It’s become clear to me that big-time sports and higher education just do not go together.
The debate of paying college players is not at all a new issue. For a while, the dispute aged like vinegar, and the dialogue barely ever changed.
But recently there has been a fresh injection of argumentative fodder into the feud. Last October, the NCAA began allowing schools to subsidize more than the tuition, room and board, books and fees of their student-athletes. Nowadays, athletes can receive an additional $2,000 dollars in spending money on top of everything else.
Also that month, The Atlantic published a fascinating article, titled “The Shame of College Sports,” which spearheaded an argument that there are plenty of people (universities and coaches included) profiting off the hard work of Division I football and men’s basketball athletes.
Meanwhile, the tyrannical NCAA bars student-athletes from receiving anything that could possibly be construed as preferential treatment. They are not even allowed to sell their own personal memorabilia for profit.
And today, the compensation debate is about to collide with the ballooning health concerns of football in the next Slate/Intelligence Squared live debate series, which will feature authors Malcolm Gladwell and Buzz Bissinger arguing for college football’s demise and former NFL defensive lineman Tim Green and sportswriter Jason Whitlock arguing for the game’s preservation.
And the more I think about it, the more I believe big-time American sports need to restructure themselves. College football, as well as men’s basketball, have simply gotten too big for their britches. Baseball and men’s hockey are arguably similar as well, since both get televised regularly and sell plenty of merchandise, though they come nowhere near as close as football and basketball.
It’s hard to go on justifying why suit-and-tie types can make a lucrative living off college athletes, who produce the product in demand in the first place. A free college education (not to mention the free room and board, books and other fees) is an incalculable piece of compensation that many sportswriters frequently and frustratingly overlook, but it can’t be denied that players deserve a piece of the revenue when their jerseys are sold in university stores and their likenesses used in video games.
But there’s another side of the story many people choose to forget. It can be argued student-athletes, to a lesser extent, exploit universities as well. The NCAA announced in October that only 68 percent of the 2004 freshmen men’s basketball class graduated, while 69 percent of the football class earned a degree.
It’s obvious that many basketball players use the college game as just a go-between to the NBA. The entire starting lineup of national champion Kentucky, which featured three freshman and two sophomores, recently declared its intention to enter the 2012 NBA draft.
And with a similar graduation rate, it would not be absurd to hypothesize that many football players consider their college game similarly.
Point is, many college football and basketball players do not consider their education to be the No. 1 priority and that, already, is enough of a reason to start thinking big-time sports and higher education should start going their separate ways.
If college players get paid, it would send a rather confusing message about why these athletes should earn a seat at a school over some other qualified student. How much sense does it make to allow people to attend a school for free, pay them on top of it and watch them leave without a degree? Doesn’t seem to make much — if any.
The logical thing to do is transform the college game into an independent developmental/minor league system, where nobody has to worry about the hurdles of improper benefits and be compensated properly. Meanwhile, universities can focus on educating those who enrolled specifically to receive that education.
Admittedly, that would devastate the map of American sports. Unfortunately, replacing the college game with minor leagues would not be possible.
Baseball provides a great example why. Fans only pay close attention to the major leagues and college — not the minor league teams — because the majors represent the sport’s top flight and college represents this noble ideal of amateurs playing for the love of the game rather than the love of paychecks.
Minor league teams cannot satisfy either of those ideals in the world of spectator sports, and thus America would lose two of its most popular theaters of entertainment.
But I do not see how higher education will be able to keep providing a venue for big-time sports. They’re opposing ideas and sooner or later one of them will have to give up to the other.
Elliot is a senior majoring in journalism and philosophy, but you haven’t seen the last of him just yet. He’ll be back for a final round next fall. You can send your complaints or applause to firstname.lastname@example.org.