It’s All About the Money: College and Travel Sports

IMG_5840By Kaitlin Hamer

A college education is one of the most expensive investments a person is going to make during their lifetime. From tuition to housing to meal plans, college is a money sucking pit that chews up and spits out those who cannot afford it, unless they are lucky enough and granted a scholarship. In 2015-2016, College Board reported that the average price to attend a public institution is $24,061, and a private institution $47,831. Christopher Newport falls right below the average for tuition price at a cost of $23,460. Though schools like Christopher Newport University do not offer sports scholarships due to the size, and overall superstructure, or “social, political, and ideological systems and institutions of the school” (Dobie, 2002, p. 92), division one facilities often provide the most talented players a little bit of an incentive to play for their schools. These scholarships can be anything from paying for from and board to a full ride to the university. How are these students selected? They must be scouted and chosen amongst the multitude of other high school students trying to continue to play their sport in college. To stand out as a high school athlete, often it is not sufficient just to play the sport on the local high school team. Joseph Hamer, 17, plays varsity basketball for his high school, but is encouraged to also play for a travel team. While the college recruiters did not pay as much attention to him on the varsity bench, they did on the travel team. Travel teams and off season play have become all the rage, and are where many players are getting noticed. Although this sounds like an excellent way for colleges to recruit potential players, what happens to the students who cannot afford to pay for travel teams and are therefore at an unfair disadvantage due to their socioeconomic status?

Competition and sport have been a part of the American culture since the beginning of time.


“The International Institute for Management Development (IMD) – an international business school in Lausanne – has released its annual list of world competitiveness according to the key factors of innovation, drive, effectiveness of each country’s infrastructure and strong business efficiency.”  Victoria Richards, 2015

Everyone who is receiving an education, whether public or private, has the opportunity to participate on some level of sport from 6th grade 12th grade with the only personal costs being time. Playing sports throughout high school, and being talented in those sports can be recognized by college coaches, and students can be recruited, with a scholarship if they really exceed expectations. Even though this equality of opportunity seems fair enough, the system is mightily flawed for one reason and one reason only: Off Season and Travel Sports. In the competitive country that we live in, college is becoming a much more competitive entity, and student athletes have started to find ways to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. This is where travel sports come in. Sounds like a good idea right? During the off season instead of sitting and doing nothing, continuing to play the sport and getting even better than before. The idea is sensational, but the price and some other factors are not. Students who play travel sports first of all, are more likely to burn out or get injured in the off season. So even though players get a lot of practice on travel teams during the off season, they may not make it out to the normal season due to physical and emotional support. Students from lower income families are unable to participate in travel sports often purely because of the price, putting them immediately at an unfair advantage.

“From a sport development perspective I think we’re in trouble. A sliver of the upper middle class, mostly upper middle class to wealthy. We’re seeing the best of that group, but we’re definitely not reaching the entire population.” The rate of sports participation has a direct relationship to income. About 25 percent of the population has household income under $25,000, but only 15 percent of sports participants are in that group and only 11 percent of soccer participant households, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.”

Michael Sagas, chairman of the department of tourism, recreation and sport management at the University of Florida

College recruiters are looking for the best players, but lower class students struggle to maintain any spotlight because they avoid travel teams often due to cost.


Just to give a sense of what I am talking about, I will break down how much it costs for a 9 year old boy to play travel soccer in Northern Virginia. In Arlington, two seasons of soccer costs over $2500.

“Each player pays a ’player program fee’ to play in the ATS. This player fee covers, coach salaries, league and referee fees, State and National registration fees, player insurance, player development programs, administrative expenses, staff salaries and many other expenses. For the2015–2016year, we have a tiered program. There is one tier for the U9U12players ($1850) and then three tiers for the U13 and older players and fees range from$1750 to $2050. In addition to player program fees each players pays a “Team Fee” that covers team equipment, tournaments fees, coach tournament travel expenses, winter/indoor/futsal league fees, etc for their team.”

Arlington Travel Soccer Facts

This payment is outrageous: and this is JUST for a 9 year old boy, barely in elementary school, and won’t need this for college any time soon. High School travel sports are even worse. Imagine trying to support a family, while also having to think about spending over $2000 a year starting around age 9 for a child to play a sport that they can play for free during the season, just to be able to hopefully get noticed by a university who is willing to financially support the student. There are even pages on the websites of these programs that detail the importance and value of playing a travel sport when it comes to attending a quality university.

Lower income class athletes are at a complete disadvantage, purely because the system is more concerned with money than the students trying to get into college. According to Dobie’s Introduction to Literary Criticism (2002) there is a concept called material circumstances which are “the economic conditions of a country”, influenced by historical context (p. 92). In the case of lower income students and a college education, the current climate of the United States stresses the importance of education, but does not give everyone an equal opportunity to attend. This specific material circumstance is due to the number of people in poverty or lower income families, and has a direct effect on playing both travel sports growing up, and getting a scholarship to college. Travel sports give children the opportunity to grow in the sport and in theory have many positive attributes. That being said, it is only truly fair to compare students based on their natural talents, not how much money they can pay to play extra sports.



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