"Complete Carolina," is the name of the program initiated by the University of North Carolina to aid former scholarship athletes. The school is now offering every athlete who leaves or left school early, but in good standing, a chance to return to campus and complete their degrees — at any point in the future.
It won't matter why the athletes left school, for personal reasons or to turn pro, the program offers them scholarships or financial support in line with what they would have received when they left campus, though tuition will still be at current-day levels. They would also receive academic and career counseling after being readmitted to school.
Funds to pay for the scholarships will come from the athletic department budget, and they will start accepting applications in September.
UNC's program isn't entirely unique either. Fox Sports reports that Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Michigan, Ohio State, and NC State all have similar programs already.
Still, the idea of a lifetime ticket to free education is not a major trend in college sports, but could UNC's announcement spur a movement across major college sports?
The idea of covering four years of an athletes' tuition and fees whether they graduate in four years or take a decade off after one or two is likely just as divisive as full-cost-of-attendance scholarships to smaller-schools. Essentially, schools would be offering to pay the way for athletes to learn well after they've ceased being a source of revenue to offset the expense. The uncertainty factor makes it difficult to accurately budget an athletic department for the future. A guarantee like UNC's keeps athletes' scholarships available to them indefinitely into the future.
The actual size of the future liability would vary by program. Villanova has had a few players leave early, but hasn't had a large number of one-year athletes like some other schools. That limits the damage to a smaller population of players who could come back.
While Villanova basketball generates good revenue, and could likely easily plow profits into such a program, but the likelihood is that any such program would have to be athletic-department-wide. Meaning, athletes in non-revenue sports who leave school -- the baseball player who is drafted after his sophomore or junior season or the women's basketball player who has personal reasons for leaving campus -- would also have to be offered the same deal. Villanova has more than 500 student athletes annually across 24 varsity sports, who would be made eligible for the program.
The Wildcats' overall 93% graduation-success rate for student-athletes would bode well for a similar program — very few student-athletes are currently leaving without a degree, which means costs could be limited.
However, one potential downside of a program like this, is that it could encourage athletes to pull the trigger on an NBA long-shot. The decision for Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek to leave early without a first-round guarantee (or much of an NBA guarantee at all) was a risky one to make, but if they knew they could always finish their degree on scholarship, the risk in that decision is shifted to the school.
That said, optics are more important than they seem.
College sports has an image problem, where athlete welfare is becoming a bigger and bigger concern in the media, moves like this are a way for colleges to provide more for their athletes while showing an education-first image to the public. The move itself is one that is against-interest in some ways, but it is very much in the schools' interest in the most important way — public relations.
For athletes, these programs are a nice safety net that will surely reduce the stress of a potential early exit.