Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that Big Ten endorsed guaranteed four-year scholarships in late July. It’s late June, not late July. This version has been corrected.
Less than two months after it formally joined the Big Ten, Maryland continued to remodel its athletic future Tuesday, announcing it will guarantee lifetime scholarships for athletes in revenue and non-revenue sports.
Maryland athletes were previously offered one-year financial agreements subject to renewal each year. Athletes on full and partial scholarships will be covered by the new financial umbrella, which is fully retroactive. The school is currently graduating about 86 percent of its athletes, Athletic Director Kevin Anderson said, and the program will attempt to increase that number.
The move will take effect in November, in time for the NCAA’s early signing period, and is expected to have broad implications for how the athletic department conducts business in the coming years.
“We’re just at the cutting edge of doing this,” Maryland men’s basketball Coach Mark Turgeon said. “We didn’t do it for a recruiting advantage. We did it for the welfare of our student-athletes.”
The announcement comes two weeks after a judge potentially opened the door for college pay-for-play when it ruled against the NCAA in the Ed O’Bannon case. Earlier this month an NCAA board voted to grant more autonomy to the country’s five most lucrative conferences, including the Big Ten. Maryland assessed the NCAA movement and the conversation about four-year scholarships and honed in on “what’s good for the student-athlete,” Anderson said Tuesday.
“We needed to go further than that,’” Anderson said. “What we want to guarantee our student-athletes is that we’re here for them once they become . . . Maryland people. And we wanted to demonstrate that commitment.”
The initiative, touted by the school as the “Maryland Way Guarantee,” also calls for aid to be guaranteed through graduation for athletes who exhaust their eligibility before graduating, as well as those who are unable to compete because of injury. The program will also provide tuition, books and fees for athletes who leave the university in good academic standing and return to finish their degrees.
Anderson said the program won’t cost “in the millions of dollars,” adding that the school will raise additional funds through an endowment, the Terrapin Club Scholarship Fund, and is seeking additional revenue-generating opportunities, including multimedia rights and ticket sales.
The school paid more than $10.6 million worth of student-athlete scholarships this year. Maryland announced last week that it raised more than $8.6 million through the Terrapin Club Scholarship Fund in fiscal year 2014, about $500,000 more than last year. A full scholarship for an in-state athlete costs $10,227; out-of-state scholarships are $30,520.
The Big Ten endorsed guaranteed four-year scholarships in late June in a statement signed by each of the league’s 14 presidents and chancellors. The Pac-12 called for similar assurances as part of a sweeping set of proposals sent in a May letter to the presidents of schools in the other four major FBS conferences. Earlier this summer, Indiana announced its commitment to four-year scholarships for all full-scholarship athletes, and Southern California said it would offer them to all athletes in football and men’s and women’s basketball.
That Maryland is now offering four-year scholarships to non-revenue athletes is a “very real promise that when you commit to Maryland that we’re going to commit to you forever,” men’s soccer Coach Sasho Cirovski said, and he expects that promise to have a profound effect on recruiting, putting the families of prospects at ease and allowing flexibility for players who leave school early to play at the next level.
“If it’s the right thing for you to leave to play professionally, to play with either our national teams or pursue a career, we’re going to be committed. We want you back to finish your degree at Maryland, not at some junior college somewhere else,” Cirovski said. “It’s a great statement. It puts real teeth into the transformation of movement in the NCAA that talks about student-athlete welfare.”
Turgeon said Tuesday the move will not change his recruiting approach or hinder roster flexibility with incoming transfers or freshmen. He will continue to push for his players to graduate in four years, he said, and anticipates more players will return to school to finish their degreees.
“Everything is moving towards the welfare of the student-athlete. This is just another thing at the forefront that Maryland is doing to make sure the athlete is taken care of academically,” Turgeon said. “When I offer a scholarship to a player, I’ll say, ‘It’s basically a five-year scholarship to play four years.’ But it’s not written that way in the letter-of-intent or financial aid agreement. Now it will be written the Maryland way.”