South Carolina made a serious decision when the school announced last week it would start guaranteeing some student-athletes four-year scholarships, instead of the typical one-year program set up at most schools.
USC is the first school in the SEC to commit to this plan. A few Big Ten schools and Southern Cal already have adopted the four-year ride program, which became allowed by the NCAA (but not mandatory) in 2011.
“We want to be out front with what’s going on,” USC athletic director Ray Tanner told The Associated Press.
This is important on many levels, and should eventually be adopted by the Power 5 conferences.
At USC, it only applies to football, men’s and women’s basketball, women’s tennis and volleyball – all “head counting” sports. It’s a shame baseball, which is considered an “equivalency” sport and struggles mightily with the shared-scholarship plan, can’t get more help.
Still, as long as a student-athlete in one of those other programs doesn’t leave the school, remains in good standing academically and doesn’t violate any school or athletic department policies, they can work toward their degree for free.
“I agree with the president and our university, certainly, on that,” USC football coach Steve Spurrier said. “As long as a young man does what’s asked, he’s guaranteed his four years.”
If they get hurt or have some other issue that forces them out of competition (or if they simply ride the bench), they can finish school without paying. A rule has already been in place that helps student-athletes who go pro early come back and finish.
“When it first came out several years ago about four-year scholarships, I thought they meant as soon as a person signs, he’s guaranteed four years,” Spurrier said. “If a young man signs, he can’t just say, ‘I quit, I’m getting my four years of scholarships.’ He still has to participate and be a participating player on the team. You can let him go, if he says, ‘I quit, I just want my scholarship,’ that doesn’t work. As long as he tries and does what’s ask of him, he stays on the full four years, or even more.”
Coaches ask young men and women to commit to them for four years, but the coaches don’t have to commit to them under the one-year plan. Some coaches won’t talk about it, though.
Others, like LSU’s Les Miles, say they don’t have to offer a four-year ride because it’s understood that if you’re a model student-athlete you keep your scholarship until you’re done.
That’s fine, but it’s not that way everywhere – and why rules need to be in place. In 2008, former Clemson coach Tommy Bowden took a scholarship away from running back and feel-good story Ray Ray McElrathby.
It wasn’t because the young man who was supporting his brother did anything wrong in the classroom or off the field. McElrathby wasn’t going to see meaningful playing time, and the Tigers needed that scholarship.
It’s one of the most publicized incidents you’ll find, but that doesn’t mean it’s an isolated case. Most of the time, a player who isn’t needed finds another school or just goes away quietly.
What USC’s doing also gives the student-athletes some power – something they’ve been asking for for years.
They are starting to be treated more like an employee – and there might soon be a day in the not-too-distant future that players begin receiving compensation or stipends.
Yes, there are athletic programs out there using four-year rides as a recruiting tool, and the schools that only plan to offer one-year scholarships will be the first ones to bring that up.
But who really cares about that point? If a student-athlete is being guaranteed a chance at graduation, the college system, which has been damaged for decades, earns a rare win.
This article was republished with permission from the author, Brad Senkiw.