How Would 4-Year Scholarships Change College Football?

Amy DaughtersFeatured ColumnistJuly 9, 2013

Feb. 1, 2012; Tempe AZ, USA; Corona del Sol Aztecs offensive lineman Andrus Peat signs paperwork a press conference at Corona del Sol High School to commit to play college football for the Stanford Cardinal. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Did you know that many college football scholarships are renewed on a yearly basis?

Yes, while we think of guys getting a “full ride” when they commit to a school on signing day, the reality is a big percentage of players get a ride that only lasts a year.

Multiyear scholarships were outlawed in 1973. And even though the ban was lifted by an NCAA vote in 2012, the new rules don’t require multiyear deals, they just allow them.

Though some schools now offer four-year scholarships, most offer deals that must be renewed yearly.

This scenario puts the student-athlete in a precarious position. Basically, single-year scholarships give the coach and/or AD the power to terminate a player’s deal without cause.

According to an article from 2010 in The Chronicle of Higher Education,  the U.S. Justice Department has actually investigated the NCAA’s scholarship rules as a potential violation of anti-trust laws.

This type of serious scrutiny means that a four-year requirement may eventually become a reality,  which leads to a discussion of what college football would look like if the change occurred.

Here are five ways the game may change with such a revision.


Over-Signing Would Decrease

The concept of over-signing recruits is a lot like an airline booking more passengers than available seats on a flight.

Basically, a program signs players who put it over the limit of 85 scholarships. To make room for these promising younger players, the team does not renew the scholarships of players already on the team in  a process known as "bumping.''

This “bump” can be accomplished by various means, including claims that a player is physically unable to perform or is not likely to play, which would encourage him to transfer. 

A four-year scholarship requirement would make over-signing difficult because guys already on the roster wouldn’t be as easy to “cut” by not renewing the deal.


Recruiting Classes Would Shrink/Parity

With fewer spots on the roster of 85 to fill with each recruiting cycle, the class size per year would shrink as older athletes stick around longer.

The current recruiting class size of 20 to 30 players would fall slightly to accommodate the reduction in available roster spots.

If programs are “stuck” with athletes over a four-year period, eventually the national talent pool would begin to be spread across a wider number of teams.

If the depth at programs like Alabama, Texas and USC is reduced, top-tier athletes who can’t fit on the desired roster will have to find other places to play.

If, because of the new requirements, LSU can’t sign every player it wants, it's logical that other schools will absorb the talent the Tigers can’t.

Eventually, this will result in an FBS with a more equitable distribution of talent, allowing more teams to be in a position to win in the same way that the salary cap introduced parity in the NFL.

In the pros, fans marveled at how the perennially downtrodden New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl. In the college ranks, fans will be amazed when Kentucky wins the BCS title.


Graduation Rates Would Rise

Four-year deals would give more athletes an opportunity to make it to graduation day.

The premise here is logical; if programs can’t get rid of athletes as easily, they’re more likely to stick around for all four years and cash in on their “free” education.

What’s interesting about this angle is that gains in graduation rates might make it look like football programs are renewing their commitment to the noble ideal of the “student-athlete.”

The reality would be that they are being forced to treat athletes like something more than institutional property.


NCAA Sanctions Would Rise  

In the same way that new IRS legislation spawns innovation in loopholes, new requirements regarding NCAA scholarships would generate fresh ways to avert the rules.

New NCAA rules naturally lead to new NCAA sanctions.

The sanctions will be designed to retroactively stop programs from dodging the four-year requirement.

With as much money as is pumped through major college football each year, it’s natural that teams would fight to stay on top by virtue of a deep talent pool, regardless of the rules.


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