Check One of the Following for NCAA Change

Matt PicchiettiContributor IMay 30, 2009

CHICAGO - APRIL 23: Members of the Chicago Bulls including (L-R) coach Bernie Bickerstaff, coach Del Harris, coach Vinny Del Negro, John Salmons #15, Joakim Noah #13, Brad Miller #52 and Derrick Rose #1 watch the closing minutes against the Boston Celtics in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on April 23, 2009 in Chicago, Illinois. The Celtics defeated the Bulls 107-86. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agreees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)


Right before the bottom line where gifted athletes sign their names, the NCAA and its universities should put a new, small but important, section. It could look something like this:

Please check one (1) of the following. This will help the university to classify your status:

____ Student-athlete

____ Athlete (I wanted to put “hired meat-head mercenary”, but in these politically-correct times of ours…)

There would have to be an extra paragraph or so that explains these choices, but the idea is simple: check the first option and you are no different than any other student on campus. You do not get extra academic help, unless that kind of help is available to everyone on campus. If you are caught cheating on a test, it becomes an academic issue, not an athletic one. You are, in short, a student that plays sports; you are not an athlete that figures out ways to get through classes.

If you are one of the rare talents that is deemed destined to be a great pro, feel free to check the second box. In doing so, you do not have to choose a course of study. You are a “sports major” and your job is to be great and get better at your sport. There would be some course requirements, but they would be pass/fail, and a mandatory attendance policy would be adjusted to the athlete’s sport schedule.

The athlete would take basic communication courses to help them give better interviews and financial investment courses to help them understand where all that big-time contract money can go and how to watch out for vultures. (I mean, who wants to be Mike Tyson and piss away more than $300 million in ring earnings? Granted Don King had a lot to do with that.)

Cultural awareness and etiquette courses would help the superstars of tomorrow to realize there are acceptable norms of behavior and social interaction. Public image and awareness courses would help teach these future cash cows to visually present themselves to best give them endorsement opportunities. Finally, nutrition monitoring courses would help them maximize their bodies’ potential through diet and help them avoid taking any banned substances.

The athletes would only take one class a day. Then, they are expected to lift weights and train and practice and whatever else in order to be the best they can be. The school’s athletic programs would improve and more money would be generated by alum and boosters. All the while, academic integrity could be better maintained.  (Perhaps the school can negotiate a 2 percent cut of their first signing bonus too. Whatever, there are lots of options with this.)    

Why do this? Because, I hate that the elite athletes in college sports are called student-athletes. Not everyone can be a Peyton Manning, Tiger Woods, Myron Rolle, or Mark Sanchez ; great athletes that also earn their degrees. But they should be. It should not be applauded, it should be expected. That is what they were supposed to do!! Go to school and play sports, but that is not the way of the world.

Taking the student out of student-athlete will give transparency to what these people are: athletic money-makers for the school. 

Derek Rose (allegedly) had some other kid take his SAT’s so as to be able to get the minimum score that allowed him to sign with Memphis. The minimum is 820.[1]

A reasonably bright seventh grader can get that score. It is not hard. Rose did not want to take the test because I doubt he ever had to take any tests of any kind. It’s not that he’s not bright enough, but I doubt, very strongly, that the powers-that-be forced Rose to go to class while at Simeon High School.

Think about it. Here’s the bright spot, indeed the bright spot for all of Chicago Public Schools, and he generates positive press amid articles about school violence and gang-shootings. Are you going to be the administrator or teacher that benches him?

Before you get all high and mighty about a school’s duty, read what happened to math teacher Will Bates when he gave a failing grade to a Texas football star Gary Edwards. Edwards’ support group sued their way up the Texas court system to allow him to be able to play and to be able to eventually win a state title….and Bates got fired for merely doing his job.[2] Edward ended up in jail for, among other things, stealing cars.

  School faculties are chatty, cliquey groups. I’m sure there was understanding for Rose just like I’m sure there was an understanding for Mike Williams (USC), Maurice Clarett (OSU), O.J. Mayo (USC), Reggie Bush (USC) and any other college superstar with issues of questionable integrity.

The point is: why should universities waste academic resources on people who want nothing to do with higher education? Why should they be pressured by big-money donors to look the other way for this kid or that one? College education is a choice and a privilege. Save those resources for the students and the student-athletes who want to be students, who want to learn, and who realize that school should be enjoyed (most of the time) and not seen as a burden (some of the time).

In the long-run, they will provide the greatest return for the schools and for themselves.

If the athlete-only does not make it in the pros…well, let’s hope they check the correct blank on signing day.   

[2] This is all in H.G Bissinger’s classic Friday Night Lights. This book is important because it is about everything other than football.