The Real Value of a College Athletics Scholarship

Last Updated on June 5, 2014

Mendez Elder, the teenage boy pictured below, changed my life and he doesn’t even know it. For that reason, I want to talk to you about college athletics scholarships and ask you to help this young man achieve his dreams.

Me and Mendez in 2009 (left) and 2011 (right)

On this blog I focus on the finances of colleges and conferences as it relates to sports. Today, however, I want to focus on the finances required for an athlete to get to those colleges.

Did you dream of going to college? Maybe you were like many and it was simply expected of you. Where I come from, no one who wanted to go to college was denied. Yet only 35 miles from where I was raised there are numerous young men and women who haven’t dared to dream of going to college. They can’t afford it.

For the young men who participate in L.E.A.D., a revolutionary inner-city baseball organization, college isn’t just a fairytale. It’s something they’re taught they can achieve with dedication to their studies and fine-tuning of their skills on the diamond. These young men aren’t playing baseball to become the next major leaguer. They’re playing baseball to earn a college scholarship – the only way most of them will ever set foot on a college campus as a student.

We hear a lot of debate about whether college scholarships are sufficient compensation to college athletes or if they should be paid for their performance on the field. What we fail to discuss is the blockade many young men face trying to earn one of these coveted scholarships. 

Most of the guys I know who played college baseball spent years playing travel baseball and taking private pitching or hitting lessons. Their parents will tell you they spent thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars over the years getting their son to a level where he could compete for a college scholarship.

Collegiate baseball scholarships are getting harder and harder to earn. The NCAA limits the  number of full scholarships in baseball to 11.7, however, the typical team roster is between 25-45 players.  In 2008, new rules were adopted that limited the number of players on aid to 30 for the 2008-2009 season and 27 for the 2009-2010 season.  Scholarships used to be split into amounts that allowed most, if not all, of the roster players to receive some sort of financial aid.  Unfortunately, there was some abuse that caused the new rules to be implemented.  Coaches were giving out “tryout scholarships” which lured the player to campus with a small scholarship.  The amount was small enough that the coach could cut the player during fall practices without if effecting his bottom line.

Sometimes rules aimed at one problem make way for a new kind of problem.  Under the new rules, only 27 players can be on scholarship and each scholarship must be for at least 25% of the tuition, room and board.  Compare that to football where 85 full scholarships are available for about 87 roster spots (active and inactive), or basketball where 13 full scholarships are available for 12-15 roster spots.  Which sport would you choose to play if you were a young African-American athlete who could only get a college education through an athletic scholarship?

Consider this: the champions of the 2009 College World Series, the LSU Tigers, had two African-American players, neither of whom were on baseball scholarships.  Instead, Chad Jones and Jared Mitchell were both on football scholarships.

African-American young men who, like Mendez, grow up in the inner-city simply cannot afford to play travel baseball or take private lessons. Without participation on travel teams or being part of top-notch high school programs, these young men do not develop on the baseball field and/or go unnoticed.

L.E.A.D. has changed that for quite a few young men in Atlanta by creating the first-ever inner-city travel program that doesn’t cost the participants one dime. The L.E.A.D. Ambassadors play against elite travel teams like nearby East Cobb, a perennial contender in AAU and Baseball America’s “Most Outstanding Youth Baseball Program in the Nation” for the entire decade of the 1990s. In addition to the baseball opportunities, scholarship and community service are emphasized, with 100% of the L.E.A.D. Ambassador graduates being accepted to college since the program’s inception and over 2,000 hours of community service being performed. Since being formed in 2008, 87% of the participants in the program have gone on to earn college scholarships to play baseball while pursuing higher education.

Now my friend Mendez Elder has the opportunity to be the first L.E.A.D. player to receive a Division 1 college scholarship. He is only the second player from Atlanta Public Schools to ever  be invited to the Perfect Game National Showcase, which features the nation’s top 150 high school baseball players.

Did you ever dream of playing college athletics? Were you ever told you just didn’t have the money to get there? That’s the situation Mendez is facing right now. Attending the Perfect Game National Showcase takes airfare, several nights of hotel stays and other miscellaneous expenses. L.E.A.D. not only wants to send Mendez to the showcase, but his mother as well. Can you imagine your mother not being there to see you perform and cheer you on? I cannot.

Please take the time to go read some short blogs on L.E.A.D.’s website. The founder of L.E.A.D., CJ Stewart, will briefly tell you about L.E.A.D. and why Mendez Elder is the epitome of what L.E.A.D. hopes to achieve with each and every young man involved. Mendez also answers a few questions about what attending the Perfect Game National Showcase means to him. (Links are at the end.)

If you are moved by Mendez’s story, I encourage you to donate anything you can to help us send Mendez and his mother to the showcase. L.E.A.D. is a 501(c)(3) organization and your donations are tax-deductible.

I’ll leave you with the exchange I had with Mendez that changed my life by getting me involved with L.E.A.D. It was the fall of 2009 and Mendez and I were both attending a luncheon put on by L.E.A.D. for donors and those interested in getting involved. Mendez was a freshman and quiet like most of the young men. The luncheon was in a conference area at my law firm’s office, which was in a brand new high rise. I was introduced to Mendez and soon found myself standing alone with him, unsure of what to say. He surprised me by speaking first.

“What kinds of jobs do people have who work in a building like this?”

It was a simple question, but not one I’d ever received from a teenager. It was asked with the naivety of a child. One who’d never before been in a high-rise office building.

It turned out Mendez had indeed never been in a high-rise office building. Where he grew up, most parents don’t work in high-rise office buildings like my parents and my friends’ parents. He honestly had no idea what sort of businesses were contained inside and what the people within them did every day.

It was Mendez’s simple question that cemented my place in L.E.A.D. I had only recently learned about L.E.A.D. and the luncheon was my first experience. Since then, I’ve joined the Advisory Board and have made it a permanent part of my life. Nothing would bring me more joy than for Mendez, the perfect example of what it means to be a L.E.A.D. Ambassador, to earn a Division 1 college baseball scholarship.

Help me give Mendez the opportunity to make his dreams come true!

Check out blogs from Mendez himself and the founder of L.E.AD., CJ Stewart, here. If you’d like to make a donation, you can do so here (you can designate that your donation is for Mendez’s trip by indicating it in the Comments section of the donation form).

If you have any questions whatsoever, leave them in the comments here and I will get you answers.

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  • Richard Norxdstrom
    June 1, 2011

    I liked you ideas and approach to finances. However, I feel you need to be certain you and others who consider this problem think in broad terms. This is not an Ohio State problem. ALL scholarships need to be considered … Academic and Sports. Do you suppose ONLY athletes need spending money? Do you think athletes spend more time than other students in preparation for class and or game day? Athletes spend more time practicing and less studying. Academics spend more time hitting the books and less at sports. Make the ruls for scholarships focus on a degree. The guy/or gal who turns pro is NOT a student athlete. Where would they be without the university?

    • Kristi Dosh
      June 2, 2011

      Many academic scholarships already cover cost of living, which I think I mentioned in my Problems with Paying College Athletes post. I also think it’s unfair to say athletes spend more time practicing than studying. Many athletes receive top grades and go on to be Rhodes Scholars or on to law school or medical school, etc.

  • Bob
    June 27, 2011

    Where is the logic behind the NCAA not allowing in state tuition for an out of state athlete?
    I’m guessing it falls under the “old” school rules that any tuition waiver is considered a scholarship. Back when this rule was established, most state universities had a full offering of sports for men. Now with cut backs, there are multiple states that don’t even offer an NCAA participating sport like swimming, diving, wrestling, etc…

    I guess my question is why can’t the NCAA allow coaches to offer out of state tuition waiver for the “Olympic” sports? We’re not looking for additional scholarships (although that would be awesome), just a way to make college more affordable for the out of state athlete that participates in a sport with limited scholarships.

    Clear as mud?