How do Colleges Juggle Scholarships with Roster Changes?

valpoI was recently interviewed by Paul Oren of the Times of Northwest Indiana regarding NCAA scholarship rules.

Oren was particularly interested in a situation with the Valparaiso men’s basketball team, where Vashil Fernandez was granted a waiver for a fifth year of eligibility presumably leaving the team short a scholarship. 

Here is an excerpt of the story:

NCAA rules limit the amount of scholarship players for a Division I basketball program to 13. Putting Fernandez back on the roster gave the Crusaders 14 players and a major headache. While scholarships are technically a one-year renewable “contract” with the student-athlete, the school is at liberty to pull the scholarship at any point according to NCAA scholarship expert Daniel Fitzgerald.

“During the school year you can only cancel for cause,” Fitzgerald said. “This would be things like not going to practice or failing to meet academic requirements. Once the year is over, these are renewable contracts. There is a process. You have to give the athletes notice by July 1 and the athlete has appeal rights. Often times what the athlete argues is that while it’s a one-year renewable contract, the athlete was promised four years if they did their job. These things can go to appeal, but it’s not really a process that anyone wants to go through.”

Fitzgerald practices law in Connecticut and runs a website dedicated to sports law with an emphasis on scholarships. He’s seen situations at Connecticut in the past where the school was heavy on scholarships and a player paid their own way to stay on the roster.

“What often happens in cases like this is the school will find someone whose family can pay tuition,” Fitzgerald said. “Typically there is some sort of agreement. If you sign a National Letter of Intent, that school is obligated for that one year. Does that mean someone can’t voluntarily give up their scholarship and pay for a year? No.”

As I discussed with Paul, it is difficult to cancel a scholarship during the school year (see my post on the specific criteria), however it is much easier after the school year, provided that the scholarship was provided on a one-year, renewable basis, rather than a four year scholarship (now allowed by NCAA rules).

In these situations, the school and players often work it out among themselves. UConn fans may recall a similar situation when Andre Drummond enrolled at UConn and Michael Bradley offered to give up his scholarship.

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