NCAA just widened the opportunity gap between rich and poor student-athletes seeking college scholarships

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The NCAA just made it harder for low-income athletes to earn scholarships.

The NCAA has just made what was already an uphill battle for low-income student-athletes to earn athletic scholarships and excel in their sport even harder. In a controversial move announced on Friday, April 8th, the NCAA’s Division I Council voted 10-5 to immediately ban all Division I college football coaches from hosting football camps away from their home campus or “regular facilities” or working at any camp outside of that standard home range. The council – which is made up almost entirely of athletic directors, university administrators, and representatives of athletic departments – made a decision that will greatly limit the opportunities that prospective student-athletes have to obtain scholarships.

In an atmosphere where as it stands today, only two percent of high school athletes earn college athletic scholarships, and even fewer earn full rides, the NCAA has erected another barrier to education. Most top athletes come from middle or upper class backgrounds because so many challenges already exist for low-income athletes. They’re more likely to face issues of poor nutrition, education, and home environments – which already limit their odds of earning scholarship – and the NCAA just added to those long odds.

These camps are held by college coaches at every level of football to work out and instruct high school student-athletes. They also function as a scholarship tryout for many, where coaches will watch them go through football drills and workouts and decide if they should offer the athlete a scholarship to play at their school.

By virtually every account, the decision was made on the basis of southern schools in conferences like the SEC and ACC being outraged over coaches from northern programs coming into their territory. Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State advanced into the deep south to try and take away top prospects from the region. Schools wished to defend their home recruiting territories from northern invasions. Understandable, no?

The controversy comes with the latter half of the ruling however. The NCAA’s choice to prevent coaches of one program from coaching at a camp held at another college or area away from their home base has been almost universally criticized. The rule was intended to keep coaches like Urban Meyer away from places like Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton (where he worked a camp last summer).

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College football’s richest coach wants to make it harder for kids to get scholarships.

However, in practice, it hamstrings the chances of high school kids to earn vital scholarships by trying out in front of coaches. For years, Ohio State has hosted camps of their own at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center practice facilities. These camps were staffed not just by Ohio State coaches, but by coaches from dozens of other colleges in Ohio and from around the country.

Ohio State would host hundreds of football players every summer. A one-day camp would cost $75. That fee came with a guarantee that the player would be coached and seen by coaches from Ohio State, Ohio University, Toledo, Bowling Green, Kent State, Youngstown State, Akron, Miami of Ohio and dozens of other staffs from Divisions II and III. In order to be seen by just those eight Division I programs in Ohio – and no other schools – in 2016, that cost would rise to $390. The time commitment would go from one day’s work to crisscrossing Ohio to several cities over several trips.

Predictably, the coaches who had a hand in encouraging this change to the structure of camps don’t seem to care whatsoever that they’ll be limiting opportunities for athletes to earn scholarships.

University of Tennessee head coach Butch Jones – who is currently embroiled in a scandal over rape allegations against his players and his handling of the situation – told the Tennessean that some assistant coaches didn’t approve of satellite camps because they were “tired, worn out.”

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze made the absurd claim that the satellite camp ban was appropriate because high school athletes may actually have too many opportunities to get an education if there were “50 camps in Atlanta and Dallas.” Freeze also later said that he’s “selfish with [his] time” and he’s glad that instead of running a satellite camp he can “sleep at home.” That home, naturally, is a huge compound in Oxford, Mississippi.

National-champion head coach Nick Saban of Alabama doesn’t think that holding these camps even “has that much value.”

Oh, and those three men who seem to be just comfortable denying high school athletes the chance to earn vital scholarship opportunities? They were paid a combined $14.8 million in 2014. They oversaw programs that raked in over $336.5 million in revenue in that same season. They also coached a combined 255 scholarship football players who were paid a combined $0.00 in wages from that revenue.

Nobody has summed up their outrage and disappointment over the NCAA’s decision quite so clearly as Washington State head football coach Mike Leach.

“It appears that the selfish interests of a few schools and conferences prevailed over the best interests of future potential student-athletes,” [Leach] said. “The mission of universities and athletic programs should be to provide future student-athletes with exposure to opportunities, not to limit them. It appears to me that some universities and conferences are willing to sacrifice the interests of potential student-athletes for no better reasons than to selfishly monopolize their recruiting bases. I will be fascinated to hear any legitimate reasoning behind this ruling. We need to rethink this if we are actually what we say we are.”

While coaches from southern powerhouse programs will paint this as a move to protect their best interests, the results of this ruling are incredibly simple. The NCAA chose to limit the opportunities of the prospective student-athletes, the ones they are supposed to help, to seek scholarships to play football in college. They widened the opportunity gap between the poorest and wealthiest Americans just that much further in one of the few fields where meritocracy may actually exist.

The NCAA has just made it that much harder for athletes without the financial resources to attend dozens of camps throughout the United States to seek an education and they ought to be ashamed of themselves. Doubtlessly, self-satisfaction from the massive profits they bring in will overrule the shame soon enough.