South Carolina breaks SEC ground

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina will guarantee four-year scholarships to its qualifying NCAA sports, becoming the first school in the Southeastern Conference to make that pledge.

The school sent out letters to its 383 athletes Thursday, 121 of whom will receive the full four-year guarantee when renewing their scholarships. Those athletes are in what the NCAA calls "headcount" sports of football, men's and women's basketball, and women's tennis and volleyball, where each player receives a full scholarship.

"We want to give people a snapshot of what a major university can provide to its student-athletes," said Fran Person, a former senior adviser to Vice President Joe Biden hired last month as a point of contact for athlete welfare at South Carolina.

South Carolina's other teams -- which represent about two-thirds of the student-athletes who receive financial aid -- are classified as "equivalency" sports where coaches divide up a set number of scholarships among their rosters, such as baseball having to spread 11.7 scholarships between up to three dozen players.

Senior associate athletic director Charles Bloom said the school is exploring how to create a similar process for those athletes.

Other schools, including Indiana and Maryland of the Big Ten, have also announced guaranteed scholarships for their athletes.

Person said South Carolina is the first in the SEC to offer four-year guaranteed scholarships.

"We want to be out front with what's going on," South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner said.

South Carolina began looking at possibly guaranteeing multiyear scholarships after the NCAA approved rules that let the Power 5 conferences -- the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC -- unilaterally change some rules that have applied to all Division I schools for years.

South Carolina and the 64 others in those five leagues will also benefit from a new, weighted voting system on legislation covering the 350 schools in Division I.

The only ways South Carolina athletes can now lose scholarships are if they voluntarily leave, become ineligible or violate university or athletic department rules.

Person said South Carolina would continue giving athletes who leave in good standing the chance to re-enroll and complete their degrees.

The cost of athletic scholarships at South Carolina ranges from $21,461 for an in-state student living on campus to $41,121 for an out-of-state student living off campus.