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Should Justin Combs return his UCLA scholarship?

May 31, 2012|By Patt Morrison
  • Sean "P Diddy" Combs, center, at the 2003 premiere of "Bad Boys II," with his son Justin, who is now headed for UCLA on an athletic scholarship
Sean "P Diddy" Combs, center, at the 2003 premiere of "Bad… (Stephen Chernin / Associated…)

Diddy, a.k.a. Sean Combs, the musician-businessman formerly known as Puff Daddy and P. Diddy, is a real daddy, and a proud one.

His son Justin Combs graduated from Iona prep school in New York state with what is said to be an A-minus average, and heads to UCLA with a $54,000 football scholarship.

That’s started the fuse on a public online debate as to whether young Mr. Combs should accept that money. His father is, according to Forbes, the richest man in the hip-hop world: a semi-billionaire music impresario and fashion mogul with a fortune hovering around $550 million.

You must wonder, does this scholarship -- deserved as it is -- also represent a part of a bidding war by UCLA to win a talented athlete who was being wooed by Virginia and Wyoming, among others, and also, not incidentally, win the loyalty of a rich father who could wind up donating to the school many times that $54,000 scholarship money?

And in a larger sense, what is the seemliness of UCLA athletics making the "rich-get-richer" gesture of providing essentially two years of a UCLA education to a student, however talented, whose family can pay his way -- at a time when tuition increases are rivaled only by healthcare increases and many smart, promising middle-class kids are getting priced out of college?

Combs’ scholarship is one of 285 such athletic scholarships UCLA awards each year, the university says. And the money comes entirely from ticket sales and private sources, not any public money, says UCLA -- in other words, no scholars were harmed in the giving of this scholarship.

There is no doubt Justin Combs earned it. His father called it "one of the proudest moments of my life."

There’s also no doubt he doesn’t need it.

The Combs matter raises anew the perpetual questions about the priorities of richly endowed college athletic programs alongside their starving academic siblings.

As Kareem Abdul-Jabbar told me a few weeks ago, legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden emphasized the "student" in "student athlete." His priority, Abdul-Jabbar said, was for students to "get their degrees, learn how to become good parents and husbands and good citizens."

Justin Combs has already made a gesture in that direction: Reportedly, he took a $10,000 check his father gave him for one birthday and sent the money to Haitian relief.

Will the family be inclined to make another such gesture?

Now that Justin Combs has the scholarship he earned, giving back the money would win father and son deserved accolades. Or perhaps Diddy could make the even grander gesture of writing a check to UCLA for $54,000 for a matching scholarship for some talented young scholar who couldn’t otherwise afford to study there.

Parents of college students find out that there’s always something else on the list of things their children need to get that degree. UCLA is no exception. Diddy is said to have given his son a $360,000 Maybach car for his 16th birthday. Soon he’ll find out find out that the hardest-to-find item on his son’s UCLA "school needs" list is a parking spot.

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