The concept of the most revolutionary change to college sports since Title IX was mentioned over 23 minutes into Greg Sankey’s opening remarks at SEC Media Days, right about the time the captive audience of reporters in attendance have succumbed to the meat-locker-like temperatures inside the main ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham-Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama, or are quibbling about said conditions on Twitter.
After referencing his disappointment in the league’s proposal to the NCAA to add a third full-time assistant coach in baseball and softball failing during the past year, the SEC commissioner said 73 words over two sentences signaling strong considerations to what would be the most radical change to college athletics scholarships in equivalency sports — those other than football, men’s and women’s basketball, gymnastics, women’s tennis and women’s volleyball — since the 1972 passage of Title IX, which eventually led the NCAA to start offering Division I championships in women’s sports in 1981.
“And in another area, that of equivalency scholarships,” Sankey said, “our athletics directors and senior women administrators, in a rule that affects baseball, softball, track and field and any number of sports, started a deep exploration as to the whys and the history and what new options may be available for us in the future in providing scholarships to student-athletes. We expect to provide information and a perspective to the NCAA during the next academic year.”
While the college athletes in such sports would benefit enormously from what could be as drastic as the abolition of the equivalency model in favor of headcount (i.e., full scholarships) across the board for all Division I sports, most SEC athletic departments operate at a significant profit and have the means to make such a financial commitment while many other Power 5 athletic departments, especially in the Pac-12, already claim to be operating at a loss.
Earlier this month, Sankey provided more clarity as to how revolutionary the SEC’s considerations are and the conference is indeed examining an overhaul of the entire system.
“It wouldn’t be limited to just one set of equivalency sports,” Sankey said. “I think there’s a need to look deeply on the equivalency side, which is any number of sports. And what our athletics directors said, really in response to gymnastics’ proposal to increase (its) scholarship limit, ‘Let’s stop and let’s look at the scholarship model that exists and see if there might be some better options.’
“There’s an array of options, one of those would not be just one or two sports (baseball and softball), it would be a broader discussion.”
To say this is a complicated discussion is an understatement. At this early stage, the SEC first has to determine how the scholarship math of such a paradigm shift would work.
For instance, softball currently has 12 equivalency scholarships for coaches to allocate as they see fit to their rosters, while baseball has 11.7. If both those sports were to become headcount, baseball would likely more than double to 25, the size of a Major League roster, or 30 since college baseball teams require larger rosters, but most major softball programs have rosters between 20-22 players.
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