A signature on a piece of paper and a recommendation from a coach to the Athletic Department. That is all it takes to determine the future of an eighteen-year-old athlete.

It is the most powerful instrument a college coach has, the ability to give a talented athlete the opportunity to receive an education, without having to pay tuition, or at least the entire tuition.

Volleyball Head Coach Jeff Werneke feels that determining who to give a scholarship to is the most important part of his job.

“It is the most empowering thing that a coach has,” explained Werneke. “With the stroke of a pen the coach dictates the future of a player. It is something that all coaches should take very seriously.”

“I spend a lot of time, twelve to eighteen months, recruiting players, and I think it is something every coach should put a lot of time into,” he added.

Fairfield has nineteen NCAA Division I sports. The NCAA determines how many scholarships each of those nineteen teams may give out.

For major sports like basketball, a team has a set number of scholarships that they can award and each player on a scholarship counts as one of the scholarships, whether it is a full scholarship or a partial scholarship.

The men’s basketball team at Fairfield has thirteen scholarships to hand out. While the smaller sports, which do not make as much money for the school, such as men’s and women’s soccer are labeled equivalency sports, where a team has a limit not on the amount of players, but on the value of the scholarships. In men’s soccer the value is 9.9 scholarships and that amount can be handed out to as many players as the coach wants.

One issue that Fairfield runs into is the school’s high tuition.

“The tuition at Fairfield is much higher than the tuition at other schools, such as the University of Illinois, where the tuition is about 18,000 a year, compared to Fairfield’s 40,000 a year,” said Maura Bolger, the NCAA compliance coordinator. “It costs Fairfield a lot more to run a team than it does at the larger schools who have lower tuition.”

The high tuition also places more value on the scholarship. A player can be seen as an investment for a school, and if the school is paying up to 40,000 dollars a year for this player to represent the school in his or her sport, the school expects the player to do well. However, playing well on the field is just a small part of the representation of the athlete’s school, the player’s off the field behavior is just as important.

First year Head Basketball Coach Ed Cooley feels that three areas should be considered when deciding who should receive a scholarship in order to prevent problems from arising later on.

“The first and most important area is the academic profile of the player, we want to make sure that the player is a good fit for the University and will be able to handle himself in the classroom. The character of the athlete is the next thing we look at, his goals, his values, will he think as a teammate, is he a good person for the community, and will he value the opportunity to goal to college. The final thing is whether or not he is talented on the court,” Cooley said.

Women’s Soccer Head Coach, Jim O’Brien, also looks at similar things when choosing who to offer scholarships to.

“We want players who are talented, but are also well rounded,” said O’Brien. “We want the player to have a high level of commitment and be a high quality student athlete. Our team GPA is the highest in our athletic department and we want to continue to attract the best students to our team.”

Cooley added that if a player does not live up to the standards that he, as well, as the University sets, as far as academically and as a person, the scholarship can be revoked.

“Scholarships are not four-year guarantees,” said Cooley, “They are one-year renewable grants, and the player is at the discretion of the athletic director, coach and non-athletic governing body as to see whether or not the player did the right thing.”

“All scholarships are renewed on an annual basis,” said O’Brien. “Provided the student athlete follows our departments code of conduct and they are diligent in all eligibility requirements, and they are working hard in practice and in games, I recommend renewal of each player’s scholarship each year.”

Fairfield Athletic Director Gene Doris explained that Fairfield cannot remove a scholarship for on-the-field reasons, as the NCAA does not allow for a player’s scholarship to be revoked for not playing well on the field. However, Doris said that a school can remove a scholarship for other reasons.

“If an athlete renders his or herself ineligible, than the scholarship can be revoked,.” said Doris. “The NCAA also says that a player can be ineligible if he or she violates team or school rules.”

“However, in many cases such as that, Fairfield chooses not to remove the player’s scholarship, because in most cases it would cause the player to withdraw from the school, because he or she cannot pay the tuition,” he added.

In some rare cases a player will become injured and will not be able to play the sport for which they have a scholarship. In cases such as these, the NCAA prohibits the school from taking the player off of scholarship in order to protect that person.

“The school is required to keep that player on scholarship,” said Doris, “unless that player was injured in an unauthorized activity. But as long as the player did not violate rules, he or she is covered.”

“In may cases the player will end up coming back to the team or will remain active in a role such as manager, and will prove to be an inspiration to his or her teammates,” added Doris.

O’Brien agrees with Doris, “many times, these injured student athletes remain very involved with the team in some capacity. They often are instrumental by helping with team spirit and motivation.”

“It also helps those individuals feel like they are an important part of the team which has been such a big part of their lives,” he added.

While a scholarship is something that should be looked at as a sign of respect and a symbol of the talent of the recipient, it tends to be a difficult subject for the teams. Not every player is on scholarship and the players all want to be treated the same, whether on scholarship or not.

Men’s soccer player Kerr McLeod ’09 explained the feelings of most players. “Regardless of who’s on scholarship, every person plays an integral role on the team,” McLeod said. “Everybody is equal; therefore it is not often discussed among team members.”

Werneke feels the same way as McLeod, “Every player should be treated equally, some players who are not on scholarship have very important roles on the team, it’s not something that I discuss with the players, if they discuss it, that is up to them.”

Doris described the general opinion of most coaches and the athletic department.

“Who is or who is not on scholarship should never affect who makes the team, who starts, or who plays what amount of time,” said Doris. “Coaches generally do not want to share such information because they want to play the best players and treat ever player equally.”

“The report card for successful distribution of scholarships is a winning record,” added Doris.

O’Brien’s philosophy is that all players are equal and scholarship status does not affect how a player is treated by the coaching staff.

“Each student must be held under the same rules and obligations, on scholarship or not,” said O’Brien.

Scholarships, whether given for academic or athletic reasons, provide an opportunity for a talented person to attend a good school, with little or no cost for that person. Just as a person on an academic scholarship must live up to the expectations of the school, in the classroom and outside the classroom, an athlete must live up to the school’s expectations on and off the playing field.

Athletes often have a status that appears to put them above the rest of the student body, but in reality all the students at Fairfield University are equal, just as all the players of a team are equal. The athletes must respect the rules of the school and the team in order to keep the excellent opportunity that their athletic talent has provided for them.

About The Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.