Lt. Governor Drew Wrigley Defends Use Of Academic Grants For Athletic Scholarships

Last week I wrote a story about Challenge Fund grants being used for athletic scholarships. Today the Forum Communications has caught up to the story (with no hat tip for the guy who broke it, naturally).

The Challenge Fund was set up by the Legislature during the 2013 session to provide matching public dollars for private donations to “for projects dedicated exclusively to the advancement of academics.” That’s a direct quote from the legislation which created the fund.

But, as I reported previously, the grants funneled over $716,000 worth of public and private funds to athletic scholarships. Six scholarships at NDSU received funds, as well as two each at Minot State University and Dickinson State University.

That’s problematic. I’m not sure is the Legislature would have approved the grant fund if it were widely known that the grants were going to be used for athletics. But Lt. Governor Drew Wrigley, who chaired the committee overseeing the grants, is insisting that grants to athletic scholarship funds do not violate the intent of the legislation:

Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley, who chairs the fund’s committee and brought the idea to the Legislature two years ago, said in an interview last week there’s “nothing in the statute that would encourage us to discriminate against students who are athletes.”

The fund wouldn’t cover sports-related projects such as upgrading locker rooms, but Wrigley argued that scholarships are different.

“It doesn’t get them a new football helmet or hockey stick or anything like that,” Wrigley said. “They’re not there to be football players, they’re there to be students, and you’ve got to have some way of paying for that tuition, fees and books.”

That statement seems very naive. Kids recruited to attend a university to play football students first and football players second?

Anyone who believes that should consider what happens to a football scholarship when one of these student athletes stops playing football. They don’t get to continue their scholarships because, despite what Wrigley says, the scholarships aren’t about academics.

They’re about athletics.

There are many student athletes who also have a great deal of success academically, though in my admittedly jaundiced view of collegiate athletics I’d suggest they’re the exception rather than the rule. But the point here is not to try and perpetuate the “dumb jock” stereotype. There is no question that athletic scholarships are a tool used to draw athletes to schools to do things like win football games.

The Legislature will be considering a renewal of funding for the Challenge Fund which has used all $29 million of its initial appropriation. Before that renewal lawmakers need to clear this matter up. The dollars given to athletic scholarships so far is a relatively small amount in terms of the total dollars spent through this program, but if athletic scholarships are on the table, it’s going to be open season especially with North Dakota’s athletic programs grappling with new NCAA regulations allowing for students to be paid stipends.

I realize that many North Dakotans love collegiate sports, but is subsidizing scholarships for student athletes really how we want our tax dollars spent? Especially when college is so expensive for students who don’t have athletic talent?

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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