Today’s subject has been motivated by the recent push to allow star college athletes to earn money for endorsements, an NCAA no-no. California recently passed a law granting such permission and I believe my state will take it up in its next legislative session.
The arguments in favor include the following. Colleges, the NCAA, and others are making billions off the backs of those poor slobs who are getting nothing. It is consistent with a free-market philosophy. It is an injustice when a person is not allowed to reap the benefits of capitalism. And it’s okay for a music or other type of major to do endorsements.
Critics’ objections include the following. There are very few “stars” that companies would pursue. And let’s face it, such stars most likely would not be on the volleyball or rowing teams. Athletes already are receiving reimbursements worth tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in free college tuition, books, healthcare and everything else other students are scraping for.
This all relates to the importance we place on college sports, and I wonder how they satisfy the provost’s demands for an education relationship. Before I’m attacked for such radical thoughts, let me assure you I understand these activities increase recognition of the school. This in turn generates funding not only for the main athletic programs, but also for the minor sports and, indeed, the university as a whole. Furthermore, student and alumni interest is fostered and this is only for the good.
In fact, I find, in spite of myself, an interest in how my university’s (the one where I taught—none of the schools I attended had a football program) team is performing. So perhaps in what follows I’m being hypocritical.
Most colleges, including mine, discuss the student athletes on the teams. Is that a fair designation? I think it is if the school is Harvard, Yale, MIT or any of many others. At these schools, students are admitted on their intellectual ability and then decide to go out for a sport. But you don’t see their teams often appearing in bowl games. The schools that do earn bids to those contests admit students talented in sports based on their athletic ability, and then they decide to sign up for classes (or more truthfully, they are forced to, another pesky NCAA rule).
As I’ve said, football and basketball may build a school’s name recognition which results in increased enrollment, increased donations, increased exposure across the board.
But is it education? Should it be a part of a university’s mission? I don’t think so. I know how difficult it is to get a college degree, even when one has time to devote to studies. I’ve seen hundreds of students take on jobs to finance their education. I’ve had long talks with many who were having difficulty getting the grades they wanted. I told them how hard it is to attend while working, something I did in graduate school for seven years, and that one should expect grades to suffer when a quarter or more of their free time is lost to work and associated travel.
So how can we expect a football player to do well in his courses given the exhausting workouts they endure? Here’s a typical day at one major school during the football season.
- 5:00-6:00 am: Eat breakfast, pack for day.
- 6:00-8:00 am: Strength and conditioning training.
- 8:00-8:30 am: Team meeting.
- 8:30-9:00 am: Shower, go to class.
- 9:00 am-2:00 pm: Classes, lunch.
- 2:00-2:30 pm: Watch game film.
- 2:30-3:15 pm: Get taped before practice.
- 3:30-6:00 pm: team practice.
- 6:00-7:00 pm: Shower, training.
- 7:00-7:30 pm: Dinner.
- 7:30-9:30 pm: Academic support.
- 9:30 pm- 12:00 am: Homework.
Notice only five hours are set aside for sleep, a respite that comes at the end of a day involving 7.25 hours of football activity, much of it strenuous, and 4.5 hours of academic study outside the classroom (it they can stay awake). So what’s the priority here? Assuming this schedule works for five days a week, 22.5 hours are devoted to academics for the week. I often told my students getting a degree is a 60 hour per week job, counting 15 hours in class.
Now I don’t want to paint all athletes with the same brush. Some truly are excellent students. I am doubly impressed by their accomplishments given the rigor of their sports requirements. I’ve known several. And I’ve known others who think they’re hot stuff. I had one who, when he claimed he just couldn’t attend any of six times set aside for a final in a huge class, said, “You don’t really care about the fact I’m an athlete.”
Look, I know big deal college sports are here to stay. Please, though, don’t try to convince me the activity is educational. Nor is it education for the vast majority of the athletes. Because I fear they are not receiving a good training, one that will provide them comfortable lives when the exhilaration of the sport season is over for the final time.