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Miami quietly helping athletes who leave early

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 29, 2014 at 8:15 am •  Published: August 29, 2014

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — University of Miami President Donna Shalala would prefer Hurricane athletes get their degrees before leaving school, taking advantage of the scholarships they've been afforded.

And she knows that won't always be the case, of course.

So very quietly, and for several years now, Miami has offered the next best thing.

Lifetime scholarships, as some call it, are a hot topic around the NCAA right now, with a handful of schools and conferences in recent months saying they would encourage athletes who left early a chance to return and finish their degrees.

For many schools, it's a new concept. At Miami, it's been an option for nearly a decade.

"I just felt it was an issue of integrity," Shalala said. "And really, it started with Ray Lewis."

Shalala heard the story a few years ago, about how Lewis — the former Baltimore Ravens star — went back to school to finish his degree while he was starring in the NFL. Lewis played his college football at Miami. But his degree is from Maryland University College, which he obtained in 2004.

"We'd obviously like the athletes to stay and finish their degrees here," Shalala said. "Coming back, they often can't afford to pay the tuition unless they've made the pros. And they can't get coaching jobs or teaching jobs unless they have their degrees. So they would have to commit themselves to finishing their degree."

At least 16 former Hurricanes have taken advantage of the chance to return to complete their degrees, many of them baseball players, former Major League catcher Charles Johnson among them. Former NFL player Lamar Thomas utilized the opportunity as well, along with former women's tennis star Audra Cohen, among others.

Given that Miami costs about $60,000 annually to attend, it's no small commitment.

"It's a continued financial investment by the institution," athletic director Blake James said. "We get great support from campus on this, so it's not a strain on my budget because it's a decision the president made that she would support these sort of initiatives."

The majority of players who have been involved so far have come from baseball, which routinely has players leave after three years — so about a year shy of a degree in most cases — to pursue pro opportunities when they become draft-eligible.

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