Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Obsession with Scholarships

Our family has now completed its first full year of 12U travel softball—98 games, 26 weekends plus two week-long tournaments. This does not include weekends and school nights in which there were practices but no games. I did not keep track of expenses, though StatsDad spent $11,704 on three kids in 2011.

Our daughter has turned thirteen and will be moving up to 14U soon, but in the five years of recreational and club ball plus other school sports that she has played, we have developed more than a few concerns about the direction youth sports today is headed. Parents and coaches do not seem to have many facts correct and we are concerned that some of what we see in youth sports is not good for the kids. For starters . . .

The obsession with scholarships is misplaced. Aside from the tiny odds* of landing even a partial college athletic scholarship, scholarships are not necessary to get a college education in most states in the US.

College, in today’s world of budget crunches and annual tuition increases, is still affordable (p. 17). Forty percent of students in the California State University system receive no financial aid at all. And only sixteen states in the US charge a higher rate of tuition and fees at public 4-year institutions than the Cal States. California and New Mexico charge the least for community colleges.

The path to a college education is simple. Two years of community college, then 20-40 hours a week working at a job to pay for the rest at a four-year state institution. Your son or daughter may not get the degree in four years—it may take five or even six years and he or she will be complaining that one foot is in the grave—but the degree will be obtained.

And as I have pointed out before the non-athletic students will likely earn more money upon graduation than the athlete, because the non-athlete will have accumulated work experience and internships that look good on resumes when applying for jobs. Athletes are often too busy with their sport, spending up to 45 hours a week on it, to gain work experience.

If your child does well in high school (and this does not have to mean “straight A’s”), he or she will do well in college. If he or she does well in college, the same will be true in graduate school. Getting a college education is not rocket science . . . well, unless your child decides to major in rocket science!

Now we’re not saying you should pass up a scholarship if it is offered. You should apply for everything when considering college, especially the academic and need-based grants (but minimize the loans—$20-25,000 maximum for the entire college career). College is doable without the scholarship, no matter how humble your situation.

So parents and coaches, relax. Enjoy the game.

And coaches, please don’t mislead parents into thinking that anything in the scholarship area is a shoo-in.

The so-called full ride scholarship is quite rare, except perhaps at some top football and basketball schools and for a very few elite athletes in other sports. A 50% scholarship at a $50,000 a year private university still leaves a lot of money for mom and dad to fork over. And this may not include the $12-14,000 for room and board, plus books, transportation, and personal expenses. Tuition and fees at Cal States are currently about $7000 a year and at the University of California schools are $14,000. Rates in other states for public institutions are similar, though higher in some states.

Athletic scholarships also, as few parents seem to know or understand, are not four-year contracts. They are for one year at a time and can be taken away for poor grades, poor performance, or injury. California did pass a law recently providing protections and benefits for athletes at certain well-heeled institutions, but all parents of an athlete who are now, or soon will be, negotiating with a coach and university should print out and keep handy the list of protections suggested by the National College Players Association.

Getting informed is your best protection.

*The stats, of course, depend on who you read. Cindy Bristow says the chances are one in 500 for all girls currently playing softball to win an NCAA scholarship. provides these numbers (click tab above for expanded stats):

•    Only 7.8% of high school softball players went on in 2012 to play college ball.
•    Fewer than 1% of high school players received a Division I scholarship.
•    One out of two women, though, on a brighter note, who made it on a college team did receive some financial aid from softball.

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