The Value Of Athletic Scholarships

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - November 03, 2010
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Josh Luch’s admission of paying college athletes has some linking the former agent’s confession to Jose Canseco’s tell-all on steroid use in baseball. Whatever comes of his confession, it will not be nearly as disturbing as his rationale for breaking an NCAA rule that resulted in a one-year suspension by the NFL Players Association.

Luch tells Sports Illustrated he was able to justify his actions by “remembering that the schools and the NCAA were making money while the players, many of whom came from poor families, weren’t getting anything but an education, which many of them didn’t take seriously.”

This common complaint comes up all-too-frequently from those who believe student-athletes deserve some kind of additional financial compensation since, in their opinion, these young people give so much yet receive so little.

To say that all they get is an education is the height of ignorance, and the reiteration of such obtuseness just adds to the belief that college is just a weigh station on the way to professional excellence. Which, for 99 percent of college athletes, was never a realistic option.

Luch is right that many student-athletes don’t take their studies seriously, and that’s a tragedy. Because of their athletic talent, these young men and women are provided an opportunity that each year gets harder for millions of Americans to obtain.

A university education is no longer a given. The cost of tuition has skyrocketed, putting an education beyond the reach of thousands of high school graduates. According to The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education study Measuring Up 2008, the cost of tuition and fees has risen 439 percent since 1982 while median family income has increased only 147 percent. This increased financial burden puts the greatest pressure on low-income families, where the need to break the cycle of poverty is most crucial.

More troubling is that, according to Measuring Up 2008, students from middle- and upper-income families receive larger grants from colleges and universities than students from low-income families. The increased costs also mean students are carrying more debt. From 1998 to 2008, student borrowing has more than doubled, from $41 billion to $85 billion.

Another indisputable fact regarding the importance of education is that college graduates earn more and are less likely to be unemployed than those with just a high school diploma.

The United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that college graduates with a bachelor’s degree or higher earn an average of $26,572 more per year than those with just a high school diploma. Also, in 2009, the unemployment rate for this same group of college graduates was 4.6 percent, as compared to 9.7 percent for high school graduates with no college experience.

Luch spent most of his career wooing athletes on the West Coast, so it seems appropriate to use the tuition at Pac 10 schools as a base for further determining the actual level of compensation received by these players.

The average tuition at Pac 10 schools is $30,942 a year, and since student-athletes have five years to play four seasons, the entire package could be worth, on average, $154,710. If we take Benjamin Franklin at his word that a penny saved is a penny earned, one has to ask what 15,471,000 saved pennies is worth.

A college education isn’t just nice to have, it’s essential. The Bureau of Labor Statistics say that from 1992 to 2009, the number of college-educated workers increased from 27 million to 44 million, while those with only a high school diploma or those who didn’t finish high school decreased by 3 million workers.

Luch and his colleagues aren’t soley responsible for the devaluation of education.

The finger of blame also points at university presidents, athletic administrators and coaches who line up for one and done basketball players and troubled transfer students whose legal, academic or ethical problems are overlooked in favor of athletic talent.

Luch says he told his story for the benefit of his two daughters, so they would know the truth: that there is more to their father than a cheater who was suspended from his job and was sued.

But one wonders if, after his girls get their high school diplomas to the sounds of Pomp and Circumstance and surrounded by friends, he’ll tell them college will only offer them an education.

And what’s that worth?

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