In recent times there has been great debate in North America around the college sports system and the ‘exploitation’ of student athletes to raise revenue for the universities.

In Australia, there is no such thing as a free university education via an athletic scholarship. Meaning, the high school athletes that aren’t selected for a national or elite program in a ‘popular’ or ‘relevant’ Australian sport (think AFL, NRL, Olympics, etc.) cannot use their sporting abilities past their final year of school. Seems like a waste? We’d agree.

American universities and colleges offer a pathway for those high school athletes, but make no mistake…riding the coat tails of one’s sporting skills won’t be enough. A sporting scholarship to an American university requires hard work…lots of it. And this is where recent debate has centred – is the US student athlete being worked too hard without compensation?

Negative revelations about US college athletic programs are nothing new. Recently however, a number of these revelations have inflamed the debate about whether sports should be a part of the college experience. Allegations of fake courses at the University of North Carolina, abusive coaching at Rutgers, a multi-million-dollar pyramid scheme at the University of Miami, to name a few, have agitated the American sports world.

Due to the amount of money within college sports and the amount of revenue it generates both the university and the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association), there is a growing call to view the student athlete as an employee deserving of a fair share of said revenue.

With any popular sporting code in any country, prestige, interest and money will accordingly follow. We, the public, want to see the athletes perform and with that attention and interest comes additional factors that some would argue have nothing to do with something like a university education. The question then becomes – do you throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to college sports, and thus deny thousands of yearly university graduates an education they otherwise would not have had access to?

College sports programs in the US are often supported more passionately than the professional leagues, meaning that merchandise, TV deals, advertising and popularity are generated around the success of a college’s sporting success. This is what allows these institutions to offer the scholarships they do. It is a unique system that no other place in the world offers. Are we really better off without it…? We certainly don’t think so.

Maybe it’s because college sports has been part of the sporting landscape in the US for so long, that elements of the population have forgotten what a free university education means to those individual student athletes who don’t necessarily aim to use their chosen sport as a means to put food on the table post university?

Kendall Spencer, a former track student-athlete at the University of New Mexico, during a speech at the 2015 NCAA Convention said:

“If anything, I want us to make a valiant effort to protect sports (at university). When I came out of high school, I wasn’t necessarily the strongest student. I was intelligent and had a lot of potential but hadn’t really showed it. It was because of my athletic ability that I ended up going to a great university and from there I blossomed. I was in an environment that helped me to feel loved and supported to grow and mature as an adult. When you think about the student athlete experience, that’s what it is.”

Kendall’s speech was interesting because amidst all the recent focus on money and fairness to the student athlete, he reminds us of what is actually happening in these universities for these students…an education.

“I’ve had the privilege of speaking to hundreds of student athletes and one of the questions I try and ask them is, ‘How did you get here?’ A lot of them will tell you, ‘Man, I wasn’t going to get into college had it not been for my athletic ability.’ What’s special about it is, those same student athletes are now leaving with multiple degrees, and when you think about a regular student in high school who wasn’t thinking about going to university, this model allows them to contribute to society in a much more productive manner.”

This is what seems to have been forgotten in the recent debate in the US – that there are thousands of people, ex student athletes, who now have qualifications and jobs they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to get. They are now able to contribute in ways they wouldn’t have because their sporting ability allowed them to do so. They didn’t necessarily continue to play their sport after university, but they now have jobs, businesses, pay taxes, are able to afford university educations for their children. Essentially, they are a more valuable and contributing member of our society because of their sporting ability.

A scholarship, whether it’s academic or athletic, to a university is a privilege. Why? Because a tertiary education cannot be valued in terms of what it allows an individual to achieve in their lifetime. The US college system is the only place in the world that allows for this system and yes, it should be protected and cherished.

If you’re thinking about pursuing a university experience in the US through your sport of choice, give Study & Play USAa call or get in touch via our Getting Started portal on our website.

Not only are we Australia’s experts in US university sport scholarships, but we have over 15 years’ experience helping Australian student athletes in choosing their life journey. We’re not here to convince you to take this pathway. Rather, our priority is to inform and educate each individual family. We’ll sit down with you and your family to provide you with customised and personal advice relevant to you and your dreams.

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An Aussie's Transformative
US College Journey

By Study & Play Director, Chris Bates