Why Not a Major in Sports?

George BurdellCorrespondent IJune 11, 2009

ATLANTA - NOVEMBER 1:  Defensive end Michael Johnson #93 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets celebrates a forced fumble on the Florida State Seminoles quarterback during the game at Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field on November 1, 2008 in Atlanta, Georgia.  The Yellow Jackets beat the Seminoles 31-28.  (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

You know the joke: Someone asks what your major was in college and you throw out something clever like drinking, surfing or babes.

Today we often joke about big-time college athletes majoring in football or basketball, but after careful consideration that idea has a lot of merit. 

We all know the traditional high school-college-pro progression of American athletes has been under assault lately.  Players look to skirt the norm by going pro anywhere from 1-3 years early.  

So-called purist fans lament the uncertainty facing modern collegiate rosters, while the pro leagues have differing opinions and abilities in terms of dealing with early entrants. 

Some say the answer lies in paying college athletes, especially given the contracts conferences and coaches pull in these days.

But that route is fraught with many more legal issues than is commonly understood. 

Wouldn't it be nice if there was a more orderly approach to balancing these new frontiers that could benefit everyone?

Far be it for me to call a hoops coach from UGA genius but when Jim Harrick had his son teach a class for the basketball players with such daunting test questions as "How many points is a three-point basket worth?" he was possibly on to something special. 

I say take this the next level.  Thus, Ladies and gentlefans, I give you the Associates Degree in Professional Athletics (APA)!

- The NFL and NBA could escape the legal gray area of age restrictions by simply requiring an APA or equivalent experience.  Most jobs these days require a degree in their field, including college and HS coaching, so why not pro athletes?

Requiring a standardized degree eliminates the legal wrangling over eligibility (we're not prohibiting careers, just amending the standards for employment) and likely yields better men at the pro level. 

An equivalency ratio could be set up for foreign talent or those simply not interested, preferably about three years outside HS.  Meanwhile these leagues keep their free minor league feeder system intact.

- Sports management and sports fitness majors are quite common and for an APA it would pretty much be the basics pro athletes should know anyway: Personal finance, health and fitness and so on. 

Practice time could also count towards their degree. Most pro rookies undergo training in these things, anyway ("5 drinks + 3 baby-mommas = Less $ 4 U"), so it only makes sense to utilize the college resources to give this a more comprehensive approach. 

Plus, wouldn't we all feel a little better if those first round draft picks had a basic understanding of contract law and communication skills?

- By making this a bona fide major, chances are we restore the student namesake of student athletes and they approach their studies with more zeal.  Along the way they'll also likely get a better grasp of what's truly required to make the transition, heeding the advice of school counselors as well as lurking agents. 

- Making it a two-year degree won't place an undue hardship on the Kobe Bryants of the world, as it's entirely possible such programs can be completed within less than two years. 

Early enrolling students could stay on track with the current NBA standard of playing after just one year of college. 

Meanwhile, fringe athletes will have good cause to remain in school longer just as today, but more aware of what the pro world is like. 

College athletes would have a better grasp of what they need to improve to make it at the next level, or possibly learn sooner how unrealistic the career might be. 

- Chances are the athletes become better on the field as well, aided by improved focus and direction.

- Can't cut it in the same profession as your degree?  Join the crowd!  APA courses will likely lend themselves towards credit for other majors such as fitness, education (coaching), etc. 

So, these athletes could continue with school like so many other students but at least have a better appreciation of the collegiate experience as compared to simply scheduling classes based on their ability to help retain your eligibility.

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Clearly this idea would require more work to even begin serious considerations, but maybe it's time for such innovation.

Maybe it's time we realize that college sports didn't take the student out of student athlete, but rather that the professional ambitions of modern student athletes have evolved. 

Maybe we simply need the academic side of the equation to adapt to new forms industry.

Maybe then we'll look back and say "You know, that Jim Harrick Jr. was a real revolutionary."