The fundamentals of the NCAA's scholarship policies regarding major college football have been in place for a while now: no more than 85 players on scholarship at a time, no more than 25 new scholarships issued in a year, each scholarship must be renewed after each year.
According to former Rice student and football player Joseph Agnew (and at Rice, it's fair to apply both those terms), it's those policies that led to his football scholarship being "canceled" in the wake of an Owl coaching change. Which is why he's filed a class-action lawsuit in an effort to force the NCAA to change two of them:
The lawsuit accuses the NCAA and its member schools of violating federal antitrust laws and asks the court to rule the NCAA's limit on scholarships and prohibition of multi-year grants unlawful. It also asks for a jury trial ...Agnew's argument is that if Rice either had more than 85 scholarships to distribute or didn't have the option to leave his scholarship unrenewed, he would still be at Rice. If the suit is successful, the NCAA could be forced to either increase or abandon the 85-scholarship limit on FBS rosters, or allow programs to offer recruits multiyear packages that would eliminate the need for an annual renewal.
"The NCAA is reviewing the allegations," the NCAA's Bob Williams said in an e-mail to USA TODAY. "However, it should be noted that the award of athletic scholarships on a one-year, renewable basis is the more typical approach taken within higher education for talent-based and academic scholarships in general."
Either development would change the face of college football as we know it. Remove the limit of 85, and rosters at the sport's "football factory" programs return to the pre-limit days of 100-plus scholarship players, sucking much of the parity out of the game; allow schools to offer multiyear packages and the pendulum could swing the other way, as smaller schools willing to take a chance could offer academic- or character-risk prospects four-year guarantees larger programs might not be willing to extend.
The potential impact makes this a story that must be followed as it proceeds through the courts. Unfortunately, this blogger is certainly no lawyer and has no idea how much merit the suit carries. (Though he can say the "academic scholarship" analogy drawn by the NCAA doesn't appear to hold water; academic scholarships have specific performance requirements spelled out in writing for their renewal, whereas football scholarships can be annulled simply on the head coach's whim, a key difference.)
That the suit hasn't drawn more attention to date suggests that it may not come to much, but until we know for certain, it's possible that a previously unheard-of former defensive back from Rice could become one of the most important figures in college football.