On Tuesday I got an email from a viewer who pointed out that the third level institution where I work distorts sporting competition by offering scholarships to students. I’m not sure if the writer of the email was primarily seeking to provide evidence to support my view about the impact of money on sporting competitions. I don’t think so because there was a line to say that the Universities were making it hard for the other Colleges.
This line, making a distinction between the traditional universities and other third level institutes, made me smile. It reminded me of a time around the turn of the century where the traditional universities were complaining about the other institutions. The traditional universities claimed their new competition were making under-the-counter payments to players and having questionable academic standards. This is the usual response when the status quo is challenged. Alex Ferguson complained about the noisy neighbours. Jurgen Klopp is less than happy about what is happening at Newcastle. In the world of Irish third level education it was the new winners like Tralee Institute of Technology and Limerick Institute of Technology that provoked the ire of the traditional winners. The verbal responses eventually turned into financial competition via scholarships. The traditional institutions returned to the winner’s enclosure.
My email correspondent pointed out that third level education institutions provide financial aid because of the associate prestige of winning the various competitions. That is indeed a line that is used as justification. They also pointed out that the scholarships are designed to ensure students do not have to take on paid employment. This is where my academic colleagues come in. They are not convinced that the scholarships facilitate attendance at classes. One colleague jokes that they get letters from the sports office asking that the sports person be accommodated academically but that they were never asked to provide a letter to a sports coach asking that the student be accommodated.
The email also made a point about the differential help that some children get from having influential parents. It suggested that children of these parents get selected on teams ahead of better players. I don't agree. However, children born to parents who happen to live in Kilkenny have little chance of winning an All-Ireland senior men’s/women’s title in gaelic football. Children born to parents living in Kerry have little chance of winning the Liam McCarthy cup for hurling. Children born in some other counties have little chance of winning either title. Coaches are fond of talking about elite sport being about decision making. One of the best decision a child can make involves the selection of their parents! It will help their sporting and academic chances.