Commentary from Guest Author Hunt Gressitt

Note: K-B is on vacation.

Academics vs. Athletics: Where Does the Money Flow?

By Hunt Gressitt, S.A., P.A.-C.

I am infuriated every time I hear of an academically capable student whose family is going into deep hock to pay tuition at a public institution of higher learning, while multiple teams full of illiterati who happen to be skilled at basketball or football are getting free rides — plus God only knows what all else in the way of special privileges and other goodies. Granting bachelor's degrees to people who were too busy playing ball or sucking down the Coors to bother going to class, and who need tutors to help them read the TV guide, has been eroding the value of those degrees to the point that they're no longer worth the parchment they're written on.

To add insult to injury, these public colleges and universities are heavily supported by tax dollars, thus enabling them to provide an opportunity for professional athletic recruiters to have a venue in which to survey the current crop of prospects without having to pay for the privilege — as if there were so little money in professional athletics that they couldn't afford to do it any other way. Snarl!

FootballCatchIt's an old issue, but it has grown out of control. The amount of money available to scholastic nitwits now seems relatively boundless. National Collegiate Athletic Association data for 2003-4 indicate that 138,216 students received an average of $10,409 in athletic aid. Compare that to 8,486 National Merit Scholarship students who received $2,500 each in 2007-08 or the maximum Pell Grant award for 2009-10 of $5,350.

Even physicians, into whose care we entrust our lives, have to pay through the nose for the privilege. Unlike most civilized nations, which subsidize the education of their health care providers, in the United States, physicians finish medical school with an average debt of $140,000.

StudyingI recently spoke with yet another parent who is racking up debt to her eyeballs, courtesy of the tuition bills of her two university student progeny, both of whom are working part time to help pay the bills, both of whom are on the dean's list, both of whom will graduate with a mountain of debt that they will share with their mama, and neither of whom has been able to get any academic scholarship funds. It surely doesn’t seem fair.

I wonder how long it will take a teacher living on an average salary of $51,000 to pay off the average undergraduate debt of about $24,000, all the while accruing more educational costs in order to comply with the requirements that most decent school systems have for their teachers, to complete a master's degree.

Meantime, the average professional athletes’ salaries would make a teacher’s head spin:

Basketball (NBA) — $5,000,000 Baseball (MLB) — $2,800,000 Football (NFL) — $1,750,000 Hockey (NHL) — $1,500,000 Men's Golf — $973,495 Women's Tennis — $345,000 Men's Tennis — $260,000 Women's Golf — $162,043

If the numbers are an accurate measure of perceived social value, the message is dismaying.

Note: Hunt Gressitt is an emergency room physician assistant in Ellsworth, Maine, down to her last $4,000 of student loan debt after way too many moons.

©2009 Hunt Gressitt

(Football photograph by Dirk Hansen via a Creative Commons license. Reading photograph by VolaVale via a Creative Commons license.)