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UCLA scholarship for Sean 'Diddy' Combs' son raises eyebrows

Some question whether the cash-strapped school should give the hip-hop mogul's son a free ride. UCLA says the scholarship awarded to Justin Combs, 18, doesn't come from state funds.

June 01, 2012|By Kate Mather, Los Angeles Times
  • Justin Combs, 18, poses with his father, hip-hop star Sean "Diddy" Combs, last year at the Jackie Robinson Foundation awards gala, at which the elder Combs was honored. Justin Combs defended his UCLA scholarship on Twitter: "Regardless what the circumstances are, I put that work in!!!!"
Justin Combs, 18, poses with his father, hip-hop star Sean "Diddy"… (Stephen Lovekin / Getty…)

When Justin Combs turned 16, his father, hip-hop mogul Sean "Diddy" Combs, gave him a $360,000 silver Maybach.

When Justin Combs decided to play football in college, UCLA gave him a $54,000 scholarship.

As UCLA confirmed this week that the recent graduate of New York's New Rochelle Iona Prep would enroll on a full athletic scholarship, some questioned if the cash-strapped school should pay for the education of the son of a man worth an estimated $475 million — and whether the 18-year-old should have accepted the offer.

Justin Combs took to Twitter to defend his scholarship.

"Regardless what the circumstances are, I put that work in!!!!" he tweeted on Wednesday. "PERIOD."

"Regardless of what you do in life every1 is gonna have their own opinion," he tweeted. "Stay focused, keep that tunnel vision & never 4get why u started."

It's not the first time the child of a wealthy celebrity has received a full ride, and many students said they weren't that concerned since it wasn't affecting need-based aid.

Combs — a 5-foot-9, 170-pound defensive back who reportedly graduated with a 3.75 GPA — announced in November he would attend UCLA, turning down scholarship offers from Illinois, Virginia and Wyoming.

UCLA was quick to defend its decision, saying the money used for Combs' merit-based athletic scholarship wouldn't affect need-based scholarships awarded to other students.

University spokesman Ricardo Vazquez said athletic scholarships were "entirely funded by Athletic Department ticket sales, corporate partnerships, media contracts and private donations" and "do not rely on state funds."

"There is a big separation between financial aid based on need and how that's funded and how athletic scholarships are funded and awarded to students," he said.

The Times reported in October that the university had used more than $2 million from student fees to cover an athletic department funding gap the year before. That money, Vazquez said, did not go to the roughly 285 athletic scholarships UCLA hands out each year.

Emily Resnick, the outgoing president of UCLA's Undergraduate Students Assn., said she sees no problem with Combs' scholarship if needy students are unaffected.

"If his athletic abilities deserve it, then more power to him," the graduating senior said.

Joelle Gamble, who will graduate from UCLA in a couple of weeks, said the university would likely benefit from the buzz generated by having a celebrity's son on the team.

"UCLA is a business — to them, giving him a scholarship is some sort of investment," she said. "It's how college athletics works. This is how we're going to get money."

Former USC basketball coach Tim Floyd acknowledged a few years ago that fame was a factor in his decision to offer rapper Master P's son — a rapper and actor perhaps better known as Romeo — one of 13 scholarship spots on the 2008-09 team.

"The more buzz you can create, the more news stories you can create, the better served you are as a program," Floyd told the Wall Street Journal at the time.

Romeo left the team in 2010 after logging 19 minutes in two seasons as a Trojan.

But UCLA coaches have insisted that Combs is more than just a music man's son.

"Football is very important to him and that's one thing I love about him," defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin told the Daily Bruin in February. "He's not just the son of a star … he really likes football."

kate.mather@latimes.com

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