Are athletic scholarships fair to other students? Simple answer: No

Enjoy March Madness. Those college athletic scholarships come out of your pocket. Photo: How much are stadiums' cost in student fees?

CHICAGO, March 19, 2013 —Proofreading college papers for young friends can open one’s eyes to logic and ideas never before imagined. Most recently I learned from one such paper that there is 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?

College basketball

The answer? Apparently a lot of people, the ones who are having a difficult time paying for their own college education and are not happy about paying for athletes’ educations as well.

Consider the facts as reported in a recent Time Magazine article:

 * Tuition and fees at public universities are up 5% 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% per borrower (presumably including students who are no longer in school but still have student loan debt) 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%, while the subsidy for non-athlete, academic students has grown only 23%.

And yet non-athletes are still subsidizing the athletes.

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 presence a school receives when one of its teams does well.

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.

Texas Longhorns take to the field


The increase in applications and enrollment a university receives when one of their teams does well, say making it to the March Madness basketball championship, is definitely a boom to the university. After all, every one of those additional students will help subsidize that sports program that doesn’t pay for itself.

The college student who wrote the paper mentioned above 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.

Education, not athletics, is considered the most important tool for improving one’s earning potential, yet record numbers of students are graduating into a slow economy with poor job prospects and huge debt. If they cannot get jobs to pay off that debt, they cannot buy houses or cars or have discretionary income to pump into the retail market. Additionally, as more and more of them move back in with Mom and Dad, Mom and Dad have less discretionary funds 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 was 70%. This sounds great compared to 2009’s overall graduation rate of 53%. However, College Financing Information for Teens, (duly cited as Bellenir, 2008, page 67) points out that the graduation rate for test-takers who placed in the top 90%, those who would receive the majority of academic scholarships was 80%. Belliner also points out that athletes are statistically less likely to work toward 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 author of the paper (who shall remain nameless) 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.

Villanova team with coach: Student fees go towards coach’s salary, too. Nice suit. AP


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 of our tax-payer-funded student loans if they are spent 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 being supported by 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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Julia Goralka

In addition to her work at The Communities, Julia Goralka is a free-lance novel editor and has served as a volunteer board member or committee member for several local charitable organizations. Prior to writing and editing, Julia was the Division Coordinator for the interest rate derivatives marketing desk at a large financial institution based in Chicago.

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