Alabama baseball coach Greg Goff was fired after one season at the helm of the Crimson Tide baseball program after a disappointing 19-34-1 overall record and a 5-24-1 record against Southeastern Conference competition.
However, despite the team’s poor performance and lowest overall win total since 1980, it is believed that Coach Goff’s reported decision to try to revoke scholarships for several of his players was the catalyst that led to his termination. Non-renewing or reducing the Alabama baseball student-athletes athletics scholarships on the basis of athletics performance would have likely violated current NCAA bylaws.
Coach Goff had allegedly informed as many as 10 returning scholarship players during exit meetings following the end of the season that their athletic scholarships would not be renewed for the next school year.
In 2015, NCAA autonomy schools (frequently referred to as members of the Power 5 conferences and Notre Dame) voted to impose a more restrictive version of the longstanding NCAA bylaw which allows Division I schools the freedom to non-renew or reduce its student-athlete’s scholarships for athletics-based reasons.
While non-autonomy schools who have not voluntarily chosen to opt-in to the 2015 autonomy rule are still free to terminate or reduce scholarships in the manner that Coach Goff allegedly threatened, Alabama is subject to the more restrictive rule which prevents such an action.
A number of NCAA bylaws should be reviewed and considered in the context of potential scholarship reductions or cancellation.
Autonomy and non-autonomy institutions are similarly bound by NCAA restrictions that prevent the institutions from reducing or terminating an award for athletics-based reasons during the term of the scholarship award.
Certain NCAA bylaws only apply to autonomy schools and non-autonomy schools that elect to follow the rule.
NCAA Bylaw 22.214.171.124 is an example of such a bylaw.
It only applies to autonomy schools (like Alabama) and non-autonomy schools who have elected to follow the autonomy rule. This bylaw restricts those institutions from reducing scholarship amounts during the period of the scholarship award for athletics-based reasons.
Institutional financial aid based in any degree on athletics ability may not be reduced or canceled during the period of its award:
(a) On the basis of a student-athlete’s athletics ability, performance or contribution to a team’s success;
(b) Because of an injury, illness, or physical or mental medical condition (except as permitted pursuant to Bylaw 126.96.36.199); or
(c) For any other athletics reason.
As mentioned above, while autonomy and non-autonomy schools are similarly restricted from the non-renewal or reduction of scholarships for athletics-based reasons during the term of the scholarship award, there is no specific prohibition of the non-renewal or reduction of a student-athletes scholarship for athletics-based reasons after the period of the scholarship award for non-autonomy institutions who have not opted into the autonomy rule.
Conversely, NCAA Bylaw 188.8.131.52 restricts autonomy institutions and non-autonomy schools who have elected to follow the autonomy rule from reducing scholarship amounts of student-athletes who received a scholarship in their initial year of enrollment at the institution for athletics-based reasons after the period of the scholarship award and specifically states:
If a student athlete receives athletically related financial aid in the academic year of his or her initial full-time enrollment at the certifying institution, the following factors shall not be considered in the reduction or nonrenewal of such aid for the following academic year or years of the student-athlete’s five-year period of eligibility:
(a) A student-athlete’s athletics ability, performance or contribution to a team’s success (e.g., financial aid contingent upon specified performance or playing a specific position);
(b) An injury, illness, or physical or mental medical condition; or
(c) Any other athletics reason.
Newly appointed Alabama Athletic Director Greg Byrne commented on the termination of Goff, “As with any situation, the University of Alabama will follow NCAA guidelines.” He further reinforced the school’s intentions when he announced, “We are not revoking scholarships.”
Coach Goff, who received a five year, $2.25 million contract last June, will reportedly receive the payment for the remaining four years of his agreement as the termination was without cause.