The Showdown: Should athletic scholarships be a thing of the past?

This is a column where two writers go head-to-head on different issues. This issue is centered around the question: Should athletic scholarships be eliminated due to the numerous accounts of student-athletes involved in academic fraud?

Yes: Ethical Issues in Collegiate Sports by Tyler Stocking
As fans across America fill out brackets each year and students lobby for the ability to purchase tickets to the games, “student” athletes sacrifice their blood, sweat and tears while proudly wearing their university’s name across their chest.

The athletes have the opportunity to attend college and better their futures. On the other hand, the athletes generate countless revenue for their schools, while serving as walking billboards for their universities. In many circumstances, an athletic scholarship is the only opportunity for a high school athlete to attend college, and in the same way, many colleges realize that their only opportunity for national exposure is through a victory in athletics. Sounds like a win-win situation, right?

While this tradeoff seems ideal, the NCAA is not a utopian society. Take the University of Kentucky basketball program for example. Year after year, Coach Calipari lures the highest caliber recruits through celebrity endorsements and a larger than life introduction during the campus visit. Instead of the traditional tour of campus including the opportunity to sit in on a college class in the prospective student’s desired field of study, Coach Calipari takes his prospects straight to the mecca that is Rupp Arena, where they are introduced in front of the fan base at Big Blue Madness. As they watch the obsessive fans, who camped out to buy tickets, praise the team, they immediately learn the priority of winning basketball games.

Instead of worrying about which classes to take, which girl to date and what major to declare, these students will worry about which agent they will hire and what shoe company they will sign with during the next semester. A four-year degree is never even an option. The academic institution they decide to attend is just a stepping stone to prepare them for their future athletic career.

As a former college basketball player, I had the opportunity to participate as a scholarship player for two years and a walk-on for one year. As a walk-on, there was a freedom in knowing that my education did not depend on my ability to shoot a basketball. I was a student, who happened to play basketball, not a basketball player who happened to go to school.

The purpose of attending college should be to graduate, so why allow athletes to pretend to be students just to satisfy the requirement to enter the NBA draft? Instead of making it a requirement to be one year removed from high school in order to enter the draft, athletes should decide whether they want an education before entering professional basketball, or whether they want to jump straight to the pros. If they do decide to pursue an education, they should have an obligation to stay in school. In the same way, universities should be invested in educating young people, not looking at young people as an investment for personal financial gain. There needs to be a separation between athletics and academics through the elimination of athletic scholarships.

By eliminating athletic scholarships, a new system could be applied where players could be compensated for their commitment to athletics and academics. Instead of allowing the NCAA to capitalize on the draft rule, universities should reward athletes who want to succeed academically.

If the university is going to profit from the game, so should the players. By erasing the narrative that scholarships are a fair tradeoff for the millions of dollars that are generated, education can return as the top priority for academic institutions.

Instead of cheapening a university’s academic standards with scandals like Syracuse or North Carolina, who happen to be two teams in this year’s Final Four, athletics should deepen the understanding and appreciation for the importance of education.

No: Athletic Scholarships Help the Athletic Elite and the 99 Percent by Caleb Lay

In 2012 the University of Kentucky won the men’s basketball national championship on the shoulders of future top pick Antony Davis. Davis was a freshman and declared for the NBA draft following his freshman season.

Davis could have gone to college without an athletic scholarship as he attended Perspectives Charter School in Chicago, Illinois which was known for academics more than athletics. His team had a 6-19 record his senior year despite Davis being the best high school player in the country. Ninety-eight percent of the students from his senior class were accepted into a college or university that year.

At Kentucky, Davis dominated college basketball, won almost every award possible and then became the number one pick of the 2012 NBA Draft and has been heralded as one of the next great players ever since.

For Davis, college was a time to learn to be a little more independent, get better at basketball and socialize with people his own age. The one year in between high school and being a professional basketball player showed Davis a different world and prepared him for his professional life by playing as a one-year. His college experience gave him a less traditional, but still useful education on life and basketball.

Not everyone is as lucky as Davis though.

When I was in high school I ran in the same circle as a kid who played football and gunned for a scholarship. We’ll call him Jim for now. Jim had the money to potentially attend community college for one, maybe two years, but he wanted to attend a four-year institution.

He worked hard on his grades and was on the honor roll but couldn’t get his ACT score high enough. Our school even offered free ACT prep for 12 weeks leading up to one of the test dates and he attended every one regardless of the fact that they were at 8 a.m. on Saturdays. He still couldn’t get his score high enough to receive the right amount of money to attend college and Jim’s parents didn’t want to take out huge loans.

Jim was a solid high school baseball player (he was a really fast centerfielder) though and coaches had talked to him about potentially play college ball somewhere small. As his chances of receiving a substantial academic scholarship seemed more slim than he hoped for, he decided to go all in on playing baseball in college.

During his senior baseball season, Jim accepted an offer from a Division II school relatively close, and he will graduate from college this spring. He played all four years on his school’s team and studied business.

Without athletic scholarships, kids like Jim don’t have the opportunity to go to college without piling up massive loans.

Systems that have been proposed, like paying players, still don’t help people like Jim. Only a handful of schools make money off of their athletic programs and if they had to pay players they would just stop having an athletic program to avoid losing money. This would leave only the upper crust of athletic college programs and cut out lower level colleges and universities.

This year we saw Villanova, a team with five guys in the eight man rotation be either seniors or juniors, win the national championship. This showcased the value of young, talented players going to college, like many of the Kentucky players, for a year to get acclimated to life outside of their parents’ watch and prepare for the pros and teams like Villanova, giving kids an education and experiences that prepare them for their lives after their basketball playing days are over.

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.