NCAA athletic scholarships potentially at-risk during pandemic

, Spencer Irvine, Leave a comment

2020 has been a very unusual year for the world, if not the United States, and it extends to U.S. higher education and K-12 schools. With ongoing uncertainty about the upcoming 2020-2021 school year, there are significant risks that athletic scholarships could be axed as higher education institutions hedge their bets about the pandemic and its effects on its athletic department budgets.

Unfortunately, 2020 spring season high school athletes potentially missed out on scholarships due to the pandemic when the seasons were abruptly canceled. High school athletes in spring sports such as soccer, lacrosse, baseball, softball, golf, and tennis did not have the opportunity to play a season. It was particularly painful for spring athletes because scholarships tend to be formally offered and accepted during the course of an athlete’s senior year of high school.

Combining the canceled high school and college spring seasons with ongoing uncertainty about college fall sports, higher education institutions will face significant budget shortfalls as students choose to take a gap year or transfer schools. It could lead to athletic departments taking a harder look at non-revenue sports throughout all seasons (fall, winter, or spring) and determine whether to cut those sports, as Stanford did.

For example, Stanford University announced this month that it would axe eleven of its varsity sports programs, specifically programs that are non-revenue. Typically, non-revenue sports are sports that do not bring in exorbitant amounts of money, as football or basketball do. The question remains: will other major athletic departments will follow Stanford’s lead and cut non-revenue programs and therefore, cut scholarships available to current and future college athletes.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is the college association responsible for overseeing all major revenue and non-revenue college sports, such as football, basketball, baseball, swimming, track and field, to name but a few.

The NCAA boasts that it provides at least 180,000 student-athletes $3.6 billion in scholarships and that this accounts for about two-percent of all high school athletes in the United States. These scholarships cover tuition, fees, room and board, and course-related books. The NCAA has long been accused of unfairly treating its student-athletes (its term for athletes attending colleges) and failing to fairly compensate and pay its athletes, especially prominent athletes in major revenue sports. Such criticism has lessened during the pandemic in part to the financial uncertainty facing college athletics programs.

NCAA member schools have an allotted number of scholarships for its varsity programs each year, but with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the scholarship allotment may be thrown into disarray if programs are discontinued going forward.

Although major college athletic departments may be flush with cash from football and basketball revenue, the majority of college athletic departments operate on a tight budget and rely on donations from alumni to keep going. Also, some donations are limited to specific programs and cannot be shifted to offset financial losses from other athletic programs.

All of these dynamics and factors could spell doom for non-revenue sports and cut down the number of available college athletic scholarships in the near future and beyond.