Use other funds to help athletes

Published 9:01 pm Monday, August 27, 2007

By Staff
This editorial first ran in the Jacksonville Daily News, Saturday, August 18, 2007.
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised, but we were a bit taken to learn that legislative budget writers sneaked in $500,000 dollars to pay for athletic scholarships at the state’s 10 historically black colleges and universities.We wish we were kidding, but the 10 schools, both public and private, will be able to use interest from state tax dollars to award one male and one female at each school an athletic scholarship of $1,250. The one exception would be Bennett College in Greensboro, which is a college for women. It would be allowed to offer two scholarships for women.
Normally, sports scholarships are paid from gate receipts at athletic events or from booster club donations. You’ve probably heard of such clubs — the Ram’s Club at UNC-Chapel Hill or the Wolfpack Club at N.C. State University. They do an excellent job of raising money to provide student athletes with the opportunity to both attend college and demonstrate their athletic prowess on the field or on the court.
That’s where money for athletic scholarships should come from. Tax dollars shouldn’t be spent on such endeavors.
The legislation specifies that such athletes have to show ‘‘outstanding leadership’’ and meet ‘‘high academic standards.’’
However, it doesn’t specify what characteristics make an athlete an outstanding leader. Nor does it specify a grade-point average that would be required to maintain high academic standards. That leaves much up to interpretation by the 10 schools.
The pot of money wasn’t just a surprise to government onlookers, it was also a surprise to the UNC system, which didn’t know the money was coming.
Sen. Charlie Dannelly, D-Mecklenburg, requested the money, according to The News &Observer of Raleigh.
One of the more disturbing things about the scholarship is that the proposal got little public discussion. Many think that it would never have seen the light of day if it had to stand on its own merits.
Of course, tucking a special provision such as this into a budget document that is hundreds of pages long is nothing new. It’s a time-tested way of getting taxpayer money for pet projects.
Lawmakers used the same tactic to get an optional increase in either the local sales tax or land transfer fee adopted this year.
This game-playing should cease. So should tax-supported scholarships for athletes.