The NCAA Division I Council passed legislation on Wednesday to allow equivalency sports such as swimming and diving to stack need-based aid and/or merit aid with athletic aid with only the athletic aid counting against the scholarship limits for the sport. Division I swimming and diving programs are limited to 14 scholarships for women and 9.9 for men.

The vote followed a proposal by the Student-Athlete Experience Committee that was meant to simplify the financial aid rules. Under the old system, if a student-athlete was receiving athletics aid, academic aid from the institution could also count against their team’s equivalency limits. Academic aid was exempt from counting against equivalency limits, however, if:

  • the athlete ranked in the upper 20 percent of their graduating high school class, achieved at least a 3.5 GPA, or had a combined score of at least 100 on the four sections of the ACT or a score of at least 1140 on the SAT (1210 if the SAT was taken in or after March 2016); or
  • the athlete completed at least one academic year of college and earned a 3.3 GPA or higher.

The student-athlete had to show that being an athlete was not a requirement during the application process for the non-athletic scholarship.

Furthermore, certain need-based financial aid also counted against the team’s limits, such as institutionally-administered government grants, institutional grants or scholarships, and tuition waivers, to name a few.

The new legislation is expected to be particularly helpful for private institutions, whose cost of attendance can top $70,000 per year. In the past, some student-athletes had to choose between need-based / academic aid and an athletic scholarship. Going forward, coaches will be able to add athletic money to a student-athlete’s need-based and/or academic award to make the overall package more attractive.

But public institutions should also benefit from the new rule. Baseball blogger Kendall Rogers uses the example of UT Austin, whose Texas Advance Commitment (TAC), introduced in 2018, guarantees gift aid to Texas residents whose families earn up to $100,000 per year, including a minimum of full tuition for families who earn up to $30,000 per year. Given that coaches in equivalency sports will now be able to offer those families athletic aid on top of the need-based aid guaranteed by TAC, Texas will be able to offer more generous packages to in-state student-athletes.