NCAA president Mark Emmert has reached out to Division I presidents urging them to support what is becoming the controversial implementation of four-year scholarships.
In a document obtained by CBSSports.com, Emmert asks the presidents to defeat the override proposal on legislation that is allowing four-year scholarships for athletes. Previously, scholarships had been renewed annually, sometimes at the whim of a coach. The four-year measure was approved in October, but 82 schools subsequently signed an override petition.
“It [override] will take away the opportunity for multi-year support for thousands of student-athletes,” Emmert wrote in the letter. “As we are a presidentially led Association, it is important that you direct what the vote of your institution will be. I encourage you to defeat the override of this proposal.”
Presidents can vote online next week beginning Feb. 13 through 5 pm ET on Feb. 17.
The petition required the NCAA board of directors to reconsider. It will take 222 schools out of 355 in Division I to override the measure. Last week various reports stated that the majority of Big Ten schools support the measure, which was encouraged by commissioner Jim Delany. According to those reports at least eight of the conference’s 12 schools awarded four-year scholarships on National Signing Day.
“You’re going to graduate,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said last week. “We have that obligation.”
The rest of the 120 schools in Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) are split at best on the issue based on an informal canvassing of the division’s 11 conferences. SEC commissioner Mike Slive supported the measure as early as July as part of a national reform agenda. Auburn went on record last week as saying it awarded four-year scholarships to its latest recruiting class.
If FBS is split, that suggests that approximately 70 percent of the remaining 235 Division I schools (approximately 162) are going to vote for the override in order to defeat the measure.
If the proposal survives, four-year scholarships would still be optional only for each school. The one-year renewable scholarship has been in effect since 1973. Since then coaches have been able to “cut” athletes for sub-standard performance on the field. The existing proposal would still allow scholarships to be revoked year-to-year due to academic or off-field issues.
Even then, there could be subjective issues defining off-field conduct.
“I’d be surprised, frankly, if it’s overridden,” said Chad Hawley, the Big Ten’s associate commissioner for compliance. “The proposal come out of a working group on student-athlete welfare. Nationally there seems to be a commitment to keeping it in play. I’d be more surprised than not if it went away.”
Supporters are worried about the practice “running off” players who do not fit when a new coach takes over. Critics have said the measure pits large, well-funded athletic departments against smaller schools. The Associated Press reported that Boise State said in its override request that four-year scholarships would be a “recruiting disaster.”
"There is never a guarantee that the incoming student-athlete will be a good fit for the program and the institution," the school stated. "If it is a poor fit, the program is put in a difficult situation to continue to keep a student-athlete on scholarship."
Last month, the board delayed implementation of the annual $2,000 player stipend. It asked that the working group to come back with a modified proposal by April. Even if a new proposal gets through in April, it would have to survive a 60-day comment period. During that time there would be a second chance to override.
Both actions (stipend/scholarships) came out of an August presidential summit in Indianapolis. Critics attacked the stipend for being implemented too soon. Also, there was a concern about affordability, especially for some schools outside of BCS conferences.
The heading of Emmert’s letter states: “Subject: Student-Athlete Well Being” It goes on to state, “ … I need you to participate in the vote. I encourage you to defeat the override of the proposal that will allow student-athletes to receive multi-year scholarships.”