It’s time to abolish college sports and thus scholarships for athletes, and return the focus on campus to education. More importantly, this might have a trickle-down effect to lessen the pressure of youth sports. The $10.6 billion-dollar revenue of NCAA sports is matched today by a youth sports economy that brings in about $15.3 billion, a 55% increase since 2010. Like college sports, youth sports have become a huge money-making machine for adults, and kids are suffering because of it.
One 2016 study found that the greater the financial investment parents made for their child’s sport, the more pressure the child felt to perform, lessening their enjoyment and commitment to the activity. A recent Bryan Gumbel HBO segment profiled a family that admitted spending about $15,000 a year on each of their two children. Both parents readily admitted that the goal was attaining a college scholarship, despite the reality that only about 1-2% of high school athletes earn athletic scholarships. Saving that $15,000 per year for ten years would pay for college, and they could actually have time for family vacations in the summer that didn’t involve a tournament.
Kids are now being pressured by coaches to play fewer types of sports each year, with early specialization beginning at earlier and earlier ages. This despite the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation to delay sports specialization until at least age 15-16 to avoid the resultant overuse injuries and burnout. Interestingly, a UCLA study found that 88% of D1 male and female athletes played an average of 2-3 sports as kids; tell that to your youth coach who insists that his team members only play their sport. College coaches are now scouting grade school kids at showcase tournaments all over the country. It’s gotten way out of hand, and one place to start change is from the top, college sports.
Each professional league should have their own training leagues that allow people to join right out of high school, like professional baseball does. Cities and states could get behind their local minor league teams that would have the name of a mascot on their jersey instead of a college.
The only sports on college campuses should be intramurals. All of the expensive sports facilities should be open to everyone on campus. Some would argue that high profile football teams attract enrollments. The shift that would occur is to beef up programs so that kids enroll because the university has a top design department or business school. Everyone on campus would be there for the education, not as a stepping stone to a pro basketball career. Universities could find new donors who invest money into better preparing kids for the workforce. Amazon is looking to build a second headquarters with 50,000 white collar jobs, and they are requiring a city that has a highly educated labor pool and a strong university system in the area. I’m guessing they would invest in the new city’s educational institutions.
When kids are left to their own devices in unsupervised, unstructured sports activities, overuse injuries and burnout are rarely seen. It’s only when adults step in and change the intention for playing that troubles ensue. Instead of the focus being playing for the love of the game and to have fun with your buddies, it shifts into a win-at-all costs mentality with college scholarships and the pros becoming the Holy Grail. Many kids quit playing sports by middle school with the main reasons being it was no longer fun and the coaches were too intense.
Perhaps if we take away the whole college sports scholarship enticement, parents and coaches could get back to treating kids as kids and we could greatly tone down the developmentally inappropriate high levels of pressure placed on young athletes.