West Virginia University is one of the vast majority of colleges and universities that do not guarantee athletic scholarships past a year-to-year basis.
Mark Emmert, the president of the NCAA, would like to see that change. “Scholarships for life,” ones that can’t be dropped before an athlete graduates, was one of several proposed reforms that Emmert announced at a Senate hearing called by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.
“My cynical self says that universities like things exactly the way they are, because they’re making a ton of money,” Rockefeller said.
Emmert insisted that was not the case, and that he was pushing for reforms, including scholarships that cover the full cost of attending school, closing gaps in players’ health insurance and addressing how schools deal with sexual assault allegations.
For 40 years there was an NCAA rule that prohibited schools from offering four-year scholarships, that couldn’t be taken away if, say, a player got hurt or a new coach wanted to use the scholarship on another player.
“I have no idea why that was put into the rules, I don’t even know when it occurred,” Emmert said, noting that the rule was repealed in 2012.
Taylor Branch, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and a critic of the NCAA, filled the committee in.
“It was driven by the coaches at the biggest universities,” Branch said. “They wanted more control over their athletes. ... If you can yank their scholarships then you have more control over them.”
A small number of schools, including Indiana and the University of Southern California, recently announced that they would guarantee four-year scholarships to everyone receiving athletic scholarships.
WVU Athletic Director Oliver Luck recently expressed concern over that change.
“USC has decided to offer four-year guaranteed scholarships to all of their student-athletes,” Luck told the Charleston Daily Mail. “As a result of the increase in financial resources, the traditional relationship that the student-athlete had with his or her university — a relationship defined by academics, athletics and social engagement — is showing considerable signs of stress.”
Myron Rolle, a former defensive back at Florida State and a Rhodes Scholar and current medical student, told the committee that one-year scholarships didn’t contribute to a good relationship between athletes and their schools.
“A lot of players that I was on teams with, we kind of felt like it was us vs. them, it wasn’t a team,” Rolle said.
Several senators assailed the NCAA for still struggling with issues of equity for athletes, even as it brings in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and has been monetized to the extent that the University of Florida’s volleyball coach makes $300,000.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said many parents couldn’t afford to go to their kids’ games.
“The universities are making a gajillion dollars off their children, but their parents can’t even get a stipend to watch their kids play,” McCaskill said. “There’s something wrong with that.”
Rockefeller echoed similar sentiments in bemoaning WVU’s move to the Big 12 conference.
“[It] guarantees one thing and one thing only,” Rockefeller said. “That most of the people of West Virginia, who are not high income, or even moderate income, can’t go to any games in the Southwest, but WVU sure makes a lot of money from it.”
Rockefeller said that he did not have high hopes that the 65 schools in “power conferences” would enact reforms that could cut into their bottom lines.
“For my entire adult life I’ve been hearing about this and that so many problems are still extant,” Rockefeller said. “The world works in ways that protect itself.”
Reach David Gutman at email@example.com or 304-348-5119.