Sports in Our Educational System

      Editor: Eric Olson
In last week's editorial, Dave Uphoff raised an underlying issue with all the baseball banter. The issue, a very old debate, is the purpose of organized sports in the educational system. Isn't it about time the parents of these student athletes stop living vicariously through their children and start realizing it is an education that will help their children for the rest of their lives and not their athletic success? Just to frame this with some real data, see Table 1.

Table 1. Probability of athletic success

Sport (Men's)
% of high school players to play at a NCAA university
% of high school players to play on a professional team
Basketball 3.0 0.03

6.1 0.05

5.7 0.08

As indicated in Table 1, the probability of a student athlete going on to play at the collegiate level is a little less than 5%. Even more staggering, the probability of a student athlete going on to play at the professional level is about 0.05%. These are pretty poor odds. In poker terms, that is approximately the same as drawing two pair and a straight flush, respectively.

The use of tax money in the educational system is a gamble. If the gamble pays off, the student will most likely become a respectable member of society, capable of supporting themselves and their families. If the gamble doesn't pay off, the student may not finish his or her education, will have a difficult time holding down a good paying job, will struggle to make economic ends meet, etc. Several studies also link this to an increase in crime rate. I personally feel it is quite irresponsible of the school system to risk the tax payer's money when the odds are so poor a student will get an athletic scholarship or make it to the pros.
So what is a better speculation for the educational system to take? How about a better education? The following statistics are taken directly from the U.S. Census Bureau (see Table 2).

Table 1. Table 2. Average annual earnings of workers 25 to 64 years old by educational attainment

Education Level Average

Annual Salary ($)

Professional Degree

Doctoral Degree

Master's Degree

Bachelor's Degree

Associate's Degree

High School Diploma

Does Not Graduate From High School

To put these values into perspective, in 1999, the threshold value for a single person in poverty was approximately $10,000. Interestingly, in 2005, the average teacher's salary in the state of Illinois was approximately $54,000. Given these statistics, the conclusion is quite evident. There appears to be a strong correlation between the level of education a person attains and their annual salary. This suggests investing in education rather than athletics would be a much better risk for the taxpayer's money. This should immediately raise the question, "Why should the educational system be funding organized athletics?"

If the students need exercise, P.E. class is designed to meet this. Furthermore, there is nothing preventing students from playing sports outside of school for the fun and exercise benefits. I've heard the argument that organized sports teach teamwork. What about joining a math team? How about a chess or debate team? How about joining band or chorus? If a student wants to play a sport for the social benefits, try joining a club such as F.F.A, F.H.A, A.F.S., etc.? If the student still feels he or she wants to play sports, then how about organizing an intramural sports league - one that is supported and funded by the community rather than the school system?

My final argument against organized sports in the educational system is purely financial in nature. I will not pretend or falsely represent myself as one who fully knows the financial specifics of the school district. However, it is obvious the consolidated school system is in financial trouble. The first thing to draw my attention is organized athletics. Which sports cost the school money and which ones potentially make the school money? If a sport costs the school district more than it brings in from admission, concessions, etc., then an argument should be made against the sports that are financially in the red. It is unfair, and frankly, discriminatory, to expect the parents to pay exorbitant fees for their children to participate in sports, especially when they are already paying for their children's education through the tax system.

In summary, unless an organized sport can make the school profit through attendance, concessions, etc., then the sport should not be funded by the educational system. Instead, invest the taxpayer's money in what the educational system should already be doing - educating.

Mr. Olson is a graduate of MDR High School and is a chemist for Eli Lily Corporation in Indianapolis.

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April 02, 2007