Rawls on NCAA Scholarships

December 4, 2011

Political Theory


Perhaps the most notorious sanction in the NCAA for violating the rules is the dismissal of scholarships. In the recent past, USC, due to Reggie Bush’s illegal benefits, lost 30 scholarships over a three year span. Penn State, currently in the midst of their own scandal involving sexual harassment allegations towards Sandusky, will likely face even more severe repercussions. While for many, this may seem like a fair punishment to the University and its program, what happens to the young athletes whose hopes and dreams of playing at a collegiate level are crushed? It is really fair to take away their chances? In the midst of the controversy, the public tends to forget about the consequences it will have on future athletes and only pays attention to how the University will “pay” for the damages.

Along with programs being hindered of scholarships, many Universities will vacate wins, receive bans from BCS games, and, many times the people directly (or perhaps indirectly) involved will be fired. Most of these consequences affect individuals who had nothing to do with the scandal and I do not believe it is fair to take away their pride for their program when they are completely innocent in the violations. While it is hard to imagine a different way of punishing a program for their violations, taking away scholarships, wins etc., seems to chastise the players rather than the people more directly involved.

According to John Rawls, inequalities should only occur when they benefit the worst-off people in society (this is known as the difference principle). If we are to use Rawls’ arguments, then the ban of scholarships would be wrongful punishment as if leaves the people who were unable to pay their way through college in the dust. These “worst-off” athletes are presented with another unfair disadvantage and thus the inequality that was created should not be allowed. Rawls’ theories would support scholarships as they are an inequality that benefits and acts as an advantage to the people who need it most.

I believe that when a program loses scholarships, it not only places young, aspiring athletes at an even greater disadvantage but it lashes out on the wrong people. I think that the NCAA should re-evaluate the consequences they give Universities in terms of scholarships and try and come up with something that doesn’t leave the people at the bottom completely lost.

What do you think? Do you disagree with Rawls and believe that losing scholarships is fair punishment or do you think that there should be a new system implemented that doesn’t put kids at a higher disadvantage?

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3 Comments on “Rawls on NCAA Scholarships”

  1. arielleshanker Says:

    While I understand your argument on the idea that the the NCAA dismissing scholarships from certain programs as a sanction for violating the Association’s rules, I think it could also be argued that fewer scholarships might actually be helpful in leveling out the playing field. Fewer scholarships would mean that programs would have to allocate the scholarships only to those with the greatest need that would provide the greatest benefit to the team. This idea is in fact congruent with Rawls’ argument that inequalities should only occur when they benefit the worst-off.

    I think it would be really difficult to devise a new system in which the programs were punished, but the potential athletes were unaffected. Since the team revolves around its players and recruits, anything that is done to disadvantage the team subsequently harms the players as well. The only effective solution, then would for the NCAA to have personal funds separate from the program scholarships which the players were entitled to, but they would have to be given out based on demonstrated financial need and also athletic merit. Determining who deserved these general scholarships from the NCAA would then become very complicated.

  2. benjadler Says:

    I completely disagree. While some of the lower tier athletes may lose scholarships due to this (since fewer are offered) those athletes who are good and have received the attention of one of the schools on probation have likely also received the attention of several other schools. Even though some of these schools might not be as prestigious as the one on probation, it is a free education and a chance to play ball nonetheless. It would make more sense that it is unfair to punish the entire university, which receives millions of dollars based on the athletic revenue, for the mistakes of a few individuals (in some cases). This money goes towards new buildings, scholarships (not just for athletics), and university development, not to mention increasing booster support, which then brings in even more revenue. Don’t forget the other people involved like us, the general student body that also relies on that money.
    Being a college athlete is like being a good doctor or other professional. If you are good at what you do, then most of the time there is a demand for you and you can find work, or in this case, a school.

  3. cchevat Says:

    I agree that the withdrawal of numerous scholarships from college campuses is going to have negative impact on its universities and athletes. In the majority of these situations it is the coaches and athletic directors who are mainly involved in these scandals. It is truly unfair that young athletes who have trained their whole lives in order to get their opportunity taken away to go to college and better their lives because of the actions of other people. Yes, sometimes players can be the cause of these scandals but that should not prohibit the giving of scholarship to another deserving player. Especially at such a hard time economically, more and more people are relying on athletic and even academic scholarships that the more there are the better it will be for the majority of students.
    But on the other hand, just because one college is lacking the amount of scholarships it used to have, does not mean that the student is out of luck. With so many different universities out there who probably have better reputations and lack scandal, a student athlete should be able to make the most out of their situation. Most likely these students who are already deserving will still get the same opportunity to play in college than they did before a certain school took away some scholarships. Rawls main focus is about opportunity and equality so as long as these players are still given the same opportunity and are treated the same regardless of which school they would have originally wanted, that should not mean that their college dreams are over.

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