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December 13, 2011

Cleaning up recruiting

Now that we have finished the regular season, the big news around college football becomes the bowl games and the most important thing of all--recruiting. The vast majority of schools have already received verbal commitments from nearly all of the prospective student athletes that will sign National Letters of Intent with them on the first Wednesday in February, but things will be a little bit different this year.

Here is the first part in a series of stories that UGASports.com will publish over the coming weeks discussing the changes that the NCAA has made in the recruiting process.

Most of the amendments to the bylaws were presented and voted upon in August of 2011 at a college presidents' retreat.

Improving the Bottom Line for Student Athletes

In seeking to close the gap between the maximum financial aid amount and the actual cost of attendance for student athletes the NCAA and adopted proposals set forth in 2011-96.

The rationale of these amendments was to improve the well-being of student-athletes by expanding the ways in which students can meet the financial obligations of attending college that are above and beyond those covered by an athletic grant-in-aid.

As stated by the NCAA: "Institutions should be allowed to provide additional athletics aid to assist in covering the difference between an institution's cost of attendance and value of a full grant-in-aid. Based on feedback from surveys and the variations in how institutions calculate the "miscellaneous" component of cost of attendance, a common limit on additional athletics aid that an institution may provide its student-athletes should be established."

[Related: Show Me The Money]

That they did.

The principal sources of funding for aid available student-athletes are: an athletic grant-in-aid, which are commonly referred to as an athletic scholarship, and several forms of non-athletic sources ranking from various institutional, state, and federal aid (not including Pell Grants; more on that later).

Under the adopted legislation, student-athletes can receive non-athletic aid up to the total cost of tuition or $2000.00, whichever is less. Additionally, any non-athletic aid that is received by athletes will not count towards the institutions maximum amount it can award in grants-in-aid. However, schools must play close attention to the amount of non-athletic funds received by student-athletes for should the student receive aid in excess of the cost of tuition the student-athlete becomes ineligible for the year of the transgression.

Still, there are exceptions to non-athletic funding that are not counted towards the maximum cost of tuition.

Among these are Federal Pell Grants, academic honorary awards, research grants, postgraduate scholarships, state merit-based or need-based funds, and any matching funds by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

For those not familiar with the financial aid rules of the past this may seem a bit complicated, but the truth of the matter is that the rules have been greatly simplified to allow more avenues of funding for student-athletes.

Counting Scholarships

The NCAA has added a bit more clarity on the practice of counting athletic scholarships. While the fundamental rule remains that "A student-athlete who receives financial aid based in any degree on athletics ability shall [be counted] for the year during which the student-athlete receives the financial aid", 'walk-on' receiving aid are now subject to being initial counter under certain conditions.

Walk-ons are increasingly being used by programs, particularly on special teams, to cut down on the risk of injury to scholarship players. In some instances, programs have support systems in place to ensure that walk-ons are aware of, and apply for, various non-athletic sources of funding to help them pay for their education. In some instances these funds add up to the full cost of tuition; which in effect creates de-facto scholarship athletes enabled by the athletic department through the latter's direction and influence.

The NCAA has cracked down on this process by adding the following language to Bylaw 15.1.1 which, beginning in August 2012, will has expanded the definition as a counter to include: "A student-athlete who receives only non-athletically related financial aid up to the value of a full grant-in-aid."

Because of this additional way to count scholarship players, schools will likely increasingly do as Georgia coach Mark Richt has done in the past which is to award unused athletic grant-in-aid to walk-ons who are significant contributors to the team. Since the funds would have not been used, awarding these players a scholarship not only helps to ensure those players return but potentially cause these players to practice that much harder and become an even more significant part of the team.

It is a win-win situation for both the walk-on and the program. While some may say that is yet another way that the NCAA is chipping away at a program's ability to go after top-tier recruits, if all programs are held accountable to abide by these rules then there will be a level playing field.

Oversigning

The overall number of initial-counters remains 28 under NCAA regulations; with the Southeastern Conference limiting that number to 25 (a self-imposed number due to being the national media's poster child for over-signing). Regardless, a program may not have more than 85 students using athletic grant-in-aids at any one time. There is no limit on the amount of semesters or quarters in a given year in which a student-athlete can be awarded aid so long as he has eligibility remaining.

Eligibility begins when a student-athlete receives any portion of a grant-in-aid to use towards classes or when formal practices begin whichever happens first. Eligibility remains five academic years in which to participate in four seasons of play.

In the past, all athletic grants-in-aid were awarded on a one year basis with the institution having to notify players by July 1st if their scholarship was not going to be renewed.

While coaches could choose to not renew a scholarship without consequence, the only recourse for the student-athlete was an appeals process in which the university "shall have established reasonable procedures for promptly hearing such a request and shall not delegate the responsibility for conducting the hearing to the university's athletics department or its faculty athletics committee."

While that has not changed, what has changed is that coaches can now put their grant-in-aid money with their mouth is and guarantee the scholarships for the full five years in which to play four.

Previously, bylaw 15.3.3 described the financial aid award as a "one year period". That phrasing has been replaced with "period of award" which can be set by the institution on a player-by-player basis. In other words, if a coach wants to, he can put into writing that the scholarship is good for a full five years in which to play four if the student-athlete chooses to stay for his entire term of eligibility.

This will no doubt provide an element of drama in recruiting battles over prospective student athletes.

Initial reaction to this change has largely been that coaches will find themselves having to guarantee a full five years to reel in the top prospects. However, telling the elite prospects whatever they want to hear is nothing new and will not change because of this ruling. Therefore it will likely be the non-elite players, the Three-Star prospects for lack of a better term, who will be able to use this as leverage.

It is no secret that a great deal of an active college football roster is made up of the "non-elite" prospects, and, while their "non-elite" status is not an exact indicator of their college potential, they are nearly all among the "also-rans" when it comes to which prospects are snapped up early in the process to ensure numbers are met at certain positions, or later in the recruiting cycle when a program realizes missing on their A-List prospects.

It is the lesser regarded and perhaps slower developing players that are most often cast aside by programs to make room for elite-prospects in later classes. Therefore, allowing college coaches to guarantee a multiple year scholarship to these mid-level players will add a layer of comfort to them while filling out the other half of most college football rosters.

Still, there remains the question of a player simply does not do his part? For instance, what if a player is given a guaranteed five year scholarship deal and then just sits around, parties, eats pizza, and does his best Animal House impression for those years? Even worse, what if that player does not even manage to graduate and thus has nothing to show for his time on campus?

That is a story for another day.



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