Friday, November 12, 2010

Is a scholarship enough?

In light of the recent Cam Newton allegations, I can't help but wonder, is a scholarship truly payment enough for college athletes? It seems like time and time again, we hear of talented college players struggling to resist the temptation to take money that can help them and their families. Truthfully, its a flawed system at best. If a college student, say one who was gifted at computer programming, earned several academic scholarships based on his intelligence and merit, and perhaps a former alumni, recognizing his talent tells him he'll pay for his books if he goes to his alma mater, there would be no problems with this. The only thing that makes this different is the type of scholarship, the type of student. I think it goes without saying that a percentage of student athletes come from "poor" families. In these cases, the pressure of waiting for a payday that may never come can proof to be too much for these young men and women. So why not pay them?

My argument for the present system is that the colleges ARE paying the athletes. Scholarships aren't cheap, and as long as you make the team and keep your grades up you get five years of college. Look at this table for the University of Alabama's tuition. Out of state tuition? $36257. How many people can truly say they earn that much a year? Student athletes also have access to personal strength trainers and high class practice and work out facilities. All of these things cost the university money. So from the perspective of the University, the athletes aren't playing for free. But having said that, let's take a second to really dissect how much money the universities make from games.

I'll stick with the University of Alabama for this example. Bryant-Denny Stadium, the official bowl of the Tide has an official capacity of 101,821. The nosebleed seats in that stadium are roughly $45.00. I know, I've been. Let's assume that as the average ticket price. If Bryant-Denny Stadium sells out, that's a revenue of over $4 million dollars. Of course, that's offset by the cost to maintain the facility, groundskeepers, and such, but after all is said and done, there's a solid chance that the UA is pocketing at least a million dollars on each sell-out crowd. And even when they're not sold out, 70,000 people still fetches a nice profit. And that's JUST the football team. I'm sure the football team is the biggest program for them financially, but the amount of money they are able to make off essentially minimum wage employees does smack of injustice, if not of outright exploitation. And this doesn't even bring into account how much money the University earns from BCS bowl games.

Either argument carries weight, but ultimately, I lean towards the idea of a college scholarship, and a chance at an education being something far more valuable than a paycheck. Most student athletes will never make it to the professional level. And in the cases of Division II and Division I-AA, they have less than .01% of a chance to become successful professional athletes. But what they do gain is an education, something which in these times, is a step in the right direction. They also have a chance to earn a decent shot at maybe even climbing out of a cycle of poverty and helping successive generations of their family to attain higher levels of wealth. I'm not saying that college education is the salvation of the impoverished, but it certainly helps.

On a different note, do I think Cam Newton did anything illegal within the constructs of the NCAA requirements for student-athletes? I don't know. When it's time to vote for the Heisman, do I think he should win? Undoubtedly. At this moment, Cam Newton is the single best eligible college player. And even though the Heisman mentions "integrity" thus far, all that has been leveled at him have been poorly worded allegations. To deny a potentially innocent young man an award he has honestly earned would be just as detrimental to the spirit of the NCAA as awarding to someone who didn't deserve it. And Cam Newton has earned and deserves to win the Heisman with his play.

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