WVU athletics set to offer multiyear scholarships
MORGANTOWN -- Despite its initial opposition to the plan, West Virginia University is ready to offer multi-year scholarships to prospective student-athletes in all sports.
"If a coach feels the desire to make that commitment to a recruit, then he or she can do it," WVU Athletic Director Oliver Luck said.
In October, the NCAA ruled to let schools offer four-year scholarships, a deviation from the one-year scholarships that are renewable at the end of every academic year. It met resistance from West Virginia for both financial and philosophical reasons.
Schools with smaller athletic budgets feared they might not be able to make the monetary commitment needed to keep up with more affluent competition. Other schools, both rich and modest, were concerned about making long-term pledges to a player who might not develop or might not fit a specific system upon a coaching change.
In February, a vote of the Division I schools fell just short of overriding the NCAA's recommendation. The vote needed 62.5 percent of the 330 schools to support overriding. The vote ended with 62.1 percent - two schools short of what was required.
WVU voted to support the override, as did the Big 12 Conference as a whole and all of its nine other members.
No other Bowl Championship Series conference voted to support overriding the rule.
Luck said the Mountaineers will go with the plan now and that schools risk a competitive disadvantage if they do not.
"The TCU AD (Chris Del Conte) was telling a story about two Olympic sport athletes from separate sports and both had four-year scholarship offers from SEC schools," Luck said. "The fact of the matter is other schools out there are doing it now.
"We've said it's permissible and we can do it if we want. We'll see what the NCAA continues to do legislation-wise because we want to make sure we have the weapon in our arsenal."
On college football's national signing day in February - more than two weeks before the Division I vote - the Big Ten's Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Northwestern and the Southeastern Conference's Florida and Auburn said they offered multi-year scholarships in that recruiting class.
Just last month, Texas football Coach Mack Brown said he won't offer multi-year scholarships because he's comfortable with one-year pacts and doesn't feel his school is doing anything wrong.
The rule is quietly aimed at football and the ways teams manage their rosters by oversigning in recruiting and essentially cutting players loose to make way for new and more promising players.
The unloading of current players in favor of new ones applies to all sports and some coaches resent the implication.
"We don't run guys off," said WVU men's basketball coach Bob Huggins.
Huggins, who has not yet had a chance to offer a multi-year scholarship, said he would do it rather than risk losing players to schools that do make the offer.
He is otherwise unconcerned with the rule.
"The only way we revoke a kid's scholarship is if he does something wrong," he said. "It doesn't matter if it's a one-year scholarship or a four-year scholarship."
A student-athlete can still lose the benefits of a multi-year scholarship at any time because of academic or behavioral issues. In that case, the school doesn't have to honor the agreement if it ends early.
However, with the multi-year pacts in place, a student-athlete has the assurance of knowing the scholarship there as long as there is no trouble.
"I think now if you ask almost any coach or AD, the response is always the same, which is, 'Hey, we don't cut kids because of athletic weaknesses. It's because he or she did not do the right thing in the classroom or off the field.'" Luck said. "Coaches simply don't release kids and kids don't lose scholarships because they aren't good tennis players."
Luck said the Mountaineers are also ready to accommodate another significant change. The NCAA in October enacted proposed legislation to allow Division I schools to give student-athletes on scholarship a $2,000 stipend.
There was instant criticism and opposition and the plan was suspended in December when the NCAA realized more than 62.5 percent of the 330 schools would vote to override the rule.
"I think everyone believes it's inevitable," Luck said. "We're basically redefining the scholarship, which hasn't been redefined since the 1960s."
Luck, whose son, Andrew, was a quarterback at Stanford, and whose daughter, Mary Ellen, plays volleyball for the Cardinal, said he supports the legislation for all of WVU's sports.
Luck said it's "a matter of time" until the NCAA approves the stipend and he's preparing to adjust his budget accordingly.
"It clearly will have a financial impact, but to be honest, it's in the best interest of the student-athlete, in particular as we find a lot of kids are coming here from farther and farther away now," he said.
"Look at our football roster and our basketball roster. A lot has changed in 30 years since I was a student-athlete here.
"Maybe one or two people had to fly to Pittsburgh to join the football team for practice. Everyone had a pretty easy drive. That's changed.
"We've got a lot of kids from Florida and we're getting more and more from Texas. Flying around like they have to is not inexpensive and I think we can help with that."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.