Study from The Ohio State University says money helps if student-athletes want to play in college

Back view of a young man in starting position for running
Posted at 7:58 AM, Sep 03, 2021

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Having strong athletic and academic performance skills are key to playing college varsity sports, but coming from a wealthy family helps, too, according to a new study just released this week by The Ohio State University.

"Is it all about, you know, your ability just on the field or is there also an element of your family background that's helping develop some of those skills?" said James Tompsett, one of the researchers involved in the study.

Researchers followed data on more than 8,000 students who reported playing team sports in high school and college from 2002 to 2012.

"What was their family background? Are they playing different sports?" asked Tompsett. "And also a school factors. What type of school did you get to go to? Was it high resource in the sense that, you know, you may be more prepared academically or you may be more prepared athletically if you have more facilities or more sports to play?"

The study revealed that high school athletes were more than three times more likely to play sports in college if they came from higher-income families with well-educated parents and attended wealthier schools.

"Some parents are able to hire trainers for their kids, starting for a very young age and develop those skills over time," said Tompsett. "Stuff like travel leagues club teams outside of school often cost a fair amount of money to participate in."

Findings also showed students attending financially poorer schools were also less likely to play college sports, independent of their family's situation.

"You may you may be a great tennis player, for instance, but if your school doesn't have tennis, you're not going to end up developing that athletic ability," he said.

Anthony Jones, the athletic director for Lutheran East High School, agrees.

"Your upbringing does matter," Jones said. "I believe that kids who come from two-parent households who are financially stable have a level of structure at home that is conducive to the college level."

The study showed that even among black student-athletes, those who come from more advantaged backgrounds were more likely to play sports in college.

"You have stability in the home, you're not worrying about where your next meal is coming from or if the lights are going to turn on and things like that, you have a different level of focus and it allows you to achieve your goal," said Jones.

And while there are professional athletes who have had great success despite coming from impoverished backgrounds, they are not representative of the vast majority of college athletes.

"So I want to highlight both the awareness of sports fans of how family background could contribute to sporting ability, but also, yes, we should have a few more public resources to allow anyone to play sports if they would like to," Tompsett.

Jones suggested schools even the playing field by offering more free tutoring, private coaching, mentoring to high school athletes and increasing the number of available athletic scholarships, so students aren't worried about money while trying to play a sport.