COLLEGE PARK — The University of Maryland Tuesday pledged to guarantee scholarships to students-athletes until they graduate, regardless of injury or on-field performance.
Maryland announced that the guaranteed scholarships will begin this November. They will go to athletes in all spots, not just the so-called revenue sports of football and basketball.
The “lifetime” guarantee comes at a time when NCAA schools are under intense pressure to provide student-athletes with, if not outright compensation, at least some share of the vast revenue that pours into major college athletic programs.
NCAA rules allow scholarships to be renewed on a year-to-year basis and reduced or canceled for any reason. Critics have argued that such policies undermine the NCAA’s argument that revenue-generating athletes should not be paid. Earlier this month, a federal judge issued an injunction that paves the way for future college football and basketball players to get monetary compensation.
Maryland said that while other universities have extended a scholarship guarantee to “revenue sports,” including football and men’s and women’s basketball, it would be one of the first to provide a lifetime degree guarantee for student-athletes in all sports.
“Our vision is to be the best intercollegiate athletic program while producing graduates who are prepared to serve as leaders in the local, state and global communities,” director of athletics Kevin Anderson said in a news release. “We are confident ‘The Maryland Way Guarantee’ will further demonstrate our commitment to our student-athletes’ pursuit of a college degree.”
The school joined the prestigious Big 10 conference this year. It appears likely that other conference members — who include Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State and other big-time athletic programs — will emulate the new scholarship policy.
In June, the presidents of the 14 member schools issued a statement saying the conference should move in that direction.
“We must guarantee the four-year scholarships that we offer,” their statement said. “If a student-athlete is no longer able to compete, for whatever reason, there should be zero impact on our commitment as universities to deliver an undergraduate education. We want our students to graduate.”
Maryland had been locked in a two-year legal battle with the Atlantic Coast Conference over the Terrapins’ decision in 2012 to leave the conference. Earlier this month, the school and the ACC settled that dispute, with the conference keeping the roughly $31 million it had previously withheld from Maryland but not seeking any additional penalties from the school.
Maryland had eliminated seven sports teams in 2012 to deal with budget deficits. Joining the Big 10 is widely expected to bolster the school’s revenues from sports programs.
Rodney Fort, a professor of sport management at the University of Michigan, said Maryland’s policy is likely to have a minimal impact on its bottom line.
“Universities are mostly fixed input enterprises — lots of buildings and labs and parking and offices,” Fort said. “The added cost of adding a few more students are essentially zero; existing space and faculty would absorb easily. You’d have to add hundreds of students before you’d need to add anything else except another faculty member. Spreading that faculty member cost across the hundreds would also be very small per-student.
“So, the very few athletes that would exercise their lifetime right at any point in time won’t change costs at all for UM,” he added. “Besides, even the tuition would be coming from the athletic department.”