Discrimination Against Student Athletes?

After I reported that nearly a quarter million dollars worth of Challenge Fund grants to the state’s university foundations had been used for athletic scholarships at NDSU, Minot State, and Dickinson State, lawmakers decided to amend HB1151 which is the re-authorization from the fund.

Even though the original legislation creating the fund said, in clear language, that the funds were to be used “exclusively” for the advancement of academics the state committee reviewing and approving the grants allowed dollars to go to football, basketball, and even rodeo scholarships.

Now lawmakers are aiming to change that, but Lt. Governor Drew Wrigley (who heads the committee which approves the grants) isn’t happy about it.

The bill which emerged from the state House cut funding for the program from $29 million in the current biennium to $19 million in the coming biennium, and  it prohibits the use of funds for “scholarships intended solely for the benefit of athletics.” Campus repair projects and building projects are also prohibited uses.

I’d just as soon this whole fund go away, especially given the insistence by the university foundations that they are separate and private entities from our universities and outside of the scope of state oversight. If they are indeed as separate and independent as they say, then I question the wisdom of funneling taxpayer dollars to them.

But to the change in funding for athletic scholarships specifically, Lt. Governor Drew Wrigley claimed that lawmakers are “discriminating” against student athletes and implied that the language wouldn’t stop grants to athletic scholarships anyway:

But Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley, who chairs the fund’s committee, told the Senate Education Committee this week that the amended language technically doesn’t preclude scholarships to student-athletes, because the money pays for the academic component and isn’t solely to benefit athletics.

Still, Wrigley said if the language — which he says discriminates against student-athletes — survives into the final version of the bill, he’d urge the challenge fund committee to adhere to its intent.

“I’m not going to parse words with the Legislature on this,” he said.

I’m not sure why Wrigley is so adamant that athletic scholarships meet the academic criteria for the grants. While you can argue that the scholarships do pay for the education of the student athletes, they’re basically used as compensation for their athletic services.

Does anyone really believe that football and basketball scholarships advance academics at our universities? While we could point to student athletes who also do very well in academics, let’s be serious. The whole point of athletic scholarships is to win games.

If taxpayers are subsidizing athletic scholarships we aren’t enhancing academics. We’re enhancing athletics.

I think athletics are enough of a distraction and drain on taxpayer/university resources as it is without further bloat from another channel of taxpayer support.

Wrigley is flat-out wrong on this issue. The intent of the Legislature was clear the first time they approved these funds, and so far they’re making it even more clear for the next biennium (the Senate Education Committee adopted the House version of the bill with no changes).

No tax dollars for athletic scholarship. Wrigley needs to accept that he and his committee made a questionable decision to approve such grants this biennium, and accept that they are specifically prohibited from making such grants again.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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