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Athletic Scholarships: Legal Issues to Know

With college being so expensive these days, any help with paying for tuition is a relief to parents and students alike. Students can get help paying for college by taking out private or federal loans or by being awarded scholarships, which can pay for all or some of the student's tuition. There are generally two types of scholarships: academic and athletic.

Athletic scholarships are often seen as a win-win situation, since the student receives financial support and the school secures a promising athlete who can help raise revenue. However, it's important for students and parents to understand that while an athletic scholarship is a huge benefit to the student, it is also a contract. For this reason, parents and students need to know their rights when it comes to athletic scholarships.

Athletic Scholarships as Contracts

An athletic scholarship is basically a yearly contract because it expires at the end of each school year and must be renewed. The coaching staff has the right to review the roster and scholarship athletes to decide how to spend the money allotted to them the next year, and must notify student athletes by July 1st about whether their scholarship will be renewed.

This is important to keep in mind because if a scholarship is not renewed, the student athlete will be responsible for paying his or her tuition and expenses. Moreover, an athletic scholarship doesn't necessarily mean that all of the student athlete's sports-related injuries will be covered by the school. While the school is required to make the student athlete aware of its medical coverage, there is currently no standardized health care coverage for student athletes.

Finally, an athletic scholarship can prevent a student from transferring to another school. Accepting an athletic scholarship means that the student commits to playing for the school that offered him or her the scholarship. As a result, if the student wants to transfer, he or she must get permission from the school. Depending on the circumstances, there's a possibility that the school won't grant permission for the student to transfer. If a student chooses to transfer anyway, the school could sue the student for breach of contract.

Student Athlete Rights

In order to keep students and parents aware of their rights, Congress passed a bill known as the Student Right-to-Know Act. This Act requires schools that are eligible for Title IV funding to calculate and disclose graduation rates of full-time students. The Act requires that schools disclose the graduation rates of all students, as well as graduation rates specifically for students on athletic scholarships.

California also passed a similar bill in 2010. Known as the Student-Athletes' Right to Know Act, it requires colleges to make their policies concerning standards for scholarship renewals, out-of-pocket expenses for students on full athletic scholarships, and sports-related medical expenses public. Before accepting an athletic scholarship, it's in your best interests to research the school's policies regarding out-of-pocket expense and scholarship renewals. You don't want to get stuck in a contract that leaves you covering a significant portion of your expenses.

Student Athlete Unionization

Generally, unions are a mechanism that allow workers to negotiate together with employers, which can be helpful in situations where an individual worker has little or no bargaining power on his or her own. In recent years, student athletes have also attempted to unionize, which has raised the question about whether they are employees or students.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which is in charge of regulating the athletic programs of many colleges, maintains the position that student athletes are students and not employees. With this line of thinking, the NCAA argues that student athletes' attempts to unionize undermine the purpose of college. As college athletes continue to bring in increasing revenues for their schools, the debate over student athlete unionization won't be going away anytime soon.  

Getting Legal Help

Before accepting an athletic scholarship, you may want to meet with an education law attorney in your area. An attorney will be able to review the contract and discuss the terms of the scholarship with you.

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