Do we need March Madness: Are college athletic scholarships fair to other students?

Final Four Death - JMR Photography - for Flickr - Some Rights Reserved
Final Four Death - JMR Photography - for Flickr - Some Rights Reserved

CHICAGO, March 22, 2014 — Proofreading college papers can open one’s eyes to logic and ideas never before imagined. One such paper recently highlighted a small but growing grassroots campaign dedicated to eliminating college athletic scholarships.

Why? Who would want to deny a college education to athletes, who might not otherwise be able to afford one?

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Apparently a lot of people. Among them are people who are having a hard time paying for their own college education who are not happy about paying for athletes’ educations as well.

Consider facts reported in a recent Time Magazine article:

  • Tuition and fees at public universities are up 5 percent over last year.
  • Those fees include an annual student fee that universities charge to fund student services.
  • Those “student services” include funding for athletic scholarships. At many universities, fully one-half of the student services fee goes towards sports scholarships and other athletic expenditures. Every student attending the university is subsidizing athletic scholarships as are the tax dollars spent on federal student loans.
  • Student debt has increased 30 percent per borrower over the past 5 years.
  • Also in the past five years, schools with high-performing sports programs have increased their per-athlete subsidy by 61 percent, while the subsidy for non-athlete, academic students has grown only 23 percent.

And yet non-athletes are still subsidizing the athletes.

In his report Backgrounder: Athletic Scholarships, Mark Kantrowitz ( writes that “total athletic scholarhip funding has grown at an annual rate of 4.5%” from 1993-2008 with athletic scholarships averaging at $10,257, while non-athletic scholarhips averaged $6,278.

Universities are quick to point out the benefits of athletic programs. In addition to providing a gateway to higher education that athletes might not otherwise be able to afford. There’s the school spirit that permeates the campus and, of course, the increased publicity a school receives when one of its teams does well.

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As for school spirit, many students would rather have $750 knocked off of their debt each year than have a football team to cheer for. It may not seem like a lot of money compared to the thousands of dollars owed, but every little bit helps.

The increase in applications and enrollment a university receives when one of its teams does well — say, during the NCAA’s basketball March Madness — is definitely a boon to the university. After all, every one of those additional students will help subsidize that sports program that doesn’t pay for itself.

The student who wrote the paper on the anti-athletic subsidy campaign pointed out that part of the economic downfall of our country may, in fact, be traced to sports scholarships. It’s not as much of a stretch as you might think.

As more and more students move back in with Mom and Dad, Mom and Dad have less discretionary income as well. And heaven forbid either of them went back to school on a student loan in hopes of changing careers after losing a job.

While researching his paper, the student discovered that as of 2010, the average graduation rate for Division One football and basketball players was 70 percent. This sounds great compared to 2009’s overall graduation rate of 53 percent. However, in College Financing Information for Teens, Karen Bellenir points out that the graduation rate for test-takers who placed in the top 90 percent — those who would receive the majority of academic scholarships — was 80 percent.

Bellenir also points out that athletes are statistically less likely to work towards an advanced degree.

So as college costs rise, more of our resources are going toward funding athletes than towards making college affordable for all. As the student author points out, “Giving scholarships to athletes with a 70% graduation rate takes funding away from high-performing students with an 80% graduation rate,” the ones who are more likely to get advanced degrees, higher paying jobs, and be more able to support the economy. Some of America’s smartest and brightest are losing their educations to our fastest and strongest.

READ ALSO: Do we need March Madness: Are college athletic scholarships fair to other students?

This does not mean to suggest that all athletes are idiots or that no smart person can throw a football. What the U.S. needs to decide, however, is exactly what the goal of a college education is. Is it to promote a university’s name through tremendous athletes, or is it to promote the next generation of cancer-curers and alternative-energy discoverers? Is it a better investment to spend money on the ball field, or in the laboratory?

College sports are never going to go away. Most of them are never going to be profitable either. It’s an interesting conundrum facing our sports-worshipping society in general and our struggling students in particular.

Julia Goralka has no strong university affiliation. Sometimes she thinks that’s a good thing.

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