Morris: Time for all SEC schools to offer four-year scholarships

July 15, 2014 

SEC Media Days

SEC commissioner Mike Slive

BUTCH DILL — AP

— A DIRTY LITTLE secret exists in college athletics, and it has to do with multi-year scholarships for student-athletes. Many athletics departments across the country are beginning to offer four-year scholarships to their athletes. Here is the catch: They apparently do not want folks to know about it.

Mike Slive, the SEC commissioner and one of the most powerful voices in college athletics, spoke Monday at SEC Media Days about the importance of continuing to provide a top-level athletics experience within the confines of an academic setting. One avenue toward that end would be for all athletics programs to offer multi-year scholarships to athletes, most of whom currently are offered one-year, renewable deals.

Yet, after Slive addressed the media, he was asked how many SEC programs have taken advantage of the NCAA option – allowed beginning in 2012 – to offer multi-year scholarships.

“I don’t know the answer to that,” Slive said. “I know several of my schools provided multi-year scholarships (in 2013-14), but I don’t know the number.”

You might find it curious that the commissioner of a conference does not know the numbers behind an action he has pushed to the NCAA and to his member schools. You might also ask why these programs are not promoting what appears to be a noble move that can benefit student-athletes in pursuit of a college degree.

The skinny is that programs do not want to give negotiating power to athletes. The last thing one coach at one program wants to hear from an athlete is that another coach at another program is offering a four-year scholarship. Athletics programs already have the upper hand in this process because most prospective scholarship athletes – and their parents – do not know they can negotiate a longer deal.

Then there is the underlying problem coaches have with offering multi-year scholarships. If an athlete is guaranteed a four-year scholarship, a coach can no longer pull that scholarship based solely on athletic ability, or lack thereof. Under the one-year deals, the scholarships are renewable at the discretion of the coach.

“We played a leading role in promoting the multi-year scholarships (to the NCAA),” Slive said of the SEC. “We played a big role in that. So, it’s something we’ve been in favor of for a long time. ... Personally, I encourage it. I felt very strongly that we needed to have multi-year scholarships.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that six schools from the six most influential Division I conferences awarded at least 24 multi-year scholarships in the year between the spring of 2012 and spring of 2013. No numbers are available for the past school year.

The Big Ten Conference appears to have taken the lead in issuing multi-year scholarships, or at least in announcing that schools are beginning the practice. According to ESPN.com, nearly all Big Ten members have stopped offering one-year, renewable scholarships to most prospective athletes.

That might be true in the SEC, as well, but no league school is voluntarily releasing such information or promoting the idea of offering four-year scholarships. Thus, most athletes have no idea that schools are making such offers.

When asked, USC said it awarded a total of five multi-year scholarships in all sports for the 2013-14 school year.

“We anticipate more than 20 multi-year scholarships will be (in effect) for the 2014-2015 academic year,” said Ray Tanner, USC’s athletics director, via email. “Currently, our head coaches make the decision on whether or not it is a one-year scholarship or multi-year.”

Tanner said the majority of one-year scholarships that are not renewed are because of academic or disciplinary issues. He also said USC has an appeals process in place for athletes whose scholarships are not renewed.

“I’m of the opinion that all scholarships could be four-year and beyond with specific parameters,” Tanner said. “I will meet with all our head coaches before I give my full endorsement.”

In late June, Southern California became the latest school to give its full endorsement by announcing that it will offer four-year scholarships to all athletes in football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball.

“In taking this action, USC hopes to help lead the effort to refocus on student-athlete welfare on and off the field,” Southern California athletics director Pat Haden said in a statement released by the school.

In addition to being the proper thing to do for academic purposes, Southern California probably also recognized the value a multi-year scholarship offers in recruiting. Offering a four-year scholarship is a nice chip to place on the table of a prospective athlete. Even better, Southern California announced its intentions publicly.

Let’s hope all schools follow suit.

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