On the surface, it sounds revolutionary. A major step forward in the welfare of college football players.
Last week, Southern California sent ripples across the college football landscape when it announced that it would begin offering guaranteed four-year scholarships to football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball players, as reported by for the Los Angeles Times.
"In taking this action, USC hopes to help lead the effort to refocus on student-athlete welfare on and off the field," USC athletic director Pat Haden said in a statement.
The Big Ten followed suit by issuing a statement reaffirming its stance on offering four-year scholarships, which it actually adopted in 2012.
As recently as 2010, all NCAA scholarships were renewed on a year-by-year basis before legislation passed allowed (but did not require) programs to offer four-year scholarships.
Does it matter? Should more college football programs offer four-year scholarships to recruits? Is it the wave of the future or simply a good public relations gesture that covers up a larger problem?
One prominent college football recruiting analyst says the ripple is just that. A ripple.
“The Big Ten will sell it to every kid, and if parents bring it up, they’ll brag about it a lot,” said Kipp Adams, a 247Sports national recruiting insider with a focus on Southeastern recruiting. “But I think it’s a leaf in the wind. I don’t see it being a big deal in recruiting.”
As Ed O’Bannon’s landmark antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA wraps up arguments, player welfare has become a hot topic, along with topics like player payments and paying “full cost of attendance.”
Four-year scholarships are a natural step. The Big Ten, for example, will guarantee its scholarships even if players are no longer able to compete or if they leave early for a professional career. League institutions will also cover “full cost of a college education, as defined by the federal government” and feature improved medical insurance.
Adams, who is based in the Atlanta area and has spent eight years as a recruiting analyst, says the topic hasn’t registered much with the prospects he speaks with on a regular basis.
“Maybe one or two kids mentioned it the week it came out, but I never heard it mentioned as a factor in a decision,” he said. “It’s had little to no effect.”
Ten of the 14 current SEC schools supported the four-year scholarship proposal when it narrowly survived an override proposal in 2012. Alabama, LSU, Tennessee and Texas A&M did not, although Alabama coach Nick Saban later said that his program would offer four-year scholarships.
However, according to a 2013 report by the Chronicle Of Higher Education, only six programs (Florida, Ohio State, N.C. State, Michigan State, Arizona State and Auburn) had offered at least 24 four-year scholarships in the most recent academic year.
Do those promises really matter? Adams thinks programs will find plenty of other ways to manage their rosters.
“If the coach doesn’t want you anymore, doesn’t think you’re up to the part, they’ll switch your position, tell you you’ll never see the field, bury you on the depth chart,” he said. “There’s always the medical disqualification, although the SEC has an oversight committee that makes sure they’re all medically proper decisions.
“There’s always the ‘violation of team rules’, and it’s such a vague rule. They can make life miserable for you, and say if you’re tardy for two team study halls, they’ll say you’re off the team, changing times so you don’t even know when the study hall is. They’ll practice you at different times other than the rest of the team, tell them they’ll never see the field. Kids will transfer on their own.”
SEC coaches, Adams says, have plenty to sell beyond four-year scholarships.
“They’ll make sure to put it in the back of any prospect’s mind,” he said. “They’ll talk about production, the NFL, the quality of education, the assistance they’ll give kids and graduation rate, and that’s all they need to push to guys,” he said.
"College coaches are recruiters as much as coaches and they’re really good at their job. If parents bring it up, they’ll go to the retention rate, graduation rates, NFL rates and hammer that home. (Parents) will forget why they brought it up. That’s why they’re great at their jobs, why they get paid the salaries they do.”
If anything, the scholarships will only expand the gap between college football’s “haves” (the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) and its “have-nots” (everyone else).
It is another opportunity for big-time programs to flex their financial muscles and take advantage of the huge television contracts they’ve signed.
Four-year scholarships are also excellent public relations and a way to show the general public that major programs care about student-athletes.
However, even if guaranteed scholarships gain major acceptance across college football, there’s no denying that coaches will still find a way to prune their rosters of the unwanted, one way or another.
More programs should offer four-year scholarships, but that doesn’t mean that college football will be fundamentally changed.
*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes for this article were obtained directly by the author.
*Connect with Greg on Twitter @gc_wallace