The Real Value of Medical Scholarships

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In The Wall Street Journal’s September 24, 2010 edition, Hannah Karp and Darren Everson offered an intriguing article titled Alabama’s Unhappy Castoffs. It dealt with certain football players at the University of Alabama who were offered, and took, “medical” scholarships following injuries.

The implication in the story was that these players were not really given any option – that they were coerced into taking this form of scholarship because their value to the team was no longer vital; even more, their status as medical scholarship students would make room for other players with more value to the team to fill the 85-scholarship-limit mandated by the NCAA.

When one takes a closer look at the issues surrounding medical scholarships, the Karp and Everson story does a great disservice to the real value of medical scholarships. And even as one reads their rather invective implications about Alabama’s use of these scholarships, one cannot help but feel that youngsters who are in their late teens do not really have the knowledge required to make an accurate assessment of their injuries.

All young football players think they can “play through the pain” and perform some heroic play which will seal their legends forever in the minds of the alums of dear old alma mater. Physicians will tell you that this kind of thinking only produces further injury, which leads to life-long discomfort or agony if not properly respected.

This is the real purpose of the medical scholarships – to save young athletes from potentially crippling injuries while still guaranteeing that their educations will be paid for through a scholarship. The generosity is undeniable.

We often hear that Johnny Superstar got a “full four-year ride.” The truth is that there is no such “ride.” All scholarships are for one year and are renewable at the discretion of the university – read: “coach” – but in the absence of some egregiously heinous offense, scholarships are routinely renewed. The only exception is the medical scholarship, which has become sacrosanct because no one would dare not renew one.

In the final analysis, a medical scholarship is really a godsend for athletes who become injured to the point of never playing again. They will still get their educations paid for. Even the interviewed player in the Karp and Everson article who made the most complaints finished his undergraduate degree and had his graduate degree paid for.

Yet the most significant thing may really be that they won’t walk with a limp for the rest of their lives. Someone had foresight enough to assign a medical scholarship, and guarantee that their college educations would be paid for.

Dr. Ogden is the Vice President of Development and Communications at the United States Sports Academy. He has served in sport and education for over 40 years at the college and high school levels. Prior to working at the Academy, he was assistant athletic director at Auburn University.