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Former USC Football Player Fighting for Walk-Ons

Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports, interviewing Tim Lavin, a former Southern California football player about walk-on issues:

The Inclusion Petition I have put forth will inform American sports fans and media of where we really are today and what we must do for basic fairness and the true protection and sincere well-being of all student-athletes.

Lavin cites three major areas he would like to see improved for walk-ons:

  • Walk-ons are currently charged for training table meals.
  • Walk-ons do not have the same insurance coverage as scholarship athletes.
  • Walk-ons are subject to the same transfer rules as scholarship players.

Lavin gets one thing wrong about training table, which is that all athletes pay for training table meals. Schools are required to deduct training table meals from an athlete’s room and board allowance. The reason Lavin never saw these players “open their wallets” is that at many schools, full scholarship athletes are charged training table whether they go or not. It is deducted from their room and board before it hits their account.

I am not familar situation where an athlete was charged for the institution’s athletics injury insurance program. Athletes at most universities are covered by two insurance policies: the institution’s athletics injury insurance policy and the athlete’s personal health insurance. Most universities require all students (not just athletes) to carry health insurance and will enroll students without coverage on the university’s group policy and charge them. Athletic departments can pay for health insurance for all athletes, but are not required to; they may decide to only pay that cost for scholarship athletes. That would be more likely than an athlete paying for the school’s athletics insurance policy.

Lavin though is absolutely right about transfer rules though. Walk-ons do not impact the APR or graduation rates, did not sign a National Letter of Intent, and (sometimes) not being invested in by the athletic department the same way scholarship athletes are. Yet they are bound by almost the same set of transfer rules, with some exceptions for unrecruited walk-ons. In a worst case scenario, an athletic department can deny a walk-on permission-to-contact another school, which would prevent the walk-on from receiving a scholarship he or she might be offered by another institution.

Instead, walk-ons should be treated like Division III athletes where there are no athletic scholarships for transfer purposes. They should be allowed to self-release and grant their own permission-to-contact without asking the school. And they should be allowed to transfer and play immediately at least once without requesting a release from the athletic department, so long as they are eligible both at the current and new institutions.

If there is validity to the criticism that the unionization movement is the “wrong way” to get reform, this would be the most applicable. The need to classify scholarships as pay means a large number of athletes could get left out, some of whom are walk-ons for reasons totally unrelated to their athletic ability. By contrast, many of the reforms being pushed through the NCAA by the power conferences would address Lavin’s issues for all student-athletes, walk-on and scholarship alike.

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