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State Scholarship Programs
Are Creating An Unfair Edge

State Financial Aid Helps Coaches Stretch Rosters

Dana Heiss Grodin
USA Today

The NCAA allows Division I athletic programs to award a maximum of 85 football scholarships, entitling nearly every gridiron athlete a full ride to college.

Baseball players don't have it nearly as good. The NCAA has allotted Division I schools just 11.7 scholarships per year since 1991. Instead of offering full rides, baseball recruiters are forced to pull out their knives and dissect 11.7 scholarships into enough 15%-30% pieces to support a typical 25-man roster.

Yet despite these scholarship limits, Louisiana State still carries 49 players on its roster. Other schools, including Southeastern Conference foes Florida and Georgia, have 40-plus men in uniform.

However, the teams aren't stretching their 11.7 scholarships as thin as you might think.

These teams and others have in-state scholarships at their disposal, grants that the NCAA doesn't count against the standard 11.7 allotment.

"It has definitely helped us," said LSU assistant baseball coach and recruiting coordinator Turtle Thomas. "They get tuition and some of their fees covered, and most of them make good enough grades to keep their scholarships. We're glad to have it."

The awards are meant to keep top high school seniors in Louisiana, Florida, Georgia and nine other states from attending out-of-state universities. In most cases, students receive enough money to cover their tuition and additional fees for four years of school.

Not surprisingly, college baseball coaches in Alabama, Tennessee and other states without merit programs say the awards give their opponents an unfair recruiting advantage, and it's up to the NCAA to step in and fix it.

Most of the state programs have broad eligibility requirements that, on average, require students to graduate with a 3.0 grade-point average (on a 4.0 scale) and score in the top 10 percentile of state and/or national assessment tests. College students can renew their award every year provided they maintain a certain GPA.

However, the standards aren't as high for Louisiana's Tuition Opportunity Program for Students, or TOPS. First introduced in 1998, the program pays tuition and certain fees to any public university in the state for students earning both a minimum 2.5 GPA on high school core courses and an ACT score equivalent to the state average from the previous year. Students must have a 2.30 GPA at the end of the first year, and a 2.50 GPA thereafter.

A majority of players on LSU's roster are TOPS scholars, Thomas said. They receive a small additional scholarship from LSU to cover expenses such as books and housing, then Thomas uses the money left over to offer higher percentage scholarships to out-of-state athletes.

Last year, more than 70,000 Florida students took advantage of the state's Bright Futures Scholarships. High school graduates with a minimum 3.5 GPA and a 1,270 SAT or 28 ACT can earn upward of $1,800 a year for college if they maintain a 3.0 GPA.

Florida also offers a Merit Scholars Award and a Florida Gold Seal Vocational Scholars Award, both of which covers 75% of a student's annual tuition. Both scholarships are renewable with a 2.75 GPA.

Several Florida State players are Merit scholars, said Jamey Shouppe, assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for the Seminoles. He argues that 75% of tuition paid for by the state amounts to only a small portion of the total cost to attend Florida State.

"It's misleading, because at Florida State, 75% is only $1,500," Shouppe said. "A full scholarship to Florida State is $9,000 or so. And if they drop below a 2.75, they're off the Merit program. So for me, I don't use it in the recruiting process at all. I look at the scholarship as money they've earned."

Implemented in 1993, Georgia's HOPE program, Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally, offers scholarships to high school graduates with a 3.0 GPA who attend one of the state's public universities. The scholarship pays tuition plus $150 per semester for books.

"That 11.7 doesn't get very far," Georgia head coach Ron Polk said. "It helps when recruiting an in-state kid, because he can get free tuition and some money for books."

Polk said another advantage of the HOPE program is how it works to deter out-of-state programs from recruiting in Georgia.

Auburn's coach Renfroe concurred. He said recruiting in Georgia is tough because he can't offer equivalent scholarships.

Private schools also find the scholarship program unfair. Although his school is located in New Orleans, Tulane head coach Rick Jones said Louisiana's program doesn't affect his program much because a $2,000 award barely dents Tulane's $34,000 tuition.

"This is an NCAA problem," Jones said, because there aren't enough scholarships for baseball. "This is not a state of Louisiana problem."

While both the haves and have-nots agree that the programs give some schools a major recruiting edge, the solutions aren't obvious, except for the NCAA to grant baseball more scholarships.

Renfroe suggested that the grant programs or the NCAA allow an out-of-state recruit to bring his academic scholarship with him. But he knows that's unlikely to happen.

"We would all like to have it," he said. "But you just can't cry about that. You deal with it and just go out and compete"

Reprinted From:
USA Today

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