BR.lsuumasslowell.030720 HS 151.JPG

LSU second baseman Cade Doughty (4) throws to first base for the double play after tagging UMass Lowell third baseman Joey Castellanos (5) out, Friday, March 6, 2020, at LSU's Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.

Certain student-athletes can pair additional financial aid with their athletic scholarship under a new NCAA rule, possibly alleviating scholarship restrictions for teams in equivalency sports such as baseball.

The NCAA Division I Council passed legislation Wednesday that exempts need-based and merit-based financial aid awarded by schools from counting against a team's scholarship limit. The permanent rule, effective Aug. 1, may help teams long forced to divide athletic scholarships among players.

Programs still have scholarship limits — 11.7 per college baseball team, for example — but players can now receive more financial aid based on their academics or family income.

Under the new legislation, student-athletes in equivalency sports can pair different types of financial aid, creating a more extensive financial aid package.

"It could be very helpful to us," LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri said. "It certainly will be helpful at many institutions around the country."

Equivalency sports, which include baseball, track and field and softball, make up the majority of college athletics. They differ from "head count" sports, such as football and basketball, because players in equivalency sports can receive fractions of a scholarship.

For years, equivalency sports have been limited by scholarship counts and roster sizes. Before the NCAA temporarily lifted some restrictions because of the coronavirus pandemic, baseball programs carried 35 players with 27 allowed on scholarship. Coaches divided 11.7 scholarships among more than two dozen players.

Not all non-athletic financial aid was restricted before the NCAA's new legislation. Student-athletes could receive aid available to all students, such as federal Pell Grants or state-funded scholarships like TOPS in Louisiana. But that counted against a team's scholarship limit. Sometimes, players turned down additional, non-athletic forms of financial aid so teams met scholarship caps.

The rule passed Wednesday lifted restrictions on other institutional aid programs given by schools, potentially closing a financial gap. Student-athletes may now stack their partial athletic scholarships on more non-athletic forms of financial aid. The rule could make college more affordable.

And now, that doesn't count toward a team's scholarship limit.

"Theoretically, that could help us if you find the right student-athlete," Mainieri said. "You could combine a partial baseball scholarship with need-based financial aid. It would make it more attractive to be able to attend LSU."

Along with the legislation passed Wednesday, the NCAA asked the Student-Athlete Experience Committee, which requested the rule, to review financial aid rules. The committee will examine counter numbers, average equivalencies and roster numbers per sport, the NCAA said in a release, which will "ensure the legislation is helping students as intended."

Mainieri cautioned how much the rule will help LSU. The NCAA did not lift the 11.7 scholarship limit. He doesn't know how LSU's available need-based aid compares to other schools.

But Mainieri did note that student-athletes in multiple sports can now receive more financial aid than before.

"It may be more of an advantage to some schools than others," Mainieri said. "There's no way of knowing that for sure at this point."


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Email Wilson Alexander at walexander@theadvocate.com