On July 15th, the NCAA’s Division 1 Council voted to adopt legislation that exempts need-and-merit-based financial aid from counting against athletic scholarship limits for partial-scholarship sports. The rule is set to go into place on August 1st, and although there are currently limited details on what the legislation looks like in practice, here are some important implications.
First, this legislation does not do away with athletic scholarship limits. According to Bylaw 15.01.7 of the NCAA’s Division 1 Manual, “Division I may establish limitations on the number of financial aid awards a member institution may provide to countable student-athletes (counters).” This basically means that the NCAA imposes caps on the amount of financial aid college athletes can receive, and these limits vary by sport.
When it comes to scholarship limits, there are basically two categories of college sports: head count and equivalency. A head count sport (football, men’s and women’s basketball, women’s volleyball, women’s tennis, and women’s gymnastics) receives up to a set limit of full ride scholarships to give to athletes on those rosters. For example, a women’s volleyball team can receive up to 12 full scholarships, and funded athletes either get a full ride or nothing at all. Financial aid for equivalency athletes (those who compete in all the Division 1 sports not listed above) is a bit more complex, because a head coach of an equivalency sport receives up to the dollar value of a set number of scholarships to be divided amongst a roster as s/he sees fit.
For example, baseball is an equivalency sport, so baseball coaches receive the equivalent of 11.7 scholarships per team at the beginning of every season, to fund their teams. For reference, a college baseball team usually averages at least twenty athletes per roster which means that baseball players (and all other equivalency athletes) typically compete for tuition OR books OR meals, OR room and board, but not all of these things. Full rides are rare in equivalency sports, and these athletes often have to come up with the rest of their financial aid from outside scholarships or student loans. Football, on the other hand is a head count sport, so football rosters receive 85 full-ride scholarships for 85 scholarship athletes. Although football rosters average over 85 players, all 85 scholarship athletes on a football team receive full rides while the remaining athletes receive no financial aid.
Equivalency athletes are already underfunded, but in addition, according to the current phrasing of Bylaw 22.214.171.124, in equivalency sports, “once a student becomes a counter, the institution shall count all institutional aid” toward their team’s scholarship limit. The NCAA’s new ruling is significant, because it would allow an equivalency athlete to receive a merit or needs-based scholarship in addition to an athletic scholarship in order to fill the gaps in his/her financial aid package without counting against their team’s scholarship limits.
Using baseball as an example again, let’s say that a baseball player received a tuition scholarship for athletics that accounted for a 50% scholarship. If that player were to also receive a merit-based scholarship provided by their institution that filled the other 50%, under the NCAA’s current policy, that player would have cost the team a full scholarship, leaving his coach with 10.7 scholarships left over for the rest of his roster. Now, if that same player receives a 50% merit scholarship in addition to a 50% athletics scholarship, that coach is left with 11.2 scholarships to divide amongst his remaining roster.
Some have argued that the NCAA’s new policy could lend a competitive advantage to better-resourced universities with more merit/needs-based scholarship funding, and that’s a definite possibility. I believe the new rule could also allow coaches of equivalency sports to spread scholarships out more thinly, because it gives coaches much more flexibility in granting smaller partial scholarships. For example, if an equivalency athlete receives a 50% merit scholarship, a coach could potentially grant that athlete a 20% scholarship (for a total 70% scholarship) when s/he was originally planning on giving a 50% athletic scholarship (which would be a full ride when combined with the athlete’s merit scholarship) in order to free up more funding for the rest of the roster. At the end of the day, the athlete still benefits, but coaches aren’t obligated to award full rides under either the current or forthcoming policy.
It is also worth noting that scholarship limits are exactly that: a limit. They are a ceiling, not a benchmark, meaning that these limits are the absolute maximum athletic aid a team can award, and athletic departments are not obligated to fully fund teams. This loophole could come into play in the aftermath of a canceled football season and a potential recession could also negatively impact the number of need/merit-based scholarships universities provide students. The NCAA’s new ruling is promising (if not long overdue), but it doesn’t necessarily mean that more equivalency athletes will receive more athletic funding.
For more NCAA policy insights, follow Katie Lever on Twitter: @leverfever
When doing research in the recruiting process for my daughter I came across the LRT Sports website. I was immediately intrigued as this was another dimension of the recruiting process that many people don't even consider. My daughter and I could "short list" schools based on the education she was looking for, as well as the opportunity to play her sport. LRT Sports not only gave us pertinent information into the recruiting process with different interviews of coaches and players, it also gave us insight into current and/or former players' opinions on the coach of that school in her sport. We could use this information to re-prioritize my daughters list of schools based on this feedback. I have many friends that are, or will be, going through this process shortly and I highly recommend using LRT Sports as part of anyone's recruiting process.
The college process presents a myriad of challenges. Factor in athletics and it becomes even more daunting. Now, add the fact that you have zero experience with sports. What is a the mother of a college bound student-athlete to do? LRT Sports has truly lived up to its promise. It has kept "the college recruiting process honest and easy by providing first hand information about coaches, schools and the recruiting process." Their interviews with current students, coaches, and professional athletes have provided realistic guidance. I am much more informed because of LRT Sports! The coach ratings are the most helpful. LRT Sports interviews allow us to hear from students as to how the adults are impacting not only their athletic experience but also how they are helping to shape their adult self.
The C.A.L.C. was thrilled to have Keirsten Sires come and speak to us on multiple topics relevant to high school athletics today, including recruiting. Keirsten reached all of our students and left them with great strategies that will not only help on the fields, courts, and mats, but also in the game of recruiting. She was a true professional and delivered a wonderful message.
Now that the recruiting process and the related stress is over, I wanted to thank you for your guidance. You did so much more than we had expected. Once you started the process by matching the best academic schools first, not the best sport programs, I knew you were the one. The way you laid out a timeline of contacting coaches, visits, and camps completely took any guesswork out of the plan for us. All of the student athletes that you put us in touch with gave us a look from the inside, and made us more comfortable knowing what was coming. Finally, using your website as a resource for knowing what to expect from different coaches based on former recruit reviews gave my son confidence before our meetings. There is no way we could have figured this out on our own, you really put us in a great position when decision time came.
I think hearing from other athletes is very beneficial. To be able to learn from people’s mistakes, and to be able to have access to those voices is really helpful; especially voices that have been there and done that. It’s very important for people to have access to information that could benefit them, and in this case there are many voices that can help the next wave of athletes.
If you have something that’s going to spell [the recruiting process] out for you… it’s so valuable. I think what everyone at LRT Sports is doing to spread the word and help advocate and educate athletes on the recruitment process is incredible.
Without question would have used LRT Sports. It would have probably been one of the most valuable tools that I could have had. If you want to know what these coaches are really like then I think this is the best tool out there. I’m really glad you are allowing recruits to have a resource like this moving forward.