Ralph Nader challenges athletics scholarships

Rebecca Coleman / Sun Star Reporter
April 5, 2010

Former presidential candidate Ralph Nader called for the elimination of college athletic scholarships, according to a March 24 USA Today article. Nader said that colleges need to “acknowledge the professionalism in big-time college sports, remove the tax-exempt status currently given to athletic departments and make universities operate them as unrelated businesses.” Nader believes that athletic scholarships should be replaced by need- and merit-based scholarships.

“The assertion that student-athletes who receive athletics aid are professionals defies logic,” said Bob Williams, the NCAA vice president of communications. “They are students, just like any other student on campus who receives a merit-based scholarship.”

This professionalism that Nader refers to is noticeable in Division I bowl championship series football programs, which can have up to 100 players on a team and award 85 full-ride scholarships, and Division I men’s basketball programs, which can have up to 16 players on a team and award 14 full-ride scholarships, according to NCAA rules.

There are only a few programs at a few schools that “really spend the kind of money that makes you cringe,” said Forrest Karr, UAF’s athletic director. The University of Oregon is sponsored by Nike, which is based in Oregon. They had different uniforms – helmets, shoes, pants and jerseys – for each game in the 2010-11 season.

In contrast, there are hundreds of thousands of other student athletes across the country who don’t have any scholarships, or are on partial scholarships. Ivy League Division I schools do not award athletic scholarships, as they pride themselves on academics. “You can probably get a hockey player to play for Harvard without an athletic scholarship just because it’s Harvard,” Karr said. Division III schools also don’t award athletic scholarships, according to NCAA regulations.

The NCAA scholarship regulations are very strict as to how many scholarships can be awarded per sport. According to these rules, UAF can give out 18 scholarships for hockey, 10 for each men’s and women’s basketball, 8.1 for swimming, eight to volleyball, 6.3 for each men’s and women’s skiing, six and five for women’s and men’s cross country running, respectively, and 3.6 for rifle. However, like many other schools, UAF doesn’t give out as many scholarships as it is allowed to.

For UAF’s 133 student athletes, there are only 64 scholarships. This means that the average scholarship covers less than 50 percent of an athlete’s total costs. Very few athletes have full-ride scholarships. “Some of our athletes are some of the best in their sports, and they don’t even have full scholarships,” Karr said. According to NCAA regulations, scholarships can cover tuition, fees, room, board, and books, but not travel costs, which can carry high price tags.

Karr believes that Nader is only considering the high media attention sports in his suggestion to eliminate athletic scholarships, but “you can’t paint with this large brushstroke and say ‘this is how Division I football works, so it applies to all sports across the board,’” Karr said. There are so many “niche” sports – skiing, rifle, crew, lacrosse, etc. – that aren’t allowed to allocate large quantities of scholarships, so their athletes are expected to contribute heavily to their educations. For example, on UAF’s rifle team, there are 3.6 scholarships to be divided between 13 athletes.

The awarding of scholarships is a complicated process. The number of scholarships allowed per sport does not equate to a set dollar amount. Instead, they are derived on a per-athlete basis. The amount each athlete is given is compared to the total cost of his or her attendance at UAF to determine what percent of his or her bill the university is covering.

Karr said that athletic scholarships provide a win-win situation for everyone. “They provide real opportunities for these kids to live their dreams, the university increases revenue and enrollment, and the community benefits from the costs of living that the athletes are spending,” he said. “How could you just take that away?”

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1 Response

  1. Laura K. says:

    This must be one of the craziest stories I have read in a while. “Win-win situation for everyone”? Last time I checked the purpose of this university was academics and education (and research) – nothing there about sports. And then Forrest forced a fee on us to pay for it all – I could have very well spent that money in the community myself. Not sure why a hockey player is better equipped to do so.

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