On Friday, freshman Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones caused a stir on these here Internets when he sent out a very, very ill-advised tweet expressing his frustration with the academic side of his collegiate experience.
“Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain't come to play SCHOOL classes are POINTLESS,” said Jones on a tweet (and later account) that was soon deleted.
The pushback was swift and unequivocal, as Jones, a freshman who was not expected to play this year, was not permitted to dress for the Nebraska game the following day. Ohio State hasn't said anything about a formal suspension, but suffice it to say he's getting the importance of academics drilled into his head from his coaches after this.
Indeed, let's be clear: Jones is wrong. The way the NCAA is set up, he's there to be an academically eligible student first and an athlete second. He needs to know that, or he'll be out of Columbus long before his eligibility expires.
Should football officially be part of the academic curriculum?
But here's the thing: Jones has a point. Yes, everyone has a declared major and must be making significant progress toward a degree "in something other than sports," as those smug NCAA commercials are fond of pointing out. And it's true, the vast, vast majority of college football players will not have anything more than a brief career in the NFL.
And yet playing football is the reason these guys are at these schools—and that is especially the case at a (and we do not mean this term pejoratively) football factory like Ohio State.
Sure, many players select their schools while taking academics into account, and that's both admirable and logical. But rare is the player who turns down an athletic scholarship to attend a better school on an academic scholarship and try to walk on the team.
Put more bluntly, these players spend more time being members of the football team than they do as students of even their declared majors—and it's at the point where the NCAA has to cut off the amount of time the players spend with the football team in order to keep up even the veneer of academic seriousness.
So why not have football be the major for the scholarship athletes? Allow them to receive credit toward degrees, let coaches literally grade the players and put into place a program that honestly informs and prepares these guys for their potential post-collegiate football careers—even if that's just minor league arena football.
"But that doesn't serve any academic purpose," cries the blowhard who thinks football is all brawn. Really? Because even the "dumbest" player in the traditional academic sense comes out of a four-year college football career with a stellar understanding of his playbook, terminology, cues and reads.
That is specialized, industry-specific learning—in other words, the very point of going to college. And if anything, there's room for immense improvement on this acquired knowledge.
Yes, college football is still a competitive, physical activity at its core, no matter how much study work these guys put in. At the end of the day, it still comes down to popping pads and outrunning defenders. That doesn't change no matter how hard you try to make football players true students of the game.
If you're declaring physical activities as unsuitable for academic endorsement, that's fine, but you should probably also know that your favorite Big Ten school has been offering dance degrees for decades upon decades now. Dance has its own department at these schools. The schools even hold recitals for these dancers, selling tickets and everything.
We must have missed the arguments from academic "traditionalists" about how dance debases the academic standards of universities.
Now, dance majors are legitimate students. Check out the course requirements of, let's say, Michigan's bachelor of fine arts program in Dance. That's 90 credit hours out of the 120 needed for a degree.
There's no reason why you couldn't craft a similar program around football. It shouldn't replace things like practice, lifting and all the physical aspects of being a football player. But it certainly can augment those aspects, and it serves the player better to become an overall expert of the sport.
Don't believe that fact? Imagine if the vast majority of football players came out of their collegiate careers with rigorous, tested, certified knowledge of not only their playbooks and schemes, but of football's history, its core concepts (up to and including probability and game theory), kinesiology, the dangers of high-income/low-duration occupations and anything else the department feels fit.
Can you imagine the seismic cultural shift you would have on football as a whole? For example, can you imagine what a well-prepared NFL draft class that would create every single year? Can you imagine players bringing senior theses and football grades to the NFL combine to go right along with their physical drills?
Now, that's not to say every college football player should be a football major. If you're a D-I football player who really wants to major in molecular physics or end up in med school, after all, do your thing. There's no reason to think a minor in football wouldn't also be as feasible as it is rewarding to a football player.
But by and large, it's about time the NCAA and its schools started being honest with themselves about what it is athletes like Cardale Jones are doing there. Once they're honest, they can start embracing the fact that football is the point—and academically enriching the programs in a serious way for the first time.