NCAA Football has long been plagued by recruiting violations and the slow erosion of the "student athlete". Athletic scholarships were originally established to give students without financial means the opportunity to attend college. In exchange for the school subsidizing part or all of the student's tuition, the student would compete for one of the school's varsity sports teams.
At its inception, this was and still is in some sense, a fantastic system that enables a college or university to give back and grow the school. However, over time the system has been corrupted, and the phrase "student athlete" has become a term people roll their eyes at. This is not the case for all athletic programs, but it is particularly prevalent in men's college football and basketball.
When the term "student athlete" was coined, it was an honored title bestowed upon college's best all-around students. In order to maintain an athletic scholarship, students would not only be required to make a varsity team, they would also need to maintain a respected grade point average (GPA). Now, the exact GPA requirements vary by school and student, but the underlying premise was that a student athlete would be more than just an average student with superior athletic talent.
The system began to trend downwards with the proliferation of televised sports, and new money up for grabs. With new revenue streams open to schools, they began lowering academic standards in an effort to bend the rules for better athletes. In no time at all, many schools had lowered their GPA requirements for athletic scholarships to 2.0 (the minimum GPA allowed by most schools to remain a student anyway).
The next wave of problems emerged as young athletes watched professional sports explode into billion dollar industries. In 1980, the NFL draft began airing on ESPN, and a nation of sports fans began developing into households amateur scouts. In 2012, college football has transitioned into a scouting tool at best, and a mandatory form of red tape, at worst.
In order to recruit and compete in Division I football, schools must offer full or partial scholarships to some of the worst students on campus. More and more, we see "student athletes" who complete the required three years of college and then enter the NFL draft. A majority of these students never return to finish their degree, even after their professional careers are finished.
This emphasis on money and entertainment, rather than education from academia, is appalling and has reached epidemic proportions. The dismantling of higher standards for these students is demeaning to the institutions, and to the true student athlete most of all.
There are many student athletes who embody and fulfill this phrase in its original meaning. Yet, too often these players receive little to no playing time, and even less recognition. Being a good student is not held against athletes, but it is increasingly difficult to maintain a high GPA and elite football talent; students must often pick one or the other.
The solution to this problem is one that must be radical enough to shake up the system, but practical enough for schools to actually adopt the plan. In order to be realistic, this solution will enable schools to maintain and grow the revenue they receive from college football. At the same time, it will separate the "athletes" from the "student athletes" and finally end the hypocrisy.
Under my proposed changes, schools would be required to attach GPA conditions of at least 2.75 (B- average) to anyone receiving an athletic scholarship. Schools could opt to raise the minimum as they see fit, but they would not be permitted to dip below the 2.75 level. Over time, this number could be raised to 3.0 to maintain the emphasis on academics.
In order to preserve the high level of competition in Division I football, schools would be permitted to recruit the same talented athletes, but as just that—athletes. Athletes could be paid by the school, but the amount would not be allowed to exceed the cost of tuition, and there would be a hard cap on the total amount. Schools would not be permitted to spend more than a determined amount (ex. $300,000) in a year.
This proposal is not the total overall plan that many feel college sports needs, but it does remedy a problem. Currently, universities and institutions are effectively lying to the public and we are all aware of it. These changes would allow schools to return respect and praise to the true student athletes.
It's time to put an end to the hypocrisy that college football is truly a blend of academics and athletics. Academics were put by the wayside a long time ago, and we have all allowed the NCAA to perpetuate this myth. This new system will not fix all of the problems, but it will allow schools to be more honest, and allow us to call a spade, a spade.