by Bob Cook, Forbes Magazine Contributor
Your child concentrated on one sport from an early age, you spent a lot of money to give him or her the best coaches and biggest advantages, and you did it — you beat the odds, and your child is one of the 2 percent of high school athletes that got an offer to play competitively at a college that offers athletic scholarships.
Guess what? You’re still paying big bucks to send your kid to college. NCAA rules, designed to spread talent more evenly across schools, limits scholarships for every sport, and except for a few sports (football, men’s and women’s basketball, notably), nobody gets a full ride from day one. Often they don’t even get that in year four.
And yet even though the information on scholarship limits is widely available, parents continue to find themselves shocked that the thousands upon thousands upon thousands of dollars they spent on sports isn’t making a big dent in their college costs — that is, if they’re even lucky enough for their child to have survived the youth sports process uninjured and mentally unscathed.
I would highly recommend any sports parent — especially those who have younger children, and who have designs on them having a sports career — read this great piece in by Brad Wolverton in The Chronicle of Higher Education called “The Myth of the Sports Scholarship.” The piece concentrates on Allison Goldblatt, an Annadale, Va., native who showed great promise in swimming at an early age, and has concentrated on that sport since age 7. Now it’s time for her hard work to be rewarded with a scholarship. Except…
NCAA institutions treat athletic aid as a kind of coupon off the cost of college, rewarding athletes with the most value — including football and basketball players, whose sports bring in the most money — with the best deals.
Division I college swim teams, [Allison's coach, Pete] Morgan told his swimmers, are allowed to give the equivalent of 14 scholarships for women and 9.9 for men. Most college teams have about 30 female and 30 male swimmers.
Coaches typically give the most money to the swimmers with the potential to score the most points for their teams. That means that a dozen or more swimmers, Mr. Morgan said, often aren’t getting any money.
On any given team, Mr. Morgan told his group, the spectrum of aid can be vast.
“From books to full is probably how I’d put it,” he said. And in Allison’s sport, there are far more athletes on book scholarships, which can amount to a few hundred dollars, than full scholarships.
Wolverton followed Allison and her family as they talked to top programs, negotiating what kind of money they could get, which didn’t come close to the cost of school, assuming schools would even commit to a number, or even remember who she was and where she was from. As any parent seeking any scholarship — academic or athletic — knows, the process is difficult and demoralizing. And I know: I have a son who is sophomore at Ohio University, and a daughter who is planning to start next year at the University of Iowa.
I encourage you to read Wolverton’s story not as a knock on Allison and her parents, but as a cautionary tale on spending now with the assumption that scholarship money will come later. As always, if your child loves a sport and wants to spend a lot of time on it, and it doesn’t create an issue in your family, then go for it. But if you’re having your kid concentrate on a sport just for a scholarship, don’t.
You might be surprised — your child could get a pretty good scholarship following his or her own interests, picking a school that fits his or her needs. And I know: my son at Ohio is on a full-ride Army ROTC scholarship, and my daughter at Iowa, planning to major in microbiology and public health, already got the maximum scholarship you can receive for getting accepted. Hey, it’s my blog! I can brag! But what they both have in common is their pursuits can with no pushing from me — that, in fact, I understand them so little it’s best I stay out of the way.