment. This is a nice change, also, though less important. 


June 2nd, 2013 at 1:03 AM ^

The only way 4 year v. 1 year distinction matters is if the scholarship slot is taken whether or not the player is still there.

Think of it this way.  The only way a player loses his one year renewable scholarship is if he breaks the rules or has academic trouble.  The only way a player would lose a 4 year guarantee would be to break the rules or academic trouble.

Its the same thing either way beacause coaches are not deciding to cancel the scholarships early for any reason other than rule breaking or academics.

If coaches were actually making judgement decisions on players on the basis of performance each year, then itd be a different matter.  But they arent so 1 year v 4 year is irrelevant.

The only problem is oversigning and medicaling kids.  A scholarship should be held against the school the MINUTE the student signs their LOI.  So you would have to be under the 85 limit in February, and there would be no more last minute situations where Les Miles pulls your scholly right before fall camp.  Monitoring medical exemptions would be tough though, outside of needing the approval of a neutral doctor as opposed to a team doctor to apply for a medical.


June 1st, 2013 at 1:25 AM ^

My sense is that multi-year schollies are setting the stage for student athlete compensation. Now a legal argument can be made for money on the table. If I'm the number one recruit in the country, I can demand a 4 year scholarship valued at $40k x 4 = $160,000. But based on my potential, I'm probably going to be a draft pick in year 2 or 3. So now there's a monetary value promised in consideration for services rendered (playing sports) that extends past a guaranteed term (only the first year). I can at least craft a claim for the full monetary value of my scholly then in year 1, or spread it over the full term just to pay for my education, room and board. But if you're a 1 and done, I'd demand the full value of the 4 year scholly and make a claim that year.

There are finer legal points to flesh out, but I'd feel confident enough attempting the claim.


June 1st, 2013 at 9:37 AM ^

I'm wondering, too, if the four-year value of that scholarship also needs to go on the books when the LOI is signed.  That might put the athletic department in the hole for that $160,000 right away as opposed to the $40,000 they're currently booking annually because they have to account for it as a liability/payable on their books.  A school the size of Michigan shouldn't have an issue with that, but with the recent articles about how many programs are running in the red already, that could be a big deal.  In three years, it'd net out about the same, but years one and two could be tough for a tight budget.

In Michigan's case, I have to assume it's a blend of "we're Michigan Men, fergodsakes, our Word is our Bond" and a reluctance to dip into the budget lines allocated for "Administrative Excellence Bonuses" or "Fan Excitement Enhancements!"


June 1st, 2013 at 9:50 AM ^

this really sucks!. i am sorry but give a kid a  scholarship if he is good enough. the one year stuff is not fair. school is also to learn about life. he plays good for a year. he has an off year. then you let him go. WELCOME TO SEC!