The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat.
“Fewer than 1 in 5 students playing Division 1 hoops, and 1 in 7 in all Division 1 sports, come from families in which neither parent went to college. And their numbers are declining.”–Tom Farrey in The Undefeated (here)
Those numbers, writes Farrey, are “a closely tracked figure because [they’re] a key measure of socioeconomic opportunity. … First gens are typically from poor and working-class families that have difficulty paying for college without scholarships.” A degree (which 86 percent of Division I athletes earn, about 60 percent for the general student population in six years) is a ticket to the middle class. So few college players actually end up playing professional sports that the figures are negligible. It’s like looking at the number who will eventually own rubber plantations in Borneo.
The fall is precipitous in the money sports, according to Farrey: “In men’s basketball, the sport that used to have the highest percentage of first gens, the number plummeted by a third in just five years. Women’s basketball experienced a similar drop. Football fell by more than 10 percent.” Just “14.2 percent of all Division 1 athletes are first gens.” Still that’s not the whole story because the “NCAA did not survey athletes in 10 smaller sports … equestrian, fencing, men’s gymnastics, bowling, rifle, rugby, sailing, sand volleyball, skiing and squash.”
All this tells a sad tale for the inner city kids, but it also goes to the point that youngsters’ parents often spent many thousands of dollars running them all over hell and half of Georgia to play softball, elite basketball, soccer and other sports in hopes of winning a scholarship … one that all that up-front expense would likely pay for and throw in a good used car.
I don’t like full athletic scholarships because they put entirely too much emphasis on an extracurricular activity (one that benefits the school far more than the athlete), often at the expense the education that these students are supposed to be getting for their hard labor. I do favor scholarships for kids who show talent in some area–basketball included–and wouldn’t be able to go to college otherwise. Those are need-based and are legit to a degree. You can argue, though, that the emphasis on the sport is still wrong. Requiring the maintenance of a solid GPA–and giving help to reach that, if needed–would be a great step.
It also wouldn’t hurt to penalize schools whose athletes go pro with no attempt to graduate. That would likely kill Kentucky basketball, but I think we could live with it.