“ABOLISH ATHLETIC SCHOLARSHIPS” (49)
It is probably not wise journalism to write a column that a majority of readers will simply disagree with, but here it is anyway. I believe that institutions of higher learning should not provide any athletic scholarships at all. To anybody. Instead, all scholarships should be based solely upon academics. In other words, we should reserve the scarce spaces at universities for people who actually want to pursue academics, and not for those who want to use the institution simply as a stepping stone into professional sports.
As a practical matter, if this suggestion were to be implemented, most young athletes who only aspire to a future in professional sports would still have some viable choices after high school. If they were good enough, they could either play professional ball in Europe or Japan, or very likely they could play in semi-professional leagues that would probably spring up all around our country.
Understanding market economics, if these young star athletes were to become available, companies like Google, Toyota and Motorola would probably quickly sponsor semi-professional teams that would compete in league play amongst themselves. Can you imagine the rivalry that could be generated by a competition between Pepsi Cola and Coca Cola?
Think of the bragging rights and, more importantly, the advertising benefits that would result from such a rivalry. And if those companies wanted to pay their worker/athletes to work part time and practice and compete the rest of the time on their way up to professional athletics, that would be a perfectly appropriate activity for the free enterprise system to engage in.
Upon analysis, what are the benefits of today’s system of providing athletic scholarships at the university level? Yes, they undeniably increase the quality of college football, basketball and other sports teams. This in turn increases ticket sales and television revenue. In addition, it is widely understood that alumni gift-giving increases proportionally to the success of a school’s athletic teams. And the profits from most men’s football and basketball programs are mostly used to support all of the other men and women’s sports programs. And, importantly enough, athletic scholarships also provide many young people with their only real opportunity to gain a university experience and education.
So what are the negatives of athletic scholarships? One is that since the competition to win is so fierce, it encourages the college coaches and other participants to bend or break the rules. That does not display good leadership or mentoring to our young people. Instead it reinforces the mantra that money is king.
And since we are talking about potential big money when the young athletes eventually make the pro ranks, it also encourages individual sports agents and their assistants to provide illegal and undercover payments and materials to those athletes in an attempt to attract them and to “sign them up.” Also, since the revenue to the schools can be so significant, there is a substantial tendency to allow the athletic departments too much control over the administration of the schools.
To say that all of these results and pressures are unseemly at our revered institutions of higher learning is an understatement. But the biggest negative is that it deprives many people who want to study academics at an institution of higher learning and gain their own university experience of the opportunity to do so. This to me is the most persuasive argument.
If truly gifted athletes like Kevin Love and O. J. Mayo actually want to be Bruins and Trojans, and they have the academic credentials to be admitted to those schools, they could certainly continue to play there. But being at their respective schools for only a “one (year) and done” career is demeaning to the concept of what those universities stand for. And overall the fact that the graduation rate for the top 25 university football and basketball programs nationwide is only about 50 percent, is an indelible blemish upon the entire system.
Now I know that it is the purpose of a university to be used as a stepping stone. That is what the university is actually there for. But the real purpose of a university is to promote higher learning, not professional sports. So academics is the focus. Athletics is fine, but it is secondary. That is the idea of being a Student Athlete - students first and athletes second. And, like we have already discussed, there are other ways for those who only want to pursue athletics to get their requisite training and experience without taking up valuable spots from those that want to pursue academics.
Furthermore, just so we are clear, the competition at the Ivy League universities, which do not provide athletic scholarships, can be just as intense as at any other college or university. I do acknowledge that the quality of the teams is generally not as high, but there is still fully as much “rah rah” and spirit when Harvard plays Yale in football as when UCLA plays USC.
So if I were to be king (and I do think that the name King James has kind of a ring to it), this is one of the things that I would decree. But don’t worry, I am in no danger of being elected or even appointed king. Accordingly, I guess that the practice of providing athletic scholarships is going to remain safe and secure for a long time to come. But I think it is a mistake.
James P. Gray is a judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the composer of the high school musical “Americans All” (Heuer Publishing), and can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net or at his blog at JudgeJimGray.JudgeJimGray.com.