Thursday, March 20, 2008

Is Lil' Romeo Stealing A Scholarship!??

[Editor's Note: Yeah, I know. This isn't exactly a weighty topic on the surface. Read it anyway. There's a point.]

Although I'm a completely obsessed with sports, but you probably wouldn't know it since I don't usually talk sports on this blog. I don't, mainly because I know I have a lot of female readers, and I doubt ya'll come here to read 25 Washington Wizards posts a day. Still, when I run across a story like this one in the Wall Street Journal, I like to share it with ya'll because, hey, some sports stories are bigger than sports.

I spend a good deal of my non-blog time coaching youth league basketball, albeit at a much lower level than the subject of this story. Still, even as early as middle school, I hear lots of parents (although not necessarily the parents of my 2-wins and 6-losses squad. Nobody's fooling themselves here) talk incessantly about how they want their child to develop their game so they can one day go to college for free. This is hardly just a basketball phenomenon, though. Parents sink tens of thousands of dollars annually into summer camps, personal trainers, and traveling teams for their kids, all in hopes that it will one day pay off in the form of a free ride.

So imagine if your kid played AAU ball for years, spent entire summers on the road, got up at the crack of dawn to practice, and then ended up missing out on a scholarship to the child of a millionaire who can barely even dribble the ball.

Sad, but true.

Romeo Miller is a 5-foot-10 point guard with a bad knee. He has never played a full season of high-school basketball. This season, he averaged just 8.6 points a game for Beverly Hills High School, which finished last in its league.

But next fall, the 18-year-old will suit up for the University of Southern California, a program in the tough Pac-10 conference. And he will receive a full basketball scholarship valued at $44,400 a year.

The scholarship, which is the talk of college recruiters, is a perfect L.A. story, intermingling money, show business and basketball. Besides being an average point guard, Mr. Miller is an actor and singer known as Lil' Romeo, and the son of a wealthy music mogul. Some question whether the Millers took advantage of their resources -- and their relationship with Demar DeRozan of Compton, Calif., one of the top high-school basketball players in America -- to win the scholarship over more talented and less privileged athletes.
Lots of other schools are salty about this, not because they wanted Lil' Romeo (he could prolly play in the CIAA or MEAC but that's about it), but because Derozan and Miller are a package deal and few colleges had the extra scholarship to be bothered with both. USC, which is turning into a one-and-done factory nowadays, obviously had no such concerns so they doled out an extra full ride to the marginal rapper, who is even less impressive on the court.

The obvious goal here was to sign Derozan (pictured above on right just in case you're wondering), a jaw dropping athlete who will fill seats, and whom many are calling the next Vince Carter. He probably won't stay at school beyond his freshman year. Meanwhile, although NCAA scholarships are renewable, not guaranteed for four years, reality is the Trojans will be saddled with a wasted roster spot for Lil' Romeo as a result.

Considering the fact that a full ride is worth a cool quarter mill, you wonder if that slot might have been better off given to someone who actually needed the money, as opposed to a kid who could easily pay his tuition by just selling off a car or two.

You guys know me, I'm seldom the type to choose an absolute side on any issue, so I can definitely see this from both angles. Kids of privilege are given scholarships (albeit not necessarily full rides) for academics, as well as other non-revenue generating sports (think field hockey, lacrosse, swimming, crew, etc.) all the time, so this really isn't that big of a deal. And reality is, any player good enough to be recruited by USC is probably going to get a full ride to some other comparable school anyway, so nobody's really being left out in the cold here. To wit, note this item in the same article.
USC Coach Tim Floyd says his staff had Mr. Miller on their radar before Mr. DeRozan signaled his interest. He describes Romeo as a "good little player" who must improve to get court time. Fame was a factor, he adds. "The more buzz you can create, the more news stories you can create, the better served you are as a program."

That doesn't sit well with Don Wetherell. His son Ryan, a 5-foot-11 guard, was one of the best high-school players in Canada and earned a walk-on spot at USC the last two seasons. Mr. Wetherell says he asked the USC staff how Mr. Miller's arrival would affect his son, who had been told that he had a "good shot" at a scholarship next year. He says they told him Ryan may still get the award -- and that Mr. Miller got his because of his relationship with Mr. DeRozan. (Mr. Floyd could not be reached for comment.) "We're learning a lot," says Mr. Wetherell, who owns a beverage company in Calgary.
Uhhhmmm, was it just me, or did anyone else notice that this kid's father owns a beverage company.

Pot, meet kettle.

Juxtapose this whole charade with an interesting article in the NY Times the other day that dispels the myth of all these "full rides" being given out for college athletes. The truth is, beyond football and men's basketball, very few people are getting a "full ride". Most are just getting taken for a ride.
At youth sporting events, the sidelines have become the ritual community meeting place, where families sit in rows of folding chairs aligned like church pews. These congregations are diverse in spirit but unified by one gospel: heaven is your child receiving a college athletic scholarship.

Parents sacrifice weekends and vacations to tournaments and specialty camps, spending thousands each year in this quest for the holy grail.

But the expectations of parents and athletes can differ sharply from the financial and cultural realities of college athletics, according to an analysis by The New York Times of previously undisclosed data from the National Collegiate Athletic Association and interviews with dozens of college officials.

Excluding the glamour sports of football and basketball, the average N.C.A.A. athletic scholarship is nowhere near a full ride, amounting to $8,707. In sports like baseball or track and field, the number is routinely as low as $2,000. Even when football and basketball are included, the average is $10,409. Tuition and room and board for N.C.A.A. institutions often cost between $20,000 and $50,000 a year.
Interesting stuff for the parent of any child in youth sports. Reality is, you'd be much better off locking Junior in his room and having him work in quadratic equations than spend weekends on his crossover dribble. Academic scholarships are much easier to come by than athletic ones. Just some food for thought.

Question: Is Lil' Romeo wrong for working the system and getting that full ride to USC, when his talent doesn't warrant it, and his family's wealth makes it unnecessary?

A Hot Prospect? [WSJ]

Expectations Lose to Reality of Sports Scholarships [NY Times]

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