Should the NCAA Remove the Limit on Football Scholarships?

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

College football fans are fiercely loyal. We follow our teams through ups and downs, season after season. As the world around us has changed in dramatic ways, college football has remained a constant. But coaching changes, conference realignments, probation and absurd rule changes threaten the sport we know and love. It’s time to take a stand against the NCAA. If the changes we’ve seen over the past decade continue, it’s going to eventually turn the sport we love into something we don’t recognize.

Last off-season, several big changes were voted on and are still being discussed. The most notable proposals were the reduction of total scholarships from 85 to 80, the addition of a four-team playoff, and the proposal of multi-year scholarships for all incoming football players. I could talk about the pros and cons of a playoff system all day, so let’s save that for another time. Let’s focus on what could potentially change the face of college football: Scholarship reductions and multi-year scholarships.

In 1994, the NCAA was hell-bent on expanding the game’s popularity. The goal was to appeal to a wider audience, and to help facilitate this, the NCAA attempted to level the playing field. They wanted the Akrons of the world to have the same number of players on scholarship as the Nebraskas of the world. Parity equals popularity. It was the NCAA’s hope that if each team fielded fewer players, talent would be spread more evenly across the board, and every team would have a better chance at a National Championship. So in 1994, the NCAA voted to limit scholarships from 105 to 85.

Fast-forward 19 years. The teams who were dominating the college football landscape in 1994 are the same teams who are winning championships now. Since 1994, Nebraska, Florida, Michigan, Tennessee, Florida State, Oklahoma, Miami, Ohio State, LSU, USC, Texas, Auburn and Alabama have all won national championships. Those were the same teams who were winning in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. The playing field hasn’t been leveled. The only real noticeable change is fewer kids are getting scholarships.

At the root of this scholarship movement are the Big Ten zealots who claim the SEC is a football factory that doesn’t care about its players. Truth be told, if the oversigning crowd were truly looking out for each athletes best interest, the solution would be simple: We’d lift the limit of 85 scholarships that Division 1 Universities are able to hand out, and we’d go back the unlimited scholarships.

With the current scholarship limitations, four-year scholarships are a bad idea. With a limit of 85, there isn’t much leeway when a kid gets into trouble or isn’t putting in the effort to be a contributing member of the team. If the NCAA and college administrators truly cared about academics, the 85 limit wouldn’t exist, and every scholarship signed would be a four-year scholarship.

If you left it up to each college to give out as many scholarships as they wanted, as long as they were all four-year guarantees, wouldn’t that completely eliminate the problem? It’s the best of both worlds. The coaches get as many players as they want, and there are no depth issues. Yet every kid who signs on the dotted line gets a guaranteed education without the fear of under-performing on the field. Isn’t this what everyone wants? We’ve already seen the limitation of 85 scholarships doesn’t level the playing field. So why not afford more kids the opportunity of a higher education?

A reduction in scholarships does nothing but hurt the fringe athletes who are counting on their athletic prowess to give them the opportunity to go to college. But as an Alabama fan, I’ve seen first hand that it’s much easier for people to say that Nick Saban is taking away a young man’s opportunity than it is to admit that forced parity in college athletics does more harm than good.

This is part one of a two-part series on NCAA football. Stay tuned for part two later this week.

Topics: Football, NCAA

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  • KB

    Great article! Taking an opportunity to attend college away from a young man who otherwise wouldnt be able to is not the answer. Universities make alot of money off of these young men. They should give some of that money back in the form of scholarships. Maybe there should be a “floor” of how many in state kids must be on the team for a public university. Just my two cents.

    • BamaHammer

      Interesting thoughts. I think we’re heading toward some sort of compensation for players, but more scholarships could also be on the horizon.

    • http://twitter.com/BourbonGhost BourbonGhost

      Great point. There’s been a lot of backlash from fans and media alike about the way the NCAA handles it’s student athletes. The players put in a maximum amount of effort and work while the NCAA & member institutions are the ones getting rich off of it. I think all of this will come to a head at some point.

      The minimum amount of kids from each state is an especially interesting angle. I wouldn’t mind seeing some research done into that.

    • ScottN

      Schools do give back the money in the form of scholarships. It just isn’t football scholarships. Most athletic departments run right about even and sometimes in the red, so schools are not just pocketing the money. Football profits allow for tons of other sports scholarships and teams. There would also be title IX implications. So overall, there is really no benefit to increases in football scholarships (other than big name schools being able to hoard recruits). It just means other sports would be eliminated because schools would be spending even more money on football. Also, before you say other sports cost more than adding scholarships to an already existing sport, that is simply not true if it’s a football scholarship. Football teams spend extravagantly per player vs. other non revenue sports. So adding a football scholarship would cost more than 1 non revenue scholarship. Which means adding football scholarships would actually lower the number of athletic scholarships.

      • http://twitter.com/BourbonGhost BourbonGhost

        I don’t buy that teams would be able to stockpile recruits, and even if they could, why would that matter? Athletes aren’t a good you buy at a store. NCAA football is a free market. Recruits are free to pick the school of their choosing. Whether that school has ten 5 star running backs or zero, it shouldn’t matter to you, me or the NCAA. Recruits should be allowed to attend the program of their choosing based on what THEY are looking for, not based on what the NCAA thinks they should be looking for.

        I also don’t buy most of the figures I see about programs operating in the red. One day a list will come out stating program X is worth $500 million dollars and generated $15 million last year. The next day you’ll see another article stating that same program lost $5 million last year.

        The Title IX implications & decrease in other sports is an argument for another day because that’s just too much for one comment section. The only thing I’ll add is this: Why is it football’s responsibility to help keep the other sports afloat?

        • KB

          No one can argue that football is the cash cow for most athletic departments. Why should football be treated the same as lacrosse or women’s volleyball? In corporate America the more successful your business, the more resources you are afforded. You can hire more employees for a better wage. We are a free market society. Why should athletic departments not be allowed to put more resources into its sole money making venture. Title IX was passed in a time when no one could ever imagine how big the business of college football would be. Student athletes are a valuable commodity. Recruiting services are a multi-million dollar business. They make these kids into larger than life figures before they ever graduate from high school. Everyone is profiting from student athletes except for the student athlete himself. Why not allow as many of them as possible to get a free education? Is it really so bad if a university awards a few extra scholarships per year? Is it really so bad if a few more young men earn their education by playing a sport which they love?

          • BamaHammer

            I think it’s clear college athletics is a free market for everyone except the athlete. They are unpaid, yet schools and private enterprises make millions off their work. I’m not particularly in favor of paying college players, but they do generate untold revenue for schools. I also think Title IX is the very picture of social engineering, but that’s a whole nother post…

          • http://twitter.com/BourbonGhost BourbonGhost

            I really, really hope we don’t see players receiving paychecks, although I’d probably be ok with some sort of stipend. Many other college kids get stipends for doing something for the University. (Heck I got one as an RA.) But the idea of an amateur athlete receiving a paycheck just feels dirty.

            Title IX? Great idea, noble intent, but not being carried out in the best possible way. I could write a thesis on Title IX.

          • BamaHammer

            Ironically, in olden days players were paid stipends. When Southern schools began to offer players paid tuition (scholarships) to come play football, Northern schools cried foul, saying it would ruin the integrity of the game. Some things never change.

  • Lenny Pepperidge

    You freakin’ hillbillies are too funny. I guess that things must be pretty slow (pun fully intended) down there what with NASCAR on break and all the best fightin’ roosters on their Winter tours of Columbia and San Salvador. Your tiny chimp-like brains have to focus on something. Well, focus on this. The Big Ten is, always has been and always will be your better regardless of what little transitory (look it up) success you might have on the football field.

    • BamaHammer

      Colt, is that you? How’s handing the ball of to Trent working out?

    • http://twitter.com/BourbonGhost BourbonGhost

      When the Big Ten wins 7 straight BCS titles, your claims of being the better conference will carry some validity. And if that ever happens, I’ll voluntarily change my name to Lenny Pepperidge.

      • Lenny Pepperidge

        Let me spell this out for you. Football is only a small part of our universities. That’s what your simple Southern Man mentality can’t seem to understand. We don’t deny that you are the better football conference. Hell, it’s the only thing that brings any meaning and validity to your sordid little collection of glorified community colleges, so it’s only to be expected that your entire collective, regional and individual self-worth would be so wrapped up in football success. The point that I was making is that we are, always have been and always will be the better universities and better people.