Tuesday Tip: Under what circumstances would a coach not renew a scholarship?

In our last Tuesday tip, we asked how common it was to receive a “full” scholarship.  The short answer: not very.  Once you’ve received that scholarship – whether a full or just enough for books – what happens? 

[Apologies for the delay in this week's Tuesday Tip - Swim Camp has been keeping us extra-busy this week.]

First off, it’s important to know that an athletic scholarship is a one-year renewable contract between you and your university.  You agree to compete for the school which, in turn, pays for a portion of your educational.   You heard right – a ONE-year scholarship.  There is no such thing as a four-year scholarship, but the expectation is if you keep up your end of the deal, the school will keep up its end.

The rules are set up to protect the athlete, and in doing so, often frustrate coaches.  “NCAA Rules make it very tough to take away a scholarship” says Vic Wales at Hawaii.  Schools may, however, reduce or not renew a scholarship, however if an athlete quits the team, becomes ineligible, or “engages in serious misconduct warranting substantial disciplinary penalty”.   At the same time, coaches are prohibited from cancelling or reducing scholarships for any reason related to an athlete’s athletic performance.  For a deeper look, we asked coaches for their take on the circumstance that a coach would not renew a scholarship.

Reducing Aid

The number-one reason cited by coaches was grades.  “The only reason I would reduce or not renew a scholarship is for absolutely irresponsible academic failure,” explains Denver’s Brian Schrader.  “If an athlete is failing or not attending class and several steps have been taken to mentor, tutor, and help the student stay on track, I think this is the only merit for reducing a scholarship.”  Schrader, whose Pioneers’ GPA consistently ranks high, adds, “We have not reduced a scholarship for any reason here at Denver.”

That could become the trend as teams are now graded on their academic performance.  Under new rules, teams – not the athletes themselves – may lose athletic scholarships if their athletes aren’t moving towards graduation under the NCAA’s new Academic Progress Rate (APR).  “The APR will put pressure on teams to make better decisions in who they give aid to” explains one coach. 

Pitt’s Chuck Knoles agrees that coaches would reduce the scholarship for an athlete who has “rendered themselves academically ineligible” and Tennessee’s eminently-quotable John Trembley explains “academic or social failure” as grounds for a scholarship reduction.

Coaches also cited disciplinary reasons.  These could include criminal behavior, but can also encompass team and department rules.  NC State’s Brooks Teal says a reduction occurs when athletes have “violated team or department rules to the extent that it impacts the program or department in a negative way.”  Southern Illinois’ Rick Walker adds, “if an athlete is a negative influence on the program or if they discontinue the commitment they originally came in with.” 

Conviction of a felony seems obvious, but what about an arrest that doesn’t result in a conviction?  It depends.  How about missing practice or mandatory study session?   It depends.   What if they’re just a bad seed?  Again, it depends.

The coach of one perennial top-ten team explained it this way.  At their school, “there are only three ways to have a scholarship reduced or taken away …fail a drug test, become academically ineligible or get in trouble with the law,” but in each case, “it is at the coaches’ discretion what action is taken”.  

Ostensibly athletic performance cannot be grounds for a reduction in aid, but coaches can wield a great power in this area.  Says one, who understandably requested anonymity: “If you’re scorer at NC’s, you get more second chances, if you haven’t shown improvement and are on a lot of money, you’ll be judged more harshly.” 

That’s not a philosophy Brooks Teal agrees with.  “This is an area where recruits need to question a potential coach, since some coaches will NOT recommend for renewal, if a swimmer does not show improvement and is a marginal problem on deck or in the classroom. “ 

Other coaches expressed similar displeasure with how the rule was used, but also recognized how lack of performance in the pool often went hand in hand with practice attendance, training commitment and being a good teammate.   Stanford’s Ted Knapp went further, by suggesting that coaches need to take responsibility for the athletes’ performance, “You recruited him, offered him the scholarship and coached him.  If you made a mistake, don't put the financial burden on the swimmer.  In some cases they may need to drop out of school if the scholarship is not renewed.”

There’s one final way a scholarship can be reduced that has nothing to do with performance, academics or the legal authorities – inflation.   A $5,000 scholarship towards $15,000 in tuition will still be worth $5,000 four years later even if tuition has risen to $22,500.  In contrast a 33% scholarship (also worth $5,000 as a recruit) would be worth $7,500 as a senior.   It’s generally in the recruits’ best interest to get a scholarship as a percentage.  Coaches, however, prefer awards in fixed amounts.  This can save the department money and leave the coach with a few extra percent to award to future classes. 

Increasing Aid

One thing not touched on is INCREASING swimmers’ aid.  This often comes up when parents and recruits begin discussing scholarships with a coach.  Parents and swimmers frequently raise this “What if” question upon hearing that they are being offered less than what the swimmer and parent had hoped for.  “What if Bobby Breaststroker gets faster and goes these times his freshman year?” 

Just as coaches and departments have limits on reducing scholarships, there’s nothing that says they can’t increase aid.  However, because a scholarship is a one-year contract, a coach cannot promise a set amount of aid for future years.  Instead, coaches will frequently reward deserving swimmers with “unused aid.”  This is scholarship money that coaches have leftover (typically because recruits turn down an offer and go to another school).  The money is variable (and temporary), but it can be a perk of performing well. 

Want to learn more about the recruiting process?  Then attend the upcoming Swim Recruit Seminar