Bill would restrict scholarship dollars for non-citizen athletes

The University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus would go unaffected because it doesn’t use state money for athletic scholarships.

When Rep. Bob Dettmer âÄôs friend, a former University of Minnesota athlete, told him it seemed strange to spend state funds on scholarships for international student-athletes, the Forest Lake Republican got to thinking. So Dettmer wrote a House bill, which would prohibit the use of state money for athletic scholarships for non-U.S. citizens, which opponents say could forcibly alter some schoolsâÄô recruiting practices that have become increasingly global. âÄúWe feel that being that we are using our taxpayersâÄô money that it should go to U.S. citizens,âÄù Dettmer said, especially because the underlying purpose behind scholarships is to provide educational opportunities. The bill, which has an identical companion making its way through the Senate, would affect the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities systems, but MnSCU is most vulnerable. The provision would begin with the next recruiting class, Dettmer said. The University of MinnesotaâÄôs Twin Cities campus draws scholarship funds solely from its own endowments, so Gophers athletics programs are entirely unaffected. But for the smaller programs that rely on state dollars to stay competitive, the restrictions the bill could place on global recruitment might seriously threaten programsâÄô future success. âÄúIt would be tremendously disadvantageous for our programs when these other schools would not have that problem,âÄù said Mike Gibbons, assistant coach of the St. Cloud State menâÄôs hockey team , which has seven foreign players on its current roster. The disparity between programs would be wide since only MnSCU schoolsâÄô athletics programs would be restricted by the bill, and other states pose no such limits âÄî allowing competitors to more easily recruit from a bigger pool, a distinct advantage. âÄúWhat about other teams in our conference, they would have an opportunity to do that it would be extremely unfair,âÄù Gibbons said of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association , which includes the Gophers menâÄôs hockey team. âÄúIs this legislation trying to ruin the WCHA? Well, thatâÄôs what would happen.âÄù While Gophers programs would go unaffected by the legislation, athletics director Joel Maturi said sometimes international recruitment is necessary to get top talent. Plus, he added, international student-athletes bring diversity and athletic success to campus. âÄúInstitutions should be allowed within certain parameters to be who they have to be, to be successful,âÄù he said. âÄúFortunately, [the bill] doesnâÄôt affect us.âÄù Had Gophers teams been susceptible to these kinds of restrictions, Maturi said he would have been an active dissenter. But Dettmer says schools can supplement state funds, earmarked for athletes from the U.S. under the bill, with separate endowments, free of restrictions on whose tuition they can cover. In effect, Dettmer said, the bill wouldnâÄôt drastically change the makeup of MinnesotaâÄôs collegiate athletics teams. For example, the bill would free up state money for U.S. athletes. If these U.S. athletes use this state money, endowment funds previously allocated to them would be open for international athletes. âÄúMost Division I and Division II athletic programs that give out athletic scholarships, they have other monies that they can provide scholarships with that doesnâÄôt have to be state-funded,âÄù Dettmer said. âÄúItâÄôs just taxpayersâÄô money would go to U.S. citizens.âÄù And given the feeble economy, itâÄôs important to assess where the Legislature funnels state funds. âÄúWe have many good athletes in the United States that could really use these funds to advance their education,âÄù Dettmer said. âÄúMost college athletes donâÄôt come out of college as pro athletes. They come out with a degree and with experience as an athlete, and that experience will help them in their careers.âÄù The identical Senate version of the bill, written by Sen. Ray Vandeveer , another Forest Lake Republican, is set for a hearing today at 12:45 p.m. before the higher education committee. -Karlee Weinmann is a senior staff reporter.