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Multiyear Scholarships in Jeopardy for NCAA Athletes

More than 75 colleges and universities have signed on to a request asking the NCAA to override a recently approved proposal that would allow schools to offer multiyear scholarships to student-athletes, putting the fate of the new rule at risk.

For K-12 student-athletes planning on playing varsity sports in college, they'd be wise to pay close attention to this brewing battle.

Proposal 2011-97, approved back in October, would have changed the current model of athletic scholarships, which are renewed on a year-to-year basis. Instead, schools would be able (but not obligated) to offer a multiyear athletic scholarship to students, to give them more security.

The NCAA made the announcement Friday that the Division I board of directors would reconsider the legislation in January, at the annual board meeting.

"Allowing schools to award scholarships for more than a single year addresses concerns some student-athletes have about losing their aid after an injury, because their athletic performance did not live up to expectations, or because of coaching staff changes," the NCAA said in a statement. "If aid were guaranteed for more than a single year, student-athletes would have greater assurance their education could continue."

John Infante, the assistant director of compliance at Loyola Marymount University and the author of the NCAA's Bylaw Blog, confirmed yesterday that 75 schools had signed the override measure. He said it was unlikely that another 50 schools would sign on before Dec. 26, which would have resulted in the automatic suspension of the rule until the January board of directors meeting.

This is the second NCAA proposal to meet the override threshold this year. Earlier this month, 125 schools signed on to an override of another scholarship-related proposal, which would have allowed schools to provide an extra $2,000 in scholarship money to student-athletes each year (assuming it didn't exceed the full cost of attending this school). That motion is now temporarily suspended until the board meets in January.

Looking at the list of override votes, most of the opposition to the multiyear scholarship proposal fell into one of two categories: schools who liked the current single-year scholarship model, and schools afraid of a "recruiting disaster," as Boise State University put it.

American University said, "Multi-year agreements create inconsistency among our programs and create unwanted work for administration." Similarly, Boston University didn't want to offer multiyear scholarships to athletes while only providing other financial aid on a year-to-year basis.

Indiana State University believed, "This proposal, if accepted, is going to create some real nightmares." (They used the term "bidding wars" to describe one such potential nightmare.)

Winthrop University echoed those concerns, saying, "in combination with [the miscellaneous expense proposal], this legislation moves intercollegiate athletics further away from a 'collegiate model' of athletics and closer to a 'professional model' of athletics.

When the Division I board meets on Jan. 14 in Indianapolis, it will have three choices on how to proceed with the multiyear scholarship proposal, according to the NCAA. It can either leave the legislation as is, sending it to a full membership vote; agree with the override and eliminate the proposal; or tweak the proposal in some way, which would then result in another 60-day override period for the new legislation.

The NCAA says roughly 10,000 high school student-athletes signed national letters of intent during the fall signing period, although it's unclear how many were offered "full-cost" scholarships or multiyear scholarships.

If either proposal is permanently rescinded, the NCAA could be in the very awkward position of having to honor those student-athletes' multiyear or full-cost scholarships, while not allowing it for anyone else.

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