In the Unites States where college sports is big business getting as much media coverage as mainstream level championships, student athletes are privileged groups that universities back to the hilt, offering generous student scholarships and coaching. After all, Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan were all student athletes before they went professional. There isn’t a sports quota here. Universities offer student athlete scholarships instead. Besides covering tuition, they are given time off for practice and tournaments. Athletic departments ensure that a student’s absence doesn’t affect his grades or his academic standing. In short, no student is ever barred from graduating because he was not around to do an exam or submit a paper. Schedules are carefully organised around game and practice timings. And it’s the universities that assist students in this.
Sports generate enormous revenues for the university especially if its sporting team is among the top ten in the nation, with aggressive marketing tactics centred on ticket sales.
The nature and scope of athletic scholarships in the U.S. are determined by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), a group of 1,281 institutions, organisations and individuals that oversee the athletic programmes in most major universities. These scholarships can range from a year to five years. For example, the University of Southern California offers scholarships in 21 sports. But selections for these scholarships aren’t just about playing well only. Tim Tessalone, USC Sports Information Director, says, “While selecting prospective students, we look at the student’s sporting abilities but academic grades too are considered. They must be able to cope with the rigorous academic schedules at a university like USC. We have student athlete academic services that ensure our athletes have a well-rounded college experience.”
But those with a talent are aggressively courted by universities. Amory Davies, who attended the University of Virginia on a golf scholarship, agrees. “I got a 60 per cent scholarship. In my sophomore year of high school, I got nearly 150 letters from colleges wanting to recruit me.” Davies wanted to study economics but chose sociology instead to keep with up with his demanding golf practice schedule. “You practise 20 hours a week and coupled with classes that takes up a lot of your time,” he explains.
Golf misses more classes than any other game because they have two seasons a year instead of one like football. “Most tournaments are five-day events. We play about 12 tournaments a year,” he says. “Some professors are better than others at understanding your absence. Some really appreciate the fact that you are representing the sport and your institution. But you have letters from the athletic department asking your teachers to accommodate you. Your missed papers, quizzes and exams will either have to be given to you earlier or later. Your absence can’t be held against you.”
Cole Willcox, who also attended the University of Virginia on a golf scholarship, says, “Athletic scholarships make the whole application easier. There is no formal application. Your coach picks you. All I had to do was just fill in a few forms, for the most part everything was done for me.”