I’ve talked about athletic scholarships here before, and I want to revisit them in the wake of the Penn State scandal. All the programs operate at the whim of the NCAA, which has a twisted sense of priorities. Money screws up everything, and if your kid is in a position for an athletic scholarship, you should know what you are dealing with.
The NCAA, in its continued focus on the trees instead of the forest, just sanctioned CalTech for lack of institutional control. Strangely enough, that should give CalTech a big recruiting advantage against MIT and the University of Chicago; now it is the jock school of the nerd world. Bazinga!
Memo to the NCAA: I can’t prove it, but I think that some big-time basketball programs have players who are mighty close to illiterate. And I don’t think it’s CalTech.
I recently heard a story about a family friend with a skybox at Ohio State’s stadium. One of this man’s friends is a huge Buckeye fan, and his granddaughter goes to school there. Maybe he could get tickets and take her to a game in the skybox. Well, sure, the skybox owner said. And then the friend mentioned that his granddaughter played field hockey for OSU. The conversation turned. There was no way a university donor and season-ticket holder could let a scholarship athlete anywhere near his skybox without running afoul of all sorts of policies. My father related the story to me with a sense of wonder – it was ridiculous enough, he thought, that football players got in trouble for trading their jerseys for tattoos, but field hockey players not allowed in the skybox for a football game? I was the roommate of a scholarship varsity athlete for a year, so I totally believed it.
Memo to the NCAA: if you want to look for abuses, you might want to concentrate on Division I football and basketball. I don’t think field hockey is the problem.
I get the “sound mind, sound body” thing. I get that sports teaches people a lot about life and relationships. I get that physical activity is another way of knowing. But I don’t see why the NBA and NFL expect the NCAA to run their farm programs. Major League Baseball is as big a business as football or basketball, but you don’t hear of abuses in college baseball. That’s because baseball players who don’t care about going to college straight out of high school can play in the minors. They go to college because they want to, not because they have to.
Penn State deserves all sorts of punishment for covering up a despicable crime, but I’m not sure the NCAA really had a leg to stand on. Protecting a child rapist is magnitudes beyond knowing that Division III athletes are shopping classes in an intense engineering program, but it’s not really against the NCAA rules. Still, having ruled on so much picky stuff in the past, the NCAA had no choice. Who’s screwed? Football players who chose Penn State for its NFL preparation and those who need the scholarships. The ability to get a good education is unchanged.
(As a Northwestern alumna who is kind of a traditionalist, I liked the Big Ten better when it really had ten teams with the conference champion going to the Rose Bowl. Penn State is an interloper who brought us down! Mark Pelini better not screw up like Joe Paterno did, is all I’m saying.)
I predict major changes in the NCAA that may alter the scholarship landscape. In the meantime, if a high school student you know really does have a shot at a scholarship, help them keep it clean. The rules as they stand now are arcane and are as apt to punish an athlete as provide protection.
If I were a Penn State donor, I’d be pissed off to know that the university showed such rotten stewardship of my money. Universities need their donors; they provide the funds for scholarships for everyone but the athletes in the revenue sports.
And Joe Paterno’s ghost, wherever you are, surely you know that the coverup is always worse than the crime? Jim Tressel took his lumps. Why did you think you were better than him?