High School Football

College football recruits run risk of losing their ride

Although most of the players he will share the field with today in the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl have already committed to big-name college football programs, Jeremy Hill is still weighing his options.

Hill, a standout running back from Baton Rouge, La., who was named a first-team high school All-USA selection by USA Today this season, is taking his time with the recruiting process and making sure he makes the right decision. He's seen what can happen when a player and program aren't the right fit.

Just last summer, he watched friend Elliott Porter sign with LSU only to have the program come back and ask Porter to grayshirt and postpone his enrollment and scholarship to make room for a full incoming recruiting class. Porter would eventually transfer to Kentucky.

"They just kind of let him go because they signed some other players," Hill said. "It really does surprise you. And then what happens to yourself, what you start thinking is, if they did that to him, then maybe they might do that to me."

Hill didn't say specifically whether that turn of events has factored into his recruiting considerations, but examples like that have made the limited guarantee of athletic scholarships - which can be renewed or revoked on a yearly basis by college programs - a subject of debate in recent years. A topic that was thrust back into the news recently when a former Rice football player sued the NCAA after having his scholarship revoked following a coaching change and injuries.

Such examples have caused some to question whether the NCAA should reconsider leaving student-athlete scholarships subject to the annual approval of college coaches.

But that's often not a consideration that players think about during the recruiting process.

The more than 70 high school players who converged in Myrtle Beach this week for the O-D Bowl - 4 p.m. today at Doug Shaw Memorial Stadium - have big visions for their football futures after having been wooed and courted by some of the country's premier college programs. Those interviewed this week hadn't given much thought to the possibility that they might one day find themselves in a similar predicament.

For that matter, the majority of the seven players interviewed about the topic either weren't aware of the limited one-year guarantee attached to their scholarship or said it wasn't something the coaches recruiting them made a point to explain.

"I didn't even know that, to be honest," said David Santos, a linebacker from Texas who has committed to Nebraska. "I did not know that."

"Actually, I haven't even thought of that," said Cedric Reed, a defensive end from Cleveland, Texas, who has committed to Texas.

Only one of the seven interviewed - defensive back Christion Jones, who is committed to in-state Alabama - said his future college coach told him his scholarship was subject to annual renewal.

"Coach [Nick] Saban told me it's a one-year scholarship you have to work for," Jones said. "Some coaches don't tell some kids. Some kids have to find out the hard way."

Joseph Agnew, the former Rice football player, filed a class-action lawsuit against the NCAA in October in response to not having his scholarship renewed, according to an article in the New York Times.

Agnew played in all 13 of Rice's games as a freshman, but head coach Todd Graham left for another job before his sophomore season, and Agnew began losing playing time while also battling injuries, according to the article. After not being offered a scholarship for his junior year, he won an appeal, but was then not offered one again the next year.

The Times' report explained that Agnew targeted the lawsuit at the NCAA - arguing its one-year limit on athletic scholarships was tantamount to a price-fixing scheme - and noted that the antitrust division of the Justice Department was also looking into the one-year scholarship rule.

That's one well-publicized example, but there have been a number of others. Locally, Steve Spurrier drew the ire of some South Carolina high school football coaches upon taking over the Gamecocks when he decided to revoke several scholarships.

And it's not just a football issue. Former Missouri basketball reserve Tyler Stone lost his scholarship after playing limited minutes as a freshman last season while the program brought in a pair of highly regarded junior college transfers, according to an Associated Press story last May. The article quoted the player's mother, Sharon Stone, as saying, "I can't see how a school can love him to death one year and the next year cut him loose. They had to get rid of somebody."

Although the topic didn't seem to be of much concern to the soon-to-be college football players in town this week, it is one of great concern to the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics - an alliance of faculty senates at Division I schools that tries to work with the NCAA to protect the priority of academics in college sports.

John Nichols, a professor emeritus at Penn State and a co-chair of the COIA, said the organization has submitted proposals to the NCAA in past years suggesting a change to the one-year limit on scholarships - among other topics of discussion. Their intent is directed more at protecting a student athlete's academic interests than athletic.

"Our concern is that if scholarships are one-year renewable, what that does is it does undermine the academic component," Nichols said. "Somebody chooses [a university] and they know whether they can continue to go to school and get a degree is dependant more on what happens on the athletic side and may or may not be related to their athletic performance. It may be whether the coach likes them or not.

"It places athletics above academics for these student athletes, and they have legitimate reason to fear their college careers could end if they don't perform on the field."

Nichols throws out a hypothetical example.

"[A student is] academically performing, they obey all the team rules, they're in good standing. They're doing everything right except for they don't perform as well athletically as the coach wants them to. Under those circumstances, should that student, should they lose their scholarship and therefore their path to an education for that reason?" he said. "Our feeling is that's placing athletics above academics, and it shouldn't happen. That's our concern."

As Nichols recalls, the COIA submitted its initial proposal to the NCAA in 2005, and he says it is a topic he plans to revisit when the group has its national meeting in January.

"The Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics' position is there should be a presumption of five years of scholarship or graduation, whichever comes first," Nichols said. "... As long as they are performing academically, and as long as they obey the codes of conduct of the university and the team rules."

The COIA proposal also recommended that in cases where a scholarship is revoked, the decision would ultimately have to be made by the university provost or someone in a similar position outside the athletic department.

"And presumably the provost would make it based on academic merit as opposed to whether the guy missed a tackle last week," Nichols said.

As for whether any tangible change to the scholarship rule will come about in the near future, well, Nichols wasn't quite so confident, likening it to "trying to turn the Queen Mary."

"We've had a proposal out for a long time on scholarships. Obviously, it's not been acted upon," Nichols said. "I frankly can't tell you whether the NCAA has actually moved on it in any way."

As for the players, Jones - the Alabama recruit - doesn't have a problem with having to prove himself on a yearly basis.

"I think it should [be that way] because if you sign a four-year [scholarship], you think you already got it made, everything's laid out for you, you don't have to worry about working for four years, you can take a year off," Jones said. "But if you sign one year for four years, I think that's going to make guys step up and work even harder."

"It's something that if you play your butt off, and if you do your job, you shouldn't have to worry about that," said Jake Brendel, an offensive lineman from Texas who is committed to UCLA.

And besides, he said, "I don't think that would happen to me."