There is a scene in the movie BASEketball where the corrupt team owner tries to tempt one of the lead actors with the lure of more money.
He says, “Do you think Shaq got rich playing in Orlando?” Our hero replies, “Shaq got rich playing in college. Everybody knows that.”
American schools are known for their big money athletic scholarships, so why don’t we have a similar sports scholarship system?
“We didn’t want to get into bidding wars over these students,” says Ontario University Athletics president Drew Love. “They should make the decision on where they go based on the academic strengths of the school.”
In Canada, university sports associations are trying to distances themselves from the American stereotype of the big-money athlete that coasts through college on his or her playing skills. Canadian sport associations have created strict scholarship caps to ensure that a student-athlete is a student first and an athlete second.
But each Canadian school sports association has a different set of scholarship caps. The rules that were created to avoid the pitfall of the American sports scholarship system may have led to an uneven playing field for Canadian student-athletes. A student-athlete can have their tuition paid in full by the university of his or her choice in Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia. Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) restricts athletic awards to the amount of the tuition and compulsory fees paid by the student.
However, Ontario University Athletics (OUA) has different rules. The OUA limits the amount of athletic awards a student-athlete can receive at $2,500 a year from government sources and the school itself.
The OUA also bans sport scholarships for first-year students, to make sure universities don’t woo students to their school with offers of big money. Only returning students can receive athletic scholarships, and then only if they have an average of 70%.
Since tuition is higher than $2,500 in most Ontario schools, students in Ontario varsity sports will have to look to extra bursaries and academic scholarships to cover the rest of their tuition.
But life is tough for athletes everywhere in Canada, because no matter whether you live in Ontario or Alberta, students still have to pay rent and feed themselves. Student-athletes don’t have the free time to get part-time jobs. Think about early-morning training sessions and trips across the province for games or meets. Their athletic contribution is their job.
OUA president Drew Love explains the association’s decision to put a cap on athletic scholarships: “We didn’t want to saddle schools with the financial burden of carrying awards for athletics only. They’re already doing the best they can to provide awards for the general student body.”
Love says some schools were willing to allow more than $2,500 while others didn’t want to go that high. “I think the combination of good education and good competition can make up the difference,” says Love.
Love thinks there are schools, particularly in the Maritimes who would like to operate under a scholarship cap like the OUA’s.