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NCAA to decide on multiyear scholarship proposal

| Monday, Feb. 13, 2012

Schools and conferences are deciding this week whether the NCAA can continue delivering on a promise to allow multiyear scholarships for college athletes — an issue that has drawn the attention of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Approved by the association's Division I board of directors in October, the measure has drawn enough fire to force a five-day, division-wide vote on overriding the decision. More than 350 schools and leagues can weigh in, starting today.

A five-eighths majority, or 222 votes if every school and conference took part in the online referendum, is required to rescind the change.

That could prove hard to reach. Eighty-two schools registered formal objection to the change after the board's action late last year.

"I think it's an uphill battle," said Winthrop athletics director Tom Hickman, whose school was among them.

The proposal is part of a package of reforms championed by NCAA president Mark Emmert, who has been calling university presidents and chancellors to urge their rejection of the override attempt. Proponents of multiyear scholarships, which can be offered instead of current one-year grants, see them as a matter of athlete welfare.

Opponents argue, among other things, that they've already become an unsavory bargaining chip in recruiting. The measure merely gives schools the option of making multiyear offers, and they can choose to which athletes those scholarships are given.

"I see coaches starting to play games with this," Hickman says. "You might offer your blue-chip kid a four-year scholarship. But then your other kids, you say, 'Well, let's give them a two-year deal. We'll redshirt them the first year, play them the second year, see how it works out.'

"It puts us into an atmosphere of now negotiating a contract, so to speak, for a scholarship with a prospect, which is no real difference from what professionals do with the players they sign."

"What this legislation does," Rutgers AD Tim Pernetti echoes, "is essentially put schools into contract negotiations with 15- to 17-year-old kids."

Perhaps looming over the scholarship debate is the Department of Justice's antitrust division, which informed the NCAA a little less than two years ago it was looking into the longtime single-year restriction. In a statement after the NCAA board gave the go-ahead to multiyear grants, spokeswoman Gina Talamona applauding the move and said it "should expand opportunities and choices for student athletes."

She declined comment on this week's vote and the possibility of rescinding the measure. Also not clear are details of the department's interest. The NCAA's Bob Williams said that, to his knowledge, the federal government's interest hasn't been a factor in pushing it.

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