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Scholarship (Re)count

Could the Deacs gain some roster flexibility?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Four-Kansas State vs Wake Forest Rick Osentoskii-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, Riley put together a handy scholarship chart showing where Wake’s basketball team stands currently and in the next few years. Barring transfers (none of which have been announced), we’ll have one scholarship available next year if John Collins stays, and two if we learn he’s definitely leaving for the league. Currently, the staff appears to be waiting for a decision from Olivier Sarr, but reports indicate they have also reached out to at least one grad transfer. With May 24th as the last day for Collins to withdraw from the draft and return next year, the staff faces up to fifty days of uncertainty regarding how many players they can realistically target.

However, as has been briefly mentioned a few times in the comments section, Wake does have some potential flexibility regarding the scholarship count. This is due to the Deacs having a father-son combo in Randolph and Brandon Childress. That raises the possibility of the staff (and Brandon) agreeing to “pull” Brandon’s scholarship and have him play as a walk-on next year, because some unique options exist to mitigate the cost of Brandon’s attendance even if he’s not on athletic scholarship. I’ll run through the general NCAA rules on this and then look at how it could play out in Wake’s case.

As reflected in Riley’s chart, the NCAA limits D-1 men’s basketball teams to 13 scholarships. The general rule (with some exceptions) is that once a player is “recruited” (meaning they either took an official visit, met with the staff off-campus, or received an NLI to sign), they’re going to count against that 13 player cap as long as they receive any financial aid. The rationale is pretty obvious: the NCAA doesn’t want unscrupulous programs recruiting scholarship players, laundering those scholarships by pressuring the financial aid office to grant non-athletic (e.g., need-based) aid, and ultimately ending up with way more than 13 scholarship-caliber players.

What a former scholarship player has to do to avoid counting against the cap depends on whether the player was recruited. Non-recruited players can receive non-athletic aid (whether merit-based or need-based) without counting against the scholarship cap. Recruited players, on the other hand, generally can’t receive any kind of financial aid (except for legitimate academic scholarships) or they’ll count against the cap.

Of course, it’s a lot to ask of a player and his family to agree to give up a full ride. That’s why when it does happen, it’s usually because the player in question is the coach’s son. Two recent high-profile examples are Doug McDermott and Bryce Alford. Doug played for his dad Greg at Creighton from 2010 to 2014. Before his senior season, he gave up his scholarship to accommodate the NCAA’s surprise decision to allow Grant Gibbs a sixth year of eligibility. Bryce just wrapped up his career at UCLA playing for his dad Steve. Like Doug, he gave up his scholarship before his senior season, this time to accommodate the late signing of 5 star Arizona decommit TJ Leaf. In both cases, the coaches paid full price for the walk-on season. Of course, with Greg McDermott earning over $1 million from Creighton and Steve Alford earning over $2.5 million from UCLA, it probably wasn't a tough call in either case.

There are some differences between the situation at Wake and those at Creighton and UCLA. First, Randolph is associate head coach, not head coach. Hopefully he’s well-compensated, but he’s presumably not making head coach money. Plus, it’s pretty easy for a head coach to decide he’ll pay his son’s way for a year, but I’d probably be pretty uncomfortable asking if my colleague is willing to do the same. Then again, I don’t know the relationships on the staff but I’m sure they have frank discussions all the time. And, it’s just as possible for Childress to bring the idea up as it is for Manning to.

Additionally, Coach Randolph has an advantage here that Coaches McDermott and Alford lacked. The NCAA allows recruited players to receive tuition concessions granted by universities as an employee benefit without counting against the scholarship cap, but only if the employee (the coach) has been there for five years. Again, this is to avoid shady programs hiring parents and offering immediate tuition concessions as an end-around the scholarship limits. Greg McDermott had only been at Creighton four years when Doug gave up his scholarship, and Steve Alford had been at UCLA three years when Bryce did the same.

Randolph was hired by Wake in August 2011, and took on a full-time role with the basketball program in April 2012. That means, at least as of the 2017-2018 school year, Brandon could receive the generous tuition concession offered by Wake to dependents of its employees, and it wouldn’t count against the team's scholarship limit. That tuition concession covers 94% of tuition and fees, which would turn next year’s $51,400 bill into one for $3,084.

To be fair, the concession doesn’t cover other costs that are included in a full athletic scholarship (things like housing, meals, and books), so the out-of-pocket expense would be a bit higher than that figure indicates. It’s also possible there are compliance or other issues (for example, based on unique ACC rules that didn’t apply to UCLA or Creighton) that I'm not aware of.

Currently, the staff doesn't have an imminent need to free up another scholarship. It makes sense for the staff to consider this strategy, but they wouldn’t need to put it into place unless and until they find two (or, if JC leaves, three) interested players who would be valuable additions to the team.

Brandon has done more than enough to justify the staff’s decision to offer him a scholarship to play at Wake. The option I’ve described has nothing to do with his skill or value, but is solely based on his relationship with Randolph and his ability to take advantage of the tuition concession. If it works out financially and otherwise, having the ACC’s most talented walk-on could give the Deacs some great flexibility to keep building. And even just having the option in his back pocket could give Manning and the staff more freedom to aggressively pursue options on multiple fronts while they wait on JC’s decision.