Multiyear Scholarship Legislation Upheld by NCAA

Remember the self-congratulatory moral and ethical grandstanding that a few programs put on display this past National Signing Day by hemming and hawing about their issuance of supposedly guaranteed multiyear scholarships? Due to a narrow vote today by the NCAA member institutions, expect more of that contrived back-patting in the years to come. The press release from NCAA.org:

Multiyear scholarship legislation, one of several measures the Division I Board of Directors adopted in the wake of an August 2011 presidential retreat, was upheld in a membership override vote that concluded Friday.

As such, Division I schools will have the option to offer scholarships guaranteed for more than one year.

Of 330 institutions voting, 62.12% percent voted to override the legislation. A 62.5% majority of those voting was required to override legislation. More than 90% of Division I institutions voted.

As mentioned above, this legislation was originally passed by the Board of Directors six months ago, but there had been a significant backlash since that time and the substantial majority of member institutions voted to override the measure and not allow for multiyear scholarships. The actual vote tally has apparently not been released, but we can deduce from the numbers given that the final vote was roughly 185-112 in favor of ending multiyear scholarships.

That wide margin and high voter turnout should make expressly clear how strong the opposition was to this measure. Had just one of two schools that voted to uphold the current legislation switched their votes this would have gone the other way, as would been the case if two schools that chose not to vote had also voted to override the legislation.

For better or for worse, however, this is now the rule of the land and this will fuel an ever-changing recruiting environment. In the process, this creates potential problems for both the schools that offer multiyear scholarships and the schools that do not.

For the programs that are offering multiyear scholarships, this isn't necessarily a codification of a panacea. Self-congratulation notwithstanding, this could create real problems in enforcing discipline and creating environments where strong work ethics are the norm. Some signees will inevitably take advantage of a long-term guarantee with unwanted conduct knowing that the school is nevertheless required to honor their commitment, and admittedly this will be a problem that schools offering multiyear scholarships will have to find some way to navigate. How will that be done? Only time will tell, but I imagine it will largely be done by well-written contracts that, for all of their high talk and hot air, still grant the school the ultimate discretion to terminate the scholarship on an annual basis in the event that a player steps out of line off the field or fails to adequately perform on it. As marketing gurus are fond of saying, "What the bold print giveth, the fine print taketh away," and it would come as a surprise if the actual contracts lived up to the grand promises.

On the other hand, though, rest assured schools offering multiyear scholarships, whether they are in fact legitimate or not, will use that aggressively as a tool on the recruiting trails, and that could put schools offering single-year scholarships renewable on an annual basis at a distinct competitive disadvantage. Does that mean we'll see a surge in schools offering multiyear scholarships? Perhaps so, and for what it's worth that was the fear from many member institutions.

For Alabama, to date the Crimson Tide has refused the publicly acknowledge one way or the other as to the specifics of its scholarship offers, though most have assumed that 'Bama offers only single-year scholarships. Perhaps that is true and perhaps that remains the case moving forward, but as committed as Nick Saban is to success on the recruiting trails, if he feels that the lack of multiyear scholarship offers is putting Alabama at a competitive disadvantage for the nation's rising college prospects, expect 'Bama to go quickly go the way of the multiyear scholarship offer as well.

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