In March, at the close of the March Madness tournament, there was much debate over whether or not college athletes should be paid. Meanwhile, another debate was looming under the radar. On March 24, according to The Huffington Post, Ralph Nader called for an end to athletic scholarships. Period.
Nader believes that college sports, and particularly the championship tournaments, mirror professional sports more than they do collegiate athletics now. According to Nader, there is too much pressure on not only the college athletes but those high school students vying for a position on a top-performing team.
In an interview with The Huffington Post, he said, “An entire industry has developed in the youth sports arena – club teams, personal trainers, etc. – to prey on families’ dreams of an athletic scholarship. The lure of the elusive athletic scholarship is the primary – sometimes the only – marketing tool these youth sports entrepreneurs use.”
But are prospective college athletes really being lured by scholarship opportunities alone?
Mark Kantrowitz, a nationally recognized financial aid expert, delved into the athletic scholarship recipient statistics and came away with some surprising data.
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In his Student Aid Policy Analysis of athletic scholarships, Kantrowitz found “that the athletic scholarships enabled the students to enroll in more expensive colleges, but also that the athletic scholarships might not represent a significant financial advantage for the students as compared with the institutional grants they might otherwise have received. “
Here is his breakdown:
• Average total institutional grant (including athletic scholarships in addition to need-based and non need-based institutional grants) was $10,257 for recipients of athletic scholarships in 2007-08, compared with $6,278 for non-recipients, a difference of $3,979.
• Average tuition and fees was $12,616 for recipients of athletic scholarships, $3,146 higher than the $9,470 average for non-recipients.
• Average total cost of attendance for recipients of athletic scholarships was $24,335, $4,560 higher than the $19,775 average for non-recipients.
In reality, athletic scholarship recipients are not benefiting that much more from institutional grants, or scholarships, than non-recipients. Their only real benefit is being able to enroll in schools that are slightly more expensive – if we’re just examining the financial aspects of making their final college decision.
At the same time, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan targeted NCAA schools for their loose academic standards. In an interview with ABC News, he said, “Right now the formula handsomely rewards teams who are winning games in the tournament, but it does little to reward teams for meeting minimal academic benchmarks. I simply cannot understand why we continue to reward teams for failing to meet the most basic of academic standards off of the courts.”
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Duncan poses a great question. And he’s right. NCAA teams that are promoting a true student athlete experience are overshadowed by championship caliber teams whose players are only in school to play a sport.
Again, Kantrowitz found that these types of generalizations that all sport teams are composed of academically failing student athletes aren’t necessarily accurate.
In regard to graduation rates, Kantrowitz found that “of students in Bachelor’s degree programs who received athletic scholarships in 2003-04, 72.5% graduated with a Bachelor’s degree by 2009 (i.e., within 6 years). This compares with 63.0% for non-recipients.”
What is important to glean from Nader and Duncan’s statements and Kantrowitz’s heavy research is that blanket statements and generalizations shouldn’t define public opinion of student athletes and college sports.
In fact, Kantrowitz’ data proves that, in general, student athletes aren’t’t enormously benefiting financially or drastically falling behind in the classroom because they play a college sport. Perhaps some are, but a majority are not.
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Many young athletes today are finding that club sports are having a greater impact in their college recruitment process than high school sports. Many major sports, from Baseball to Soccer, have significant club participation that including significant travel (and expense) for the "better" athletes to play against other "better" athletes, but do not give up the opportunity to play for your high school.
Here are 5 major benefits of playing high school sports:
1. Representing a community: when you play for your high school you are representing the community in which you live. You will participate against other communities and enjoy the sporting rivalries that have developed over numerous generations. This is just like college – playing other colleges that have traditional rivalries and representing your college, and the community in which it is part, is a great honor.
2. Recognition for your achievements: Local newspapers thrive on sport coverage of their local high schools and your achievements will not go unnoticed. This is just like college – local papers love to cover the sporting events of the local colleges and you will be recognized for your individual and team successes.
3. Understanding the sporting hierarchy: As a freshman you have certain duties, as do the sophomores, juniors and seniors. These duties change when you get older - from collecting equipment to leading the program. This is just like college – you will have certain duties and expectations as a freshman and these duties and expectations will change as you mature to lead your program.
4. Development of leadership roles: In high school sports players tend to look towards the older and more experienced athletes for guidance and leadership. As you stay with the program you will assume these roles and duties and you will learn how best to lead. You will also develop an understanding of which leadership qualities and styles best suit you. This is just like college – your leadership skills will be expected to develop as you mature through the program and you will have older, more experienced, teammates to look up to when you are an underclassman.
5. The opportunity to work with different coaches: Playing for different coaches prior to participating in college will allow you to know how to adapt to various coaching styles and how best you can succeed with these different styles. Although this is not the same as college, playing for different coaches will prepare you to know how best to work within different coaching styles and philosophies and still get the best out of your game.
Being exposed to club and high school sports will help you develop yourself as an athlete and leader and expose you to various roles that will allow you to succeed further in college. Be aware of burnout and find time to get rest but enjoy the experience of being a youth athlete in all environments.