Student Well-Being

State Laws Force Full Disclosure on Athletic Scholarships

By Bryan Toporek — June 27, 2011 3 min read
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Did you realize that athletic scholarships aren’t four-year contracts between student-athletes and universities and that they can be revoked on an annual basis by the university? Did you know that student-athletes on scholarship end up paying thousands out-of-pocket for college expenses not covered by their scholarship?

That information often comes as a surprise to high school student-athletes trying to decide which college to attend.

Thanks to new legislation passed in California and Connecticut, student-athletes in those two states will have a much clearer sense of exactly what colleges are promising them in their athletic scholarships.

The Connecticut law, due to go into effect on July 1, requires all colleges and universities to display athletic-scholarship information on the front page of their official athletic website by Jan. 1, 2012. That information includes (but isn’t limited to) the expected out-of-pocket expenses for student-athletes, details about the yearly renewal process for athletic scholarships, the institution’s policy regarding oversigning, and explicit details about who’s responsible for athletically related medical expenses.

Back in February, when the Connecticut legislation was still up for debate, Allen Sack, a professor at the University of New Haven, testified before legislators that student-athletes often don’t know their rights when it comes to scholarships. (Sack is also president-elect of The Drake Group, a nonprofit organization that aims to “help faculty and staff defend academic integrity in the face of the burgeoning college sport industry.”)

Sack noted that when he played football at the University of Notre Dame back in the 1960s, his scholarship ran for four years and could not be revoked as a result of injury or a decline in athletic performance. However, the NCAA changed rules in 1973 by making scholarships renewable on a year-to-year basis, causing four-year scholarships to become a “thing of the past,” Sack said.

Nowadays, on the NCAA’s website

, the organization explicitly states that athletic scholarships aren’t guaranteed for four years. Schools must notify student-athletes by July 1 whether or not their athletic scholarships will be renewed for the next year.

The California legislation, signed into law by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last September, bears strong resemblance to the recently passed Connecticut law. California requires any college or university that offers athletic scholarships to post specific information on its athletic website by Jan.1, 2012, about athletic scholarship issuance, renewal, release, and medical expenses.

“This legislation will assure good faith negotiations with prospective student-athletes and prevent recruiters and coaches from making promises which they cannot keep,” said state Rep. Mike Davis, a co-author of the bill.

The Associated Press ran a story over the weekend about the new legislation in California and Connecticut, which led off with the experiences of James Jackson, a former football recruit at Ohio State. Jackson claims that former coach Jim Tressel asked him to transfer after last season—only two years into his college career—because “they had an oversigning issue” and “had to free up a few scholarships.”

“My main goal coming out of high school was to get a degree from a Division I program,” said Jackson, who now attends Wayne State, a Division II school in Michigan. “If I had known they wouldn’t keep me in school for four to five years, no matter what, I would have gone somewhere else.

“I don’t necessarily feel used, and maybe coach Tressel was right, maybe Ohio State wasn’t right for me,” he said. “But this would have helped me out by maybe knowing that before.”

The AP notes that other states are considering similar legislation regarding full disclosure for athletic scholarships.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.