In the wake of semi-famous actresses being indicted for bribing their children’s way into sometimes semi-prestigious universities, the LA Times ran an article with the headline “In college scandal, rowing was the ideal sport for stowaways, cheating.”
And all over the nation, any coach who’s ever been involved with high-level high school athletes responded with “Duh.”
Lori Loughlin’s daughter is not the only “rower” who never competed on a crew—the only difference is that her mother paid for her to have the privilege of being a pretend college athlete on scholarship.
If USC Women’s Rowing is in a state where this scam was unlikely to be detected, then save your outrage over supposing that Lori Loughlin cheated a deserving student out of a scholarship. It’s just as likely that she just displaced another fake athlete whose real role is preserving a football scholarship in the Title IX balancing act.
During the recent Final Four for men’s basketball, and during the college football playoffs, the perennial canard of paying players was predictably floated—each conversation looking at the sport as a stand-alone enterprise.
But the fact is, those two sports are the only real revenue-generating sports—and for many schools, it’s football alone (with some regional exceptions for men’s hockey).
Football and basketball essentially pay for the rest of college athletics—and colleges will do anything to keep that going.
Including having a sham of a women’s rowing team, in too many cases.
So if your team is a scam to start with, who cares if your “coach” makes a little on the side while making sure you can offer enough football scholarships?
The combination of the NCAA limiting total scholarships, and the Title IX demands that one scholarship be awarded to a woman for every one available to a man, has schools scrambling to keep their 85 scholarships for football intact.
that means padding the women’s numbers—and rowing is the perfect place.
The NCAA allows 20 women’s rowing scholarships per school, but only 11.7 for men’s baseball.
And while college baseball may not earn as much as football and basketball (though the lack of scholarships for top athletes degrades its appeal), compared to rowing, it’s a revenue powerhouse. The College World Series at least attracts eyeballs and generate ticket sales.
But it’s also obvious if your baseball players can’t play because unlike rowing, there are at least some fans in the stands. And 11.7 scholarships for a 35-man roster doesn’t let you hide fake players anywhere.
When Lori Loughlin’s non-rower daughter can get a full ride to USC and nobody at the school notices, while current MLB All-Star second baseman DJ LeMahieu (whom my son used to occasionally work out with) couldn’t get a full-ride baseball scholarship to LSU, something is inherently wrong with the system.
As LeMahieu pointed out, it’s a self-defeating problem that contributes to the decline of the sport:
When you look at it, football basically has every contributing player on a full ride. Baseball … can’t say that.”
Getting lower income, inner city kids to play baseball has long been a focus of youth programs. LeMahieu said for that to ever be a reality, the current funding structure has to change.
“No one really on our teams was hurting because we had some guys blessed with good financial backgrounds,” he said. “But I can see where a poorer kid wouldn’t be able to survive.”
(That’s something I didn’t think of in my How to Save Major League Baseball column.)
I’m not saying that women’s rowing is not a legitimate sport. Team USA member and Michigan grad Ellen Tomek was a neighbor of mine, and I coached her brother in basketball. Another sports parent friend of mine from the team had a daughter who went to Notre Dame as a rower. And while the fact that those are football powerhouses might raise suspicion, they have real and competitive teams.
It’s just hard to deny that rowing being allotted the second-most scholarships of any college sport makes it feel like rowing was all but designed for Title IX cheating.
I’d suggest a common sense Title IX reform, like recognizing that football is unique and has no equivalent in women’s (or men’s, for that matter) sports. Carving out an exemption while dividing all other sports equally would make a lot of sense, but it may be too late for that.
Since the Democratic Party has wed itself to the issue of letting boys and men compete as women, transgender “athletes” are going to ruin women’s sports before that could pass, anyway.
And it could even happen before the end of Lori Loughlin’s sentence.