Midland promises scholarships to players with Nebraska Attack girls basketball program

Midland University in Fremont has entered an unusual partnership with the Nebraska Attack girls basketball program in which many of Attack’s girls will be guaranteed athletic scholarships to Midland.

The scholarships will be worth at least $18,000 a year, said Merritt Nelson, Midland’s vice president for enrollment management and marketing. When the program is in full swing, Attack players who finish the final two seasons in the program — the summer after their sophomore year and the summer after their junior year — will be guaranteed the scholarship. The two organizations already have signed a contract, Nelson said.

The first two years of the arrangement, beginning in 2019-20, the partnership will be grandfathered in and girls will have to have completed only one season with Nebraska Attack — the summer after their junior year in high school. The girls must meet academic standards to enroll at Midland, a college of about 1,400 students.

Nelson said the arrangement gives Midland a pipeline to girls of good character and strong basketball skill. For the girls and their families, he said, it gives a return on the investment involved in playing Amateur Athletic Union club basketball, which can cost hundreds of dollars a year and considerably more.

Because Midland is a small university, it is governed by the NAIA, not the NCAA. Neither the NAIA nor the AAU returned calls Tuesday morning.

Gerald Gurney, a University of Oklahoma professor who has written extensively about college sports ethics and rules, said he thinks the partnership meets regulations.

“I don’t see any problem with that,” Gurney said. “It is permissible so far as I know.”

If Attack management or coaches were compensated by Midland in this arrangement, that would be a different story, Gurney said.

Nelson said there is no compensation involved. “We cannot do that legally,” he said. “The only reason we are doing this is for the benefit of the kids.”

Donna Lopiano, a Connectictut-based consultant who has written on college sports with Gurney, said she has never heard of such a partnership.

Nelson said: “I think this is the first of its kind.”

Tuition at Midland is about $32,000 a year before financial aid, Nelson said. Room and board is roughly $9,000 a year, depending on living arrangement and meal plan.

Club basketball, such as that played by Nebraska Attack, typically is a spring and summer sport for older girls. Attack has 18 girls teams that range in age from incoming fourth-graders to incoming seniors.

Zach Isherwood, director of the Attack program, said about 175 girls play in his program. The older girls play 35-45 games a season and practice during the club basketball season up to three times a week, he said. The cost for the older girls’ families can be $2,500-$5,000 a season, Isherwood said. It’s $600-$700 a season for the younger girls because they don’t travel as much or as far away.

Isherwood called the partnership with Midland “an amazing deal and great opportunity” for Nebraska Attack players and their parents.

Nebraska Attack includes girls from Nebraska and Iowa. Nelson, whose daughters have played Attack basketball (his twins, in eighth grade, still play for Attack), is a volunteer coach for the program.

The Nelsons live between Oakland and West Point, Nebraska.

Nelson said the Midland women’s team typically is in the middle of the pack or the top third of the Great Plains Athletic Conference. Nebraska Attack is one of the top girls clubs in the region.

Each girl who qualifies for the scholarship automatically makes the Midland women’s team, Nelson said. The incoming freshmen must make a commitment to play freshman year to get the $18,000, he said. If she leaves the team after the first year, she still will get financial aid of at least $18,000 a year, Nelson said.

But $18,000 is the minimum, Nelson said. The basketball coach can offer more, and if a student has a high grade-point average and ACT score, she can receive an additional $1,000-$3,000 a year or more through the basketball scholarship.

Nelson said this isn’t a ploy to bump up enrollment at Midland, because probably only five to 10 girls a year will utilize the opportunity. Some of Attack’s girls go on to play Division I and Division II NCAA basketball.

But Midland would give a girl a place to land. “We want it to be an option for the … athletes of Nebraska Attack,” he said.