8 Ways a Coach Can Take Away Your Athletic Scholarship

You’ll see this happening way too often: a 17-year old leaves his or her parents house full of excitement, ready to take on the best 4 years of their lives. They are excited to start their journey at a new school, get a good education, and represent the teams they have always dreamt to play for. Then, a year later, they see their scholarships being taken away and they are forced to transfer to another school.

The most recent data from the NCAA showed that 14.3% of total male athletes transferred in 2017, with 9.3% of female athletes doing the same. Even though these numbers include transfers due to several different reasons, canceled or reduced scholarships account for a good share of them. While sometimes transferring will be inevitable, it is very important to know what reasons a coach may have to take away your scholarship – and what you can do to avoid it. The NCAA has several pages with very detailed information about when a coach can and cannot reduce or cancel an athletes scholarship. However, sometimes coaches will take away your scholarship for reasons that are technically not allowed by the NCAA. Here, we’ll start covering the ones that the NCAA does allow. Here are the 8 main reasons:

1) Athlete Becomes Ineligible

A school may essentially award an athlete with a scholarship for a specified period of time, anywhere between one academic year and five academic years. If you’re offered a scholarship, a scholarship agreement must be provided in writing and it will specify the terms of the scholarship. At the end of the scholarship period, a coach might choose to either renew the scholarship or not. Normally, the NCAA doesn’t allow coaches to remove or decrease financial aid during the time period agreed upon. For instance, if you received an offer for a one-year scholarship starting in August of 2019 and ending in May of 2020, a coach will normally not be able to take that away from you.

However, the NCAA does allow for it to happen in some cases, and the first one is if the athlete becomes ineligible. There are several ways an athlete can become ineligible (visa issues for international students, failed drug tests, dropping below required course hours), and all of them might give a coach the opportunity to take your scholarship away from you.

2) Athlete Commits Fraud

The second reason a coach may take away financial aid is if the athlete commits fraud at some time during the agreed time period. In order for athletes to originally receive scholarships, they must sign an application, a letter of intent, and a financial aid agreement, which pretty much declares that they want to participate in that sport. Now, if the athlete decides to not show up to practices or just show up every now and then, a coach might be allowed to remove his or her scholarship.

3) Misconduct

The third reason is if the university decides that the athlete has engaged in serious misconduct based on the university’s regular student disciplinary authority. What that means is going to be different for any university. It can be from sexual assault, drinking on campus, posting inappropriate pictures on social media, or setting your school up on fire. So be sure to follow your student handbook.

4) Athlete Quits Team for Personal Reasons

This one is pretty straight forward: if you decide to quit the team, you will most likely lose your scholarship. Sometimes you might have a noble reason, but at the end of the day coaches are essentially running a business and they need that scholarship money back. However, it is important to point out that the coach will not be allowed to give that extra scholarship to another athlete during that academic year.

The following reasons have different rules for schools that follow Power 5 rules and for the ones that don’t, so make sure to read it until the end:

5) Athlete Violates Non-Athletic Documented Policy

If your school follows this Power 5 rule, it means that they might take your scholarship away if you fail to comply with some academic standards or some other rules specified by the athletic department or by the team.

6) Injury

This is where it starts getting a little complicated. If you were awarded a scholarship for an established period of time, the NCAA states that a coach cannot reduce the scholarship during that time due to “an injury, illness, or physical or mental medical condition” of an athlete.” For schools that don’t follow Power 5 rules, a coach might decide to not renew an injured athlete’s scholarship once the initial scholarship period is over.

For schools that DO follow Power 5 rules, a coach cannot take that into consideration when debating whether to renew the scholarship or not. So if you go to such a school, get a scholarship for a year and get injured during that year, a coach technically cannot take that into consideration when deciding if he’s gonna renew your scholarship for the next year or not. However, in reality, things do not always happen that way and sometimes coaches might find a way to get that scholarship taken away from you.  

7) Not Performing Well

This has the same applications as the injury rule: a coach cannot cancel your scholarship during an established scholarship period due to “ a student-athlete’s athletic ability, performance or contribution to a team’s success.” Power 5 rules establish that a coach cannot consider that when it comes time to decide to renew a scholarship or not. So if you get a one-year athletic scholarship, work extremely hard, but still are not able to make the starting team, a coach from a Power 5 school cannot technically reduce or cancel your scholarship because of that. Once again, some coaches might be able to find a loophole and still take your money away from you.

8) New Coach – FOR ALL SCHOOLS

At the end of the day, a coach is the one responsible to make the final decision of how much (and if) an athlete will receive a scholarship. What happens sometimes is that Coach X will bring you in and promise you a certain amount of money for each year. Then, for some reason, that Coach is fired or resigns and Coach Y is hired. Coach Y might not see the same potential in you, not like your attitude, or just flat out be an a-hole. If he’s really committed to getting your scholarship taken away from you, he might be able to find a reason to do so.

Hearing opportunity

Now that we’ve covered the main reasons why you can possibly lose that well-deserved scholarship, there is something worth mentioning (and that not everyone knows about). If a coach decides to take away your scholarship or not to renew it, the NCAA establishes that you are entitled to a hearing with the University’s regular financial aid department (not the athletics’ department). This is the current NCAA policy about this procedure:

The institution’s regular financial aid authority shall notify the student-athlete in writing of the opportunity for a hearing when institutional financial aid based in any degree on athletics ability is to be reduced or canceled during the period of the award, or is reduced or not renewed for the following academic year. The institution shall have established reasonable procedures for promptly hearing such a request and shall not delegate the responsibility for conducting the hearing to the university’s athletics department or its faculty athletics committee. The written notification of the opportunity for a hearing shall include a copy of the institution’s established policies and procedures for conducting the required hearing, including the deadline by which a student-athlete must request such a hearing.”

I personally didn’t know about this until I read the NCAA manual. So, if you think you’re having your scholarship being taken away unjustly, make sure you request a hearing and make a good case for yourself.

What can you do about it?

At the end of the day, athletes only have limited power when it comes to their scholarships. The ultimate decisions will come down to coaches and athletic departments. However, there are a couple things one can do to maximize their chances to keep that money coming in:

  • Comply with rules: first of all, make sure you know all the rules for your school. GPA requirements, dry campus policies, drug tests, class attendance policies – as long as you follow their rules, chances are it will be harder to take away your scholarship.
  • Work hard: if you put in the work, you’ll get better at your sport. On top of that, you’ll increase the chances of keeping your coach on your side, and he won’t really have a reason to cut your financial aid.
  • Negotiate multi-year award: Lastly, an athlete can try to negotiate a multi-year scholarship during the recruiting process. While not every coach will be willing to offer that, some coaches are pretty open to it. Especially if you are a top recruit in your sport, you should try your best to negotiate a multi-year deal in order to avoid any stresses in the future.

So, that covers most of it. If you had your scholarship taken away for a stupid/weird reason, make sure to write about it on the comment section below. I would love to hear your story!

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