WASHINGTON — Consumer advocate Ralph Nader is calling for the elimination of college athletic scholarships, saying the move is necessary to "de-professionalize" college athletes.
"As we near the exciting conclusion of `March Madness' – which would more accurately be described as the 2011 NCAA Professional Basketball Championships – it's time we step back and finally address the myth of amateurism surrounding big-time college football and basketball in this country," said Nader, whose League of Fans is proposing that the scholarships be replaced with need-based financial aid. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the proposal Thursday, ahead of its official release.
NCAA spokesman Bob Williams said referring to college athletes as professionals defies logic.
"They are students, just like any other student on campus who receives a merit-based scholarship," he said.
Nader, a former presidential candidate, argued that his plan would also help reduce the "win-at-all-costs" mentality in high schools, by reducing the incentive of college scholarships.
"An entire industry has developed in the youth sports arena – club teams, personal trainers, etc. – to prey on families' dreams of an athletic scholarship," he said. "The lure of the elusive athletic scholarship is the primary – sometimes the only – marketing tool these youth sports entrepreneurs use."
He said he would try to gin up support for his proposal from university presidents, Capitol Hill and the Education Department.
"We'll use all the levers," Nader said. "We'll use the parents of athletes who've been mistreated and sick, and forced to play when they're injured."
Nader added that he hadn't yet canvassed Capitol Hill, but figured he'd find lawmakers who are concerned about the way college athletes are treated.
He noted that the Drake Group, a college athletic watchdog organization, has come out in favor of banning athletic scholarships.
Nader said that colleges should either integrate athletics into the educational mission by eliminating college scholarships, or, "openly acknowledge the professionalism in big-time college sports, remove the tax-exempt status currently given to athletic departments, and make universities operate them as unrelated businesses."
The longtime former head of the NCAA, Walter Byers, has called for paying college athletes.
Nader said his proposal was the opening initiative of a rejuvenated League of Fans, a sports reform group that has been dormant for some time.