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More Work to Be Done With Written Scholarship Offers

In 2010, the NCAA adopted Proposal 2009–47-B. 2009–47-B grew out of, obviously, 2009–47-A which started as a football only proposal. The new rule covered written scholarship offers, and prohibited providing them prior to August 1 of a prospect’s senior year in high school. This was the rationale:

Over the years, a culture has developed in which prospective student-athletes are receiving letters from coaches at the beginning of their junior year in high school that, essentially, offer athletics scholarships. Although they are not able to sign a National Letter of Intent until their senior year in high school, many prospective student-athletes view the early scholarship offer letters they receive as binding agreements. This proposal will eliminate the confusion such letters create with prospective student-athletes.

So, three years on, has the proposal solved the problem? In a word, no.

Even a cursory glance at some of these written scholarship offers shows how a prospect could still be confused. Texas talks about how a scholarship has been “guaranteed” for some time, while Texas has not actually committed itself to do anything. Almost all of the letters list contingencies for the athlete to fulfill, suggesting that the offer cannot be pulled. Arizona and Vanderbilt’s letters look like diplomas or other official university document.

Even the infamous Virginia typo is probably more correct than what was intended: that at some point in the past, the coach formerly offered a scholarship verbally and this letter confirms that fact.

A few of the letters acknowledge that the offer is not set in stone. Illinois, Kentucky, Notre Dame, Pitt, and Texas A&M all mention the limited availability of scholarships or scholarships at a certain position. North Carolina reminds the prospect to make a decision quickly as the recruiting class fills up. Washington’s is the best, listing “maintaining the same level of play on the football field” as a requirement, and reminding the prospect that evaluations are ongoing.

There are two simple solutions. The NCAA could allow schools to sign prospects to scholarship agreements (but not the NLI) on August 1 of the senior year. Then at least the prospect can get some formal guarantee of a scholarship (albeit still under certain conditions). Or going the other direction, the NCAA could require that any written scholarship offer or letter sent before Signing Day includes a disclaimer that describes how it is more or less not worth the fancy letterhead it is printed on.

In all likelihood, all of the prospects will get to sign in February. And in all likelihood, most or all of them will enroll next year. But instead of solving the problem, Proposal 2009–47-B has just moved it from 18 months before Signing Day to six months. That’s definitely an improvement, but it is time to tackle the real problem here.

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