By Steve Kallas
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Much was made during the Little League World Series about the fact that Little League participants, mostly 12- and 13-year-olds, should somehow be paid for being in the LLWS. The arguments were particularly strong this year since ESPN — which was finishing up an eight-year, $30.1 million deal with Little League to televise the LLWS — had just signed a new eight-year deal, this time for $76 million.
The financial boon to Little League is obvious: Next year, and for the seven years after that, Little League — a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation, will literally have almost $6 million more per year than it had this year.
With the increased pressure on Little League for making millions of dollars on the backs of young kids — and in light of the recent Ed O’Bannon decision by a lower federal court to set aside $5,000 per year for certain college athletes to collect after they leave college — the time is right for youngsters to be given financial consideration for making it to the LLWS.
The question is, “How to do it?”
The answer is that a program already exists to do such a thing.
Little Leaguer Mo’ne Davis, who garnered instant fame during this year’s LLWS, has transcended Little League by doing a national car commercial that has been shown numerous times during the World Series. The program discussed below could also be tailored to allow young people like Davis to receive monies for her efforts (without the NCAA having to jump through hoops to allow it).
HOW DOES THE “SMART” PROGRAM WORK?
Welcome to the world of youth bowling, where thousands and thousands of young bowlers earn scholarship money for post-high school education by participating in bowling leagues and tournaments throughout the country. According to the United States Bowling Congress, over $6 million annually is earned by young bowlers between the ages of five and 21.
So how does this program, called the Scholarship Management and Accounting Reports for Tenpins (known as the “SMART” program) work? Originating in 1994, the SMART program automatically opens a trust account in the name of any young person who participates in any approved bowling league or tournament and wins scholarship money in a league or tournament. The participants must pay an entry fee to participate and, depending on the tournament or league, youth bowlers can win anywhere from $50 to $10,000 in scholarship money. (That $10,000 was the highest prize in the national Junior Gold tournament, which takes place every July).
Scholarship money is awarded as points. That is, every point equals $5. So the winner of this year’s Junior Gold in the oldest boys division received 2,000 points in his trust account.
IS THE SMART PROGRAM ACCEPTED BY THE NCAA?
The SMART program is in compliance with the NCAA, so a bowler with scholarship money can participate in any NCAA sport in college and not lose his/her eligibility. Part of the reason for this is that the scholarship money is virtually never given directly to the student. (If it is, the student cannot play an NCAA sport.) The check is made out to the institution where the scholarship winner attends his/her post-high school education.
Those institutions are broadly defined, according to the USBC: The scholarship money can be used at “universities, colleges, business schools, technical schools, trade schools and continuing educational courses.” The actual funds can be used for “tuition fees, textbooks, meal plans, housing plans and required class supplies and equipment necessary for the successful completion of a course or program” at the institutions described above.
The above program is offered as an example of something that already exists within the structure of post-high school education and has worked successfully for many years. While Little League can and should develop its own program, the point is that the time is now and the means of doing it are already in existence.
To compensate the 200 or so ballplayers at the LLWS at, say, $5,000 per player, such an award could be put in a SMART-like trust fund until they are out of high school. That would cost the Little League $1 million of the additional $6 million they will be receiving under the new ESPN deal. Indeed, if they extended that to the players on the losing regional teams (those that miss going to the LLWS by one game), that would be an additional $1 million, still leaving Little League with $4 million more than they had this past year.
CAN A SMART-LIKE PROGRAM BE EXTENDED TO OTHERS?
On the broader landscape, this type of program could possibly be extended elsewhere in the case of any group of young athletes who are the focus of programming where lots of money passes hands and the student/athletes get nothing. For example, the high-school football and basketball players that are often now seen on ESPN could be compensated via a trust account, even in smaller numbers than this proposed Little League trust fund (depending on the payment for such games).
WHAT ABOUT THAT MO’NE DAVIS CAR COMMERCIAL?
Well, for some reason, the NCAA felt that it had to jump through hoops to allow Davis to make money on a TV commercial and maintain her college eligibility. Presumably, the trust account that the Davis commercial money was put into has SMART account-like principles.
The NCAA was criticized for allowing Davis to accept money, certainly by people who have no knowledge of the long-established SMART program.
Indeed, the NCAA should immediately discuss and allow implementation of, on a much broader basis, a SMART-like program for non-bowlers.
With respect to Little League, the time is now and the money is there.
With respect to others, it shouldn’t be too far away.
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