The NCAA granting a free year of playing eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic may ultimately cause Greg Schiano (and other coaches across the country) to use his ax to eventually chop some players loose.
Sure, a free year of eligibility sounds nice, but where will the additional scholarships come from?
Schiano has that same question, he revealed during a conference call with reporters last week. And it’s as good a time as any for the NCAA to answer it.
“It’s a great question because everybody is focused on the season; as a head coach you have to focus on everything. And I am really concerned about — it’s easy to say, ‘Yeah, it’s a free year of eligibility.’ But if they don’t give you more scholarships, well, then something has to give,” Schiano said. “And it’s the age-old deal.
“It’s easy to say you have a free year of eligibility and then point the finger at the coach and say, ‘Now, you figure it out. Now I’ll make you the bad guy. Do you want him back or not?’ So I don’t know. We’ll figure it out. But it’s not going to be pleasant. You’re going to have to make some tough decisions. What am I going to say, ‘thank you.’ ’’
If Schiano, who’s proven savvy with personnel moves since December return, doesn’t know, then the NCAA has some explaining to do.
His comments highlight a dilemma each program in the country will face at season’s end.
The “free year” is touted as a safeguard against the impact of COVID-19 on player eligibility, but creates an atmosphere where some will be disenfranchised if they don’t perform to a certain standard.
It would force coaches to pull the one-year renewable scholarships of players who can’t help the team. Coaches could whittle down to 85 players form a larger, stronger pool of talent, so they’ll be fine. But the players will get the short end of the stick in the end. Because it’s simple math and someone has to.
It’s an issue for 2021 and potentially a bigger one for current juniors since the NCAA could conceivably stick with a cap of 85 for 2022 and beyond. Or, in other words, pass the buck to the schools, according to this excerpt from Dan Hope and ElevenWarriors.com on Aug. 24.
“As part of the decision to issue a blanket eligibility waiver to all fall sports athletes, the NCAA also determined that current seniors in those sports will not count against team scholarship limits next year if they choose to take advantage of the opportunity to return for another year. But the NCAA hasn’t addressed the potential issues that could arise after next year if teams are forced to get back to traditional scholarship limits in 2022.
The free year of eligibility is a clear and deserved benefit for seniors to have the option to play the full season next fall that they won’t get to play this fall, and it will have other noteworthy short-term benefits for college football teams (assuming they are able to play at some point this year), as well. But it also comes with some side effects that will create additional challenges for those teams to navigate as they manage their rosters over the next four to five years.’’
Unless the NCAA increases the annual scholarship count from 85 to at least 100 for four years, players will be forced out of schools at a higher rate. Because, like Schiano said, something’s got to give. And one thing fringe players dread is the day their head coach walks up to them while stretching and says, “I don’ think things are working out for you here.”
Which already happens at most schools, and more than you think.
Not increasing the scholarship could would also hurt high school recruits, who are already being boxed out of scholarships by players in the transfer portal and junior colleges as most coaches prefer plug-and-plays to developmental prospects. Especially, in this day of unfair expectations and the need for instant gratification in coaching.
What coach wouldn’t prefer a team full of sixth-year seniors over high school recruits who need two-to-three years before they can help? Even if they’re one of the top 15-to-20 destinations for blue chip recruits, there’s a clear advantage to having mature, experienced players on any team. In any sport at any level.
A scholarship increase would allow marginal players opportunities at a higher level. NFL agents and the league itself would benefit from the larger pool of players proven against top competition. But even if the NCAA were to expand the scholarship cap, schools would have to fund them, creating a larger divide between programs with bigger budgets and those with less cash to spend. The reason why scholarships were capped in the first place.
Financially strapped programs like Rutgers must find ways to exploit the extra leeway if granted. Sure, Schiano gets things done, but it would be tough for even him to pull 15-20 scholarships out of a hat. Based on his track record, I wouldn’t bet against him. But, clearly, there is much for the NCAA to consider and communicate to its coaches.
Once the dust settles and all the games are played. And once the NCAA has already gotten what it wants.
(NJ Advance Media’s James Kratch and Keith Sargeant contributed to this report.)
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