CNN reports that some Californians are upset that Justin Combs—son of Sean Combs, aka Diddy, aka the world’s wealthiest hip hop artist—has been offered an athletic scholarship to UCLA. The younger Combs is a graduate of New Rochelle Iona Prep, a private school just north of New York City. There he compiled a 3.75 GPA while also shining as a defensive back on the football team. According to the Los Angeles Times, he was offered scholarships by Illinois, Virginia, and Wyoming, as well as UCLA.
The California state university system has had some pretty severe financial problems lately, as you may have heard. And so some California taxpayers are saying that it’s wrong for the school to give a $54,000 scholarship to the son of a man who’s worth an estimated $550 million. The offer, they say, should be revoked.
This is both wrong and foolish. For one thing, $54,000 is a drop in the bucket when it comes to the UC schools’ financial woes. While the scholarship could continue beyond his freshman year, and thus increase considerably in value, there is presumably, as usual, no guarantee that it will. And there are easier ways to save $54,000. Maybe ask the chancellor at UC Davis to take home just $346,000 next year, instead of an even $400k, for instance. Or, to be fair, maybe spread those paycuts across the top administrators at the UC schools. Executive pay at some public universities, like executive pay elsewhere in other fields, has gotten out of hand.
Of course, if you believe the school should end the practice of handing out merit-based athletics scholarships, altogether, that’s a reasonable argument to make. Others have certainly made that case before. You can also make a decent case that college football should be done away with entirely. But assuming that both college football and merit-based athletic scholarships remain, revoking the offer to Combs alone would simply punish one athlete because his dad is not only rich, but famous—meaning that people, as a result, know he’s rich (surely there have been other UCLA athletes whose parents could have afforded tuition).
What’s more, in college athletics, a full scholarship is, among other things, a commitment to developing a particular athlete. If UCLA didn’t give Combs a scholarship, it’s quite possible, perhaps even likely, that he would go to a school that did, even though his father doesn’t need the tuition help.
And if he did go to another college, that school, and not UCLA, would likely become the beneficiary of any future donations by Mr. Wealthiest Artist in Hip Hop. Sean Combs said in a statement that the offer from UCLA was “one of the proudest moments of my life,” and that it represents “everything a father could want in his son, for him to excel at what he loves to do.”
That sounds like the kind of father who might one day want to support the program and school that gave his son such a great opportunity. I give UCLA (not to mention Virginia, Illinois, and Wyoming) the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they offered this scholarship on the merits. But giving such a scholarship to the son of Sean Combs is probably a smart financial play long term. And, when it comes to the financial health of the California state school system, it’s the long term that matters.