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Four-year scholarships will catch on

MORGANTOWN — Cleaning out a crowded notebook and a cluttered mind:

Southern California announced Monday that beginning this summer it will offer four-year scholarships to athletes in three revenue sports -- football and men’s and women’s basketball. That’s instead of the one-year, renewable scholarships that virtually all schools now offer.

Two things came to mind when I saw that. First, it’s yet another step in the concessions being made by schools and the NCAA in the face of the onslaught of litigation over student-athletes getting the short straw in the multi-billion dollar world of Division I athletics. Add it to more meals, cost-of attendance increases in scholarships, medical care — all of the moves being proposed or already in the works. Expect more schools to quickly follow suit.

The second thing is, I wonder if it’s really going to cost universities that much.

Really, now, as far as I know there are no firm numbers out there as to the number of scholarships that are not renewed from year to year, but my guess is that it’s incredibly small. True, the number of athletes who leave school before they’ve gotten their four years of education is no doubt substantial, but how many have had scholarships simply not renewed for no good reason?

Consider the rash of transfers. Consider student-athletes who either don’t maintain the necessary grades or otherwise fall into trouble. USC isn’t going to keep paying a student-athlete who flunks out or runs afoul of rules or the law.

My guess is that the vast majority of students-athletes to whom this offer will apply are recruiting mistakes, those who don’t measure up once they’re on campus. That number might be fairly substantial, but many see the handwriting on the wall and transfer of their own choice to a more appropriate program. And despite the cutthroat nature of college athletics, most schools don’t simply cut those who don’t make the grade. They might “suggest’’ they go elsewhere and actually help them do so.

Those schools will no doubt continue to make the same suggestion. They will also continue to revoke scholarships for subpar academic performance or legal issues. The notion that they will now “guarantee’’ a scholarship for four years seems really to have little more than symbolic meaning.

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When West Virginia announced last week that it was partnering with IMG Learfield Ticket Solutions to sell tickets to athletic events, it changed well, not much at all in how fans will get tickets.

You never know what could happen down the road, of course, but essentially here’s what the partnership does. It adds more people selling WVU tickets.

That’s it.

“If you have season tickets or you want individual game tickets, nothing changes,’’ said Matt Wells, the school’s assistant athletic director for marketing and sales. “You call the same numbers, go to the same website, do things the same way you’ve always done them. There’s no difference.’’

Here’s what is different: If you didn’t renew your tickets from last, expect a call. If you have a friend who bought tickets and he dropped your name, expect a call. In fact, no matter who you are, expect a call.

That’s what the five-member IMG-Learfield group will do. Consider them telemarketers, I guess. They’ll be calling past ticket-holders, current ticket-holders, anyone they think has the potential to become a ticket-holder. They’ll even do cold calls.

“We’ve done some of that in the past,’’ Wells said, referring to followup calls if someone failed to renew a season ticket or something like that. “But we’ve never had the staff to do it the way we’ll do it now.’’

Perhaps the most interesting part of all of this is that the new sales team will earn incentives for selling tickets. University and state law prohibit that kind of compensation by state employees, so ticket manager Debby Travinski’s staff could never earn commissions on sales. There’s no such ban on the IMG-Learfield folks because they aren’t state employees.

Travinski, by the way, is still in charge of the ticket office. There’s still plenty to do there. The new group is just an added sales force.

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And finally, leave it to one of the primary objects of Mark Emmert’s scorn to find the humor in the NCAA president’s testimony in the ongoing Ed O’Bannon trial.

One of Emmert’s primary contentions is that if college players are paid for their services or, at the very least, permitted to profit from their names or images, the college game will be reduced to little more than minor league football and basketball. And minor league sports, regardless of their worth, are a far cry from Division I athletics in terms of popularity.

He’s right, of course, but that’s not the point. In doing so, he still disparages minor league baseball when he draws the comparison. Fortunately, minor league baseball teams have long been at the forefront of self-deprecating humor.

And thus the Lake Erie Captains, an Indians Class A affiliate, are planning Mark Emmert Appreciation Day on July 2. Between Canadian Baseball Night and Date Night, the Captains will (honor?) Emmert with a slew of in-game promotions:

n Fans may transfer to a different seat during the game, but will be subject to a one-inning waiting period penalty.

n Fans who participate during any of the in-game festivities, contests or promotions will receive no tangible prizes, but instead will receive the satisfaction of having participated.

n At game’s end, a fan will be crowned that evening’s BCS (Big Captains Superstar) Champion. The winner will be chosen by a subjective vote taken by members of the media and a computerized scoring system.

If they really want to take it a step further, though, we suggest that at various points during the game the teams might also hire coaches away from the other team with no repercussions whatsoever.

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1


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