The Myth of the Sports Scholarship

I don’t think I’ll be bursting anyone’s bubble to write that students who go to college on a sports scholarship are ‘working’ for the college – are essentially employees. The job is demanding, and not for the faint of heart. The select few of paid athlete-students, are reimbursed with a portion of college costs, (in rare cases a full-ride), academic tutors, priority registration for classes and in return are expected to compete, practice and represent his or her respective college. Oh, and of course study, go to class and forge new relationships and [hopefully] figure out a career path of some sort to follow at the end of four if not five years.

Sound good so far?  There’s more –  schedules are grueling, early morning practices, weekly conditioning sessions, ‘voluntary’ practices (anything over 20 hours per week is  ‘voluntary’). On top of this keep in mind that these athlete-students need to keep up with school work, attend classes, make-up missed classes, complete assignments and study for exams.

An exaggeration? I don’t think I’m far off. One athlete-student on a football scholarship shares his view with journalist Gary Smith from Sport Illustrated in a recent article;  Wonman Joseph Williams, a fourth-string defensive back for University of Virginia says this:

“It’s like a job,” says Joseph. “We’re only students to a certain extent. Sports have become such a big money-maker that it’s all about the bottom line, like so much else in our society. It not only limits your potential to pursue academics but punishes you when your dedication to academics interferes with your sport. Most football and basketball players can’t take any of the difficult classes. You’re not able to take advantage of what these great schools have to offer. It’s not even amateur athletics anymore. It’s professional.”  (Smith, 2012)

What about AthleteStudent part?
As Williams stated it’s a job. And that ‘job’ is far more demanding than a part-time job at the local college coffee shop. There is a price to pay for being a athlete-student, and the price is fulfillment of academic, intellectual and personal growth. One of Smith’s professor’s at University of Virginia, Harry Edwards, admits that the athletes do miss out, in a big way. More often than not professor Edwards sees academically curious students who just can’t invest the time or energy in their studies even if they want to.

“It’s a horrific schedule,” says Edwards, who over the last three decades has watched athletes stop taking classes that start after 1 p.m., classes with labs, classes that require their time on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays. Study abroad in the off-season, even if you’re a Division III relief pitcher? Don’t be silly.” Harry Edwards, Sociology Professor, former a track and field and basketball star at San Jose State in the early ’60s. (Smith, 2012). 

What is the answer to this dilemma? How can we support our kids to be well-rounded, capable, intellectually curious adults that are able to pursue a path that leads to an adulthood that is fulfilling? Education is part of the answer, as is freedom to build relationships with diverse people, and pursue academics interests. However working at a ‘job’ that involves more than 20 hours a week of commitment, that is physically and emotionally demanding, is not conducive to studying, pursuing academic interests, growing intellectually and building relationships. That my friends, is the great myth of the sports scholarship.

Why don’t more Athletes take a Stand? Gary Smith, Sports Illustrated, July 9, 2012
How Youth Sports Encourages Kids to be Dullards, Bob Cook, Blog Post

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