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Why college athletes on scholarships should finish college with a degree? Quite often, you may hear people speak or you may read a term in an article and wonder whether you are the only one who does not understand what the term means. In such instances, you will find that the term in question is pretty common and that you should know the meaning but you just don’t. For this reason, I will start with brief definitions.

A college is an institution of higher learning created to educate and grant degrees and is often a part of a university while an athlete is a person trained to compete in sports. A college athlete can therefore be defined as a person trained to compete in sports on behalf of a college or to participate as a representative of an institution of higher learning. A scholarship in this context would be defined as financial aid provided to a student by a college on the basis of excellence in sports. A degree is an award conferred by an institution of higher learning signifying that the recipient of the award has satisfactorily completed all the requirements necessary for a course of study.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

In today’s rapidly changing world, the importance of studying for and acquiring a college degree cannot be overemphasized. A college degree serves as a gateway to better options and more varied opportunities. As opposed to decades past, the U.S economy today is knowledge driven unlike in the past when manufacturing was the main driver of the economy.

According to several sources, a degree holder has a wider pool of jobs to choose from than are open to individuals who don't have a higher education or those who did not pursue education beyond high school. It is an irrefutable fact that graduates typically earn more than non-graduates. In 2004 the US Census Bureau reported that, on average, a college graduate earns $54,704, someone with a high school diploma earned $30,056 annually. High school dropouts’ annual earnings were reported to be $22,100. That is to say that people with a higher education are better placed to make more than their less educated peers. The figures are $24,648 and $32,604 more than a high school diploma holder and a high school dropout respectively. These figures say a lot but another way of looking at the numbers, according to the Postsecondary Education Opportunity Research Letter (PEORL), is that the lifetime income of a family headed by an individual with a bachelor's degree will be around $1.6 million more than the income of a family headed by a person with a high school diploma. The Postsecondary Education Opportunity Research Letter (PEORL) continues to state that for every dollar spent on a college education, a return on investment of about $34.85 in increased lifetime income is realized. That is not such a bad return on an investment.

Enter the other reality. More often than not, the end of an athletic career is not retirement due to age as it should ideally be. Even when an athlete retires due to age, it is more appropriate to say that the retirement is forced by accumulation of injuries rather that age. College athletes are mostly young and in their formative ages in their chosen disciplines before joining the professional ranks. What this means is that although some will go on to become professionals and pursue successful careers, not everyone will do so. There are several movies whose themes revolve around a potentially star athlete’s career being ruined by an injury in their rookie year. (Earl, & John, 2005).

There are many examples of athletes whose careers have been ruined by injuries.  In the same breath, there are sadly too many college athletes whose names will never grace billboards or “halls of fame” because no one will ever know what they might have become. Of athletes whose careers have been ruined by forces of nature, the Australian rugby player Geoff Starling is a good example. In 1970, Starling was a 17 year old playing junior Rugby League but at the end of that season, he was called up to play in the Australian Rugby League (ARL). The following year (1971), he started at the top level and after just a couple of games, he was picked to play for Australia. Geoff Starling to date remains the youngest player ever to represent Australia. Between 1972 and 1973, Starling played representative games including 11 games for Australia. At the beginning of the 1974 season, he was appointed the club captain at the tender age of 21. After just 4 games he was struck by a mystery ailment which caused him to rapidly lose weight and he became devoid of energy to the extent that he couldn’t play. His doctors could not solve his problems and he retired from rugby, he was barely 21. Several years later, by which time Starling was too old to resume his career, a woman who had read an article in a magazine about Starling's mystery illness contacted him to inform him that she thought he had Addison’s disease. Addison’s disease is a rare endocrine disorder that affects about 1 in every 100,000 people. As it turned out, the woman was right. The disease is treatable and had Starling been diagnosed earlier by his doctors his career would have been saved since the condition could have been treated (Earl & John, 2005).

Another example of a star athlete whose career has been threatened by injury is the English international soccer player David Beckham who plays for the Italian club AC Milan and has played in the US for L.A Galaxy. Beckham may not be a college athlete now but he is credited with being one of the most successful soccer players in the world. The greatest arena for soccer is the world cup which will be held in just under a month and a half in South Africa and this great player will not be a part of it due to an injury he suffered while playing for his club AC Milan in March this year. Speaking of soccer without mentioning Brazil is like talking golf and not mentioning Tiger Woods, his indiscretions not withstanding. The Brazilian soccer star Ronaldo, first worn the world cup in 1994. He was a teenager at the time. Up to date Ronaldo still holds the record as the top scorer in the world cup. His club soccer career has been dogged by injuries and he really didn’t live to the expectations of most soccer fans.

The NBA has enough examples to give in this regard. Ralph Sampson may be said to have had other issues but really, his knee injury had a greater role to play in changing him from a 20 pt. 10 rebound guy and bundling him out of the NBA. Grant Hill may have been one of the best five players between 1994 and 2000 and would have been a reasonable hall of famer. His recurrent injuries were a tragedy and it is good that his first six seasons were good enough to probably compensate for every other lost season because lets face it, Grant’s career was virtually over by the end of the last millennium. Penny Hardaway dropped from being an NBA All Star game starter to just being edged out by Michael Jordan for the scoring title. His subsequent devastating series of knee injuries petered out his NBA career.

The point I am making from the above examples is that an athlete doesn’t have full control of his or her career and sometimes, matters don’t turn out as originally planned, as they say, you may be so promising but what happens when you blow your knee in your rookie year? Earning good money immediately after high school is very appealing and especially being able to make money in something like athletics where participants do it for the love of it  is doubly so. That said, college athletic scholarship beneficiaries should always keep in mind that as much as winning honors for their institution is important, the whole point of going to college is the future benefits that come with holding a college degree and studying besides participating in sports is paramount (Earl & John, 2005).

Whichever way we might look at it, the years spent in school are generally the best in one’s life and the college experience cannot be re-lived. It is true that nowadays, students can study at home, through distance learning and mature students can go back to college and acquire degrees even in their forties and fifties. A mature student however can never have the same experience a normal age college student has and will make much fewer important career enhancing contacts that an ordinary college student will. A student on athletics scholarship may fail to take the academic part of his or her being in college seriously and concentrate on the sports part. The fact however is that the average four years spent in college also serve as a time for a person’s maturing in his or her chosen sports discipline. (Walter &  Charles, 1997).

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