Maryland Takes A Step In The Right Direction

Zach Johnson (SMBA ’15) weighs in on the recent decision by the University of Maryland’s decision to guarantee scholarships for student-athletes through their four years at the school.

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At NCAA Division I institutions, scholarships have traditionally been awarded to student-athletes on a year-by-year basis. The ultimate decision to renew the scholarship fell on the school, coach, and team. Any of those entities could, at its own discretion, revoke the scholarship for a variety of reasons. Though most schools honored their commitment to players who acted in accordance with team and university regulations, there was no guarantee that a player would receive their scholarship in subsequent years. In some cases, leaving student-athletes without the funding to continue their education, and leading them to abandon their studies.

In the past few years, a handful of schools began offering four-year scholarships, guaranteeing that these student-athletes would be able to finish their education.  Then, in July of this year, all 14 members of the Big Ten endorsed the four-year scholarship plan. This has led to a flood of institutions following the Big Ten’s lead and offering these types of scholarships as well. For example, the University of Southern California said “it would offer them (four-year scholarships) to all athletes in football and men’s and women’s basketball.”[1] Although offering these scholarships to certain student-athletes was a step in the right direction, it still excluded a large segment of student -athletes.

terpslogo5Enter the University of Maryland. Lately, when a Division I school makes the front page for outdoing the competition, it usually revolves around a state-of-the-art athletic facility, the signing of a highly regarded recruit or the hiring of a big named coach. This is commonly seen as an attempt to promote itself and standout from the competition. But earlier this week, the University of Maryland played the “one-up” game a bit differently: they became one of the first D-I schools to offer an athletic scholarship for life.

What does this mean? It means someone at Maryland deserves a few high-fives or at least an “atta boy/girl.”  Starting in November, the school will offer all incoming student athletes the following:

“Aid will be guaranteed through graduation for athletes who exhaust their eligibility before graduating, as well as those who are unable to compete because of injury. The program will also provide tuition, books and fees for athletes who leave the university in good academic standing and return to finish their degree.” (Stubbs, 2014)

Guaranteed scholarships for student-athletes. With this change, the University of Maryland has determined that the graduation of its athletes is becoming more of a priority, regardless of the time frame or path to completion. It is in fact the degree that is most important.

It’s tough to say if the decision Maryland has made will start a trend among the rest of the D-I institutions, but one thing is for sure: times are changing. It seems that the NCAA may not hold all the cards anymore, that instead of leading, they are falling behind the times. Schools such as Maryland are making potentially game changing decisions, while the NCAA chooses a path of deniability, legal battles, and resistance to change. Decisions such as the one at Maryland show that the schools are willing to make necessary changes and appear ready for proactive changes to policies. As it stands today the NCAA is still the governing body of collegiate sports in the United States, but it appears they may be quickly losing their clout.

[1] Stubbs, R. (2014, August 19). Maryland to guarantee lifetime athletic scholarships. Retrieved August 20, 2014, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/terrapins-insider/wp/2014/08/19/maryland-to-guarantee-lifetime-athletic-scholarships/