UF Prof Turns a Researcher’s Eye on ‘Pay-to-Play’
Scott Grant has come a long way from that school system athletic director who had to scramble to design his first “pay-to-play” policy. Pursuing a doctorate in Leadership Studies, Grant has selected Ohio’s pay-to-play policy models as the topic of his dissertation. Recently, an Ohio University professor and contributor to forbes.com quoted Grant in an article on funding interscholastic athletics.
Assistant Professor of Business and Director of the Sport and Event Management Program at the University of Findlay, Grant spent five years as a high school teacher, varsity golf coach and assistant athletic director before becoming director of athletics/activities/facilities at Van Buren Local Schools, Van Buren, Ohio. It was during his time as “AD” at Van Buren that Grant was asked to prepare a fee schedule for sports.
“Our administration thought that we better have something in place in case the school board wanted to implement charging fees for sports and other extracurricular activities,” Grant remembered. “I had never done anything like this, but sort of got into it after researching and developing an initial policy. I knew that working to understand this process further was an opportunity to help other school districts and AD’s long term.”
Grant feels that his master of business administration degree from UF helped him understand the financial aspects of pay-to-participate activities. He admits, though, that most district athletic directors have little background or education in finance and are so swamped with the day to day activities of their position, that it’s hard to spend time figuring out what’s best for their district. That’s where Grant wants to help.
“Through my dissertation, I want to be an advocate for Ohio High School Athletic Directors and provide them an opportunity to have their voices heard,” added Grant. “They are often caught in the middle between school administrators, parents and the kids.” Grant even operates a consulting business where he assists school districts in looking at their overall goals for a pay-to-participate plan. I always ask them, “What does this plan need to accomplish? Do you need it to keep offering sports and other activities? Does it have to help clear up existing debt?”
According to a September 21, 2015 article in The Columbus Dispatch, a 2014 survey by the Ohio High School Athletic Association found that 46 percent of athletic directors said their schools have some type of “pay-to-play” fee. This was up from 42 percent in 2011. The article also stated “fees can vary widely, with Columbus schools charging no fee for athletics and New Albany charging $625 per sport. Grant surveyed this same group in January 2016 (figures based on the 2014-15 school year) and 49 percent of respondents said their schools charged fees for sports and other extracurriculars. Obviously, the number of pay-to-play schools is growing.
Should Fees be Banned?
Secretary of State Jon Husted is leading the charge to make Ohio one of the first states in the country to ban pay-to-play fees through legislative action. A standout athlete himself, Husted feels that extracurricular activities teach leadership, character, teamwork and grit. He is forming a group of bipartisan sponsors for a bill that would make Ohio pay-to-play fees illegal.
While Grant sees many disadvantages in charging kids to play school sports, he also knows that state cuts and school levy failures have put many districts in the position of having no other alternative. As part of his dissertation research, Grant sent a survey to 822 athletic administrators of schools in the Ohio High School Athletic Association. Of the 470 complete responses that were returned, 69 percent said they would not support making pay-to-play illegal in Ohio. (The survey results also indicated that most Ohio schools started charging fees between 2005-2009.)
As a former coach and high school athletic director, Grant has witnessed the rise of club sports, which, he says, can be very costly. He cited one family that was paying nearly $12,000 annually for their son’s club soccer program. “Fees of $2,000-$3,000 aren’t uncommon,” he said. Although acknowledging that play-to-play fees can be a great hardship for many families, he’s also aware that a fee of a few hundred dollars isn’t prohibitive to many families used to paying high prices for club sports.
“Again, the athletic director is put in the middle and is playing a balancing act,” he added. “The school board looks at budget cuts and feels that charging for extracurricular activities is warranted. Meanwhile, the AD sees kids who most need the benefits of school sports not able to pay even a reasonable fee.
“I’ve never met an AD that likes a fee, but they often feel so tied to offer what they know is such an important part of personal development, that they have no choice,” added Grant.
Ohio now has seven current models of development/implementation for extracurricular fees. These have three specific models integrated within, whether they include a family cap, individual cap or no cap. It’s these models that Grant is dissecting for his dissertation.
Sports and Society Initiative
On February 26, 2016, The Ohio State University invited Grant to participate in a panel discussion during a presentation entitled, “Pay to Play: Who’s In, Who’s Out and How Much?” The session was just one in a series developed through OSU’s Sports and Society Initiative. Other panelists were Husted, Jerry Snodgrass, associate commissioner of the Ohio State High School Activities Association; Cliff Hite, Ohio State Senator, and B. David Ridpath, associate professor and Kahandas Nandola professor of sports administration at Ohio University. It’s Ridpath who quoted Grant in a written contribution to forbes.com
As the father of 18-month-old twin boys, and working daily with University students interested in sport/event management careers, Grant feels that he, personally, will be impacted by whatever decisions regarding fees are made in Ohio. It will not be an easy decision. As the Ridpath article on forbes.com summarizes, “If sports are truly educational in nature and an important part of broad based development, why should students have to pay extra for it? All on the panel agreed with this assessment but offered few alternatives.”