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Colleges cant afford to eliminate athletic scholarships

The basketball court isn’t the only place hosting madness this March.

“As we near the exciting conclusion of ‘March Madness’ – which would more accurately be described as the 2011 NCAA professional basketball championships – it’s time we step back and finally address the myth of amateurism surrounding big-time college football and basketball in this country,” said former presidential candidate Ralph Nader to the Associated Press last week.

Nader and his League of Fans are promoting efforts to convince political and university leaders to end athletic scholarships in order to give them to low-income students.

Though it’s true that college sports are arguably over-commercialized and low-income students need help with college costs, the removal of athletic scholarships would be the wrong avenue to address these issues. It’s unfair to athletes at all levels and the millions of college students, alumni and fans who may see the nature of their favorite sports programs become seriously jeopardized.

Without scholarships, many athletes may feel there’s no reason to go through the intense physical and mental tribulations that accompany playing collegiate sports and could, understandably, go straight to the professional level or not bother playing at all.

Similar to other states’ programs, thousands of college students in Florida receive merit-based scholarships from lottery funds via the Bright Futures Scholarship, which pays 75 to 100 percent of tuition. Low-income students already receive Pell grants and the option to take out federally backed student loans.

Recipients of merit, need-based and athletic scholarships must all go to class and keep up with assignments, but only student-athletes must also attend physically grueling and time-consuming practices and competitions throughout the school year and sports season.

Unlike most students, many student-athletes don’t have the time to find a job and may suffer financially as a result, being unable to afford the basic costs of transportation or entertainment.

Some college hopefuls may be unable to obtain the high GPA or SAT scores needed to earn a merit-based scholarship. Since high scores are often an indication of parents’ wealth, an athletics scholarship is one of the only other ways for many low-income students to pay for college beyond a combination of Pell grants and massive student loans.

Before attacking hard working athletes, perhaps Nader should work to take away merit-based scholarships for those whose parents can afford college and instead give it to those whose parents cannot.

Beyond punishing athletes, the serious depletion of collegiate talent without scholarships would too greatly affect college sports and all the industries that center themselves around it without providing enough clear benefits.