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Should Coaches' Children Take Athletic Scholarships?

Would Nebraska be a stronger football team if Ben, Jake, and Sam Cotton had walked on at Nebraska?

Matthew Holst

Creighton basketball player Grant Gibbs was awarded a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, allowing him to return for the Bluejays first season in the new Big East Conference. There was one slight problem, though: Gibbs' scholarship ran out at the end of last semester. So Creighton head coach Greg McDermott gave his son Doug's scholarship to Gibbs. Yep...the all-American basketball player lost his scholarship, and now his parents have to pay his tuition to Creighton. Of course, since Dad and head coach are one in the same, that's not a big deal.

But that made me wonder: why do college coaches who have children who are talented enough to play college athletics offer their children scholarships? Certainly, there is a certain amount of prestige for a child to earn a scholarship on their own merits. But, any sports program gains a competitive advantage if a player who doesn't need a scholarship declines the full ride so that the scholarship can be offered to another player. Even if that other player might not be as deserving of the scholarship.

Take Nebraska's Cotton family. Last season, assistant head coach Barney Cotton had three sons on scholarship: senior tight end Ben, sophomore offensive guard Jake, and freshman tight end Sam. If Barney the father would have paid for his sons' tuition bills, the Nebraska coaching staff (of which Barney the coach is a part of) would have had three more scholarships to offer last season. Those are three scholarships that theoretically could have been used to bring another player onto the team.

As any parent of a college student knows, college is expensive. And sending three kids to college at the same time would undoubtedly ding the Cotton family bank account rather severely. But the advantage to Cotton and the Nebraska coaching staff from a professional basis is probably greater. And lets be honest: Greg McDermott would have kept his son on scholarship if it weren't for the extraordinary situation that Grant Gibbs' return presented. It's unfair to criticize the Cottons' for taking scholarships they certainly earned solely on the basis of their athletic ability.

There isn't an NCAA rule against coaches paying for their child-athlete's education. The McDermotts are doing it. Nebraska associate athletic director Jamie Williams' son Evan is a freshman walk-on quarterback for the Huskers. I suspect the real answer comes down to players having a sense of earning a scholarship on their own ability, as opposed to having Dad pay their way.

But by that same measure, it's hard to argue that Ben didn't earn his way into the Nebraska starting line up on his own ability. Whether he had a scholarship wasn't a factor. Jake is expected to contend for a starting job; he's earning his spot as well. And I suspect Sam will do the same as his career unfolds. So if a son wants to play for Dad, and he's clearly talented enough to deserve a scholarship, why not pass on the scholarship and allow the team to benefit by bringing on an additional scholarship-caliber athlete.

That's my question. Is there a good answer why not?