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Gumption: The Four-Year Scholarship Sham and Sympathy Trolling

After four Alabama players were arrested and indefinitely suspended, it's time to reevaluate multi-year scholarships.

Anyone got a bridge I can lurk beneath?
Anyone got a bridge I can lurk beneath?

In the wake of four player arrests, four indefinite suspensions, and all-but-certainly four new scholarships opening up, it's time to re-examine the wisdom of providing security to athletes who can't or won't commit to doing things the right way. Owing to the length of the subject and the complexity of the subject matter, this will have to be broken up into a few parts. This first one is mainly background: after four Alabama players were arrested and indefinitely suspended, it's time to reevaluate multi-year scholarships. This article concerns the nature of the multi-year reward as a recruiting tactic by conference rivals, the Big Ten and the latter's feigned sympathy over a largely manufactured oversigning issue.

Let's make this clear: the four-year scholarship movement was a PR sham used by a certain conference (and conference rivals Florida and Auburn) to leverage their recruiting. It always was a cynical ploy, and the SEC generally, and Alabama particularly, had zero business playing "Simon Says" with Jim Delany, Bernie Machen or Auburn University.

By way of background, as of February 1, 2012, multi-year scholarships were offered by eight Big Ten member institutions. Later that month, it was revealed that Auburn and Florida also offered these inducements. When the issue came before the SEC for voting, a surfeit of ink, mostly one-sided, was spilled regarding how making this compulsory was "the right thing to do" and "ethical."

Some, such as Josh Levin at Slate, were even more heavy-handed with the rhetoric.

In Levin's piece, "The Most Evil Thing About College Sports" (yes, he really used that title), he states:

College athletes are unpaid workers whose movements are strictly controlled by their employers. That’s not amateur sports. That’s something close to indentured athletic servitude.

The Big Ten, naturally, echoed this "beautiful butterfly" sentiment. B1G Associate Commissioner Chad Hawley even admits it's a symbolic thing, and in fact was more concerned with "oversigning".

"I don't think it's wrong to say (the rule) is symbolic, but it's not entirely symbolic," Hawley said. "I think there's a peace of mind that could come with receiving a four-year grant. If a new coach comes in and there are no other issues with the player, he can't non-renew you for the next year."



Big Ten Championship Trophy

Former UT head coach, Derrick Dooley, put on his lawya' hat and pointedly debunked this nonsense:

"We forget this is a contract, a two-way street," Dooley said in February, explaining why he doesn’t like multiyear scholarships. "I think it's humorous that the academic institution can give an academic scholarship and take it away when a student doesn't perform at a certain GPA level, but it's absolutely the worst thing you can do as a coach—it's so wrong what you do to these young people—when he doesn't do what he's supposed to do."

Michigan head man, Brady Hoke, seemed less than sanguine about the change, and echoed Dooley's comments:

"We went and made them four-year scholarships and we'll see where that all goes with the NCAA and some addendums with how you'd lose a scholarship...I always thought the one-year renewables were fine because in my tenure as a head coach or being an assistant coach, I don't remember guys that their scholarship was taken because of athletic performance. It was something socially. It was something academically. You had to kind of figure it out," Hoke said of the scholarships. "You didn't know what everybody else was going to do. I think some time, they are either going to go and make it two-year deals and not four. They were four a long time ago and you decided you didn't want to play anymore, you were still on scholarship. That's not fair to the school.

Despite the facts and concerns coming straight from the mouth of a fellow Big Ten member, Ohio State had to get its condescension game on and make the multi-year issue to be one of "oh, think of the children...but in other conferences only":

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told The Plain Dealer that players could still lose their scholarships if they don't fulfill academic or off-the-field requirements. But the multiyear scholarship prevents coaches from running off players if better talent has been recruited at their positions or who no longer fit the team's style of play.

Smith continues in a manner that should make the Big Ten's concern-trolling patently transparent:

"For those places that really need the cultural change, this is big," Smith said. "There were some schools that ran players off because of their athletic ability, and so this helps. Now, those schools may not offer multi-year scholarships. But you would hope they would. And you would hope there's pressure that would cause them to do it, because this isn't how we should treat kids.

"But this is not a Big Ten issue, frankly. It's in other places."



Terrelle who? Maurice who? Tressel who? THINK OF THE CHILDREN!

And then, of course, CBS Sports lets an Auburn blogger add the coup de grâce of snideness, but his concerns were not other conferences. No, his concern was the competitive disadvantage that NON-FOUR YEAR SCHOOLS would potentially face in recruiting:

Of course, the legislation doesn't mean any school -- BCS, mid-major, or otherwise -- is required to offer multiple-year scholarships. But since that might put the schools that don't at a recruiting disadvantage against schools that do, the Texases (and USCs, and Alabamas) have tried to prevent anyone from offering them.

In short: because these schools don't want to promise their athletes a full four-year college education, they've decided the athletes at other schools shouldn't have the benefit of that promise, either.

So, what are Jerry Hinnen, Gene Smith and the B1G really addressing here? Their own fanbase or institution? Roster attrition? Think again, and read the above again: it's about recruiting. It's always been about recruiting.

Need more? How about from the mouth of former Auburn coach, Gene Chizik, discussing why the SEC should mandate the four-year rather than leave it to individual member institutions.

"I don’t know how that’s going to pan out going forward, to be honest with you," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said on national signing day.

"Certainly, if one school chooses to do it and another doesn’t, it creates some sort of advantage or disadvantage depending on which one you are."

Still not convinced? How about from the words of MAC Associate Commissioner, Jackie Mynarski:

Some MAC schools, with much smaller athletic department budgets than in the Big Ten, are concerned about the financial effect of multi-year offers. But if MAC schools don't offer four-year scholarships, and Big Ten schools do, that could put MAC schools at a disadvantage in luring players.

"It is a concern and it's been a definite point of concern for our coaches," Mynarski said. "We do recruit against Big Ten schools and it's definitely out there as part of the overall recruiting landscape now."

The words don't lie folks. The Big Ten voluntarily placed itself at a recruiting disadvantage for two decades. Rather than address their own internal regulations, however, the conference decided -- in sanctimonious fashion -- to try to change the metric for everyone else. They were gleefully enabled by a tut-tutting national media who couldn't or wouldn't look beyond their noses to see that it was about recruiting. The Big Ten is that shitty coworker whose product is mediocre. Rather than elevate their game, they attempt to drag yours down to their level. But, we're not buying it: the Big Ten knew, Auburn knew, Florida knew it was always about recruiting and, to a lesser extent, mythical "oversigning".

NEXT: The legal dimensions of the multi-year award.

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