College Football: Pay the Players, General Studies Degrees Aren't Enough

Jeff KalafaAnalyst IIIJuly 3, 2010

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01:  Quarterback Terrelle Pryor #2 of the Ohio State Buckeyes drops back to pass against the Oregon Ducks during the 96th Rose Bowl game on January 1, 2010 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

What does a scholarship football player with a chance for a free college degree, have in common with a professor, who's guaranteed a spot on the football roster, in lieu of a salary?

Chances are they'd both fail to maximize the offer presented.

Unless the professor is 6'6", 280 lbs, and runs a 4.6 forty, he'll probably never see the playing field.

The football player's odds are better but many will never earn a degree, and if they do, many degrees will be in something called General Studies.

It's bad enough that our colleges get away with running a business—shouldn't they have to pay their employees (the players)?

I recently wrote an article about FBS college football players organizing their own players' union, like those of professional athletes.  I knew the idea was a long shot, but I wanted to make notice of the billions of dollars the colleges are making off these athletes.

I heard every objection possible: "The players get paid all ready (scholarship)."  "It would ruin college football."  But it was Bleacher Report's brilliant Edna Thomas who simply explained that, "Universities have a special status in our society," and that's why a union wouldn't be allowed.

I agree with Edna and hardly expect a college players' union to have a chance, but it is not written in stone that the colleges will always be able to make these huge sums of revenue, and isn't a given that 18 year old football players won't get paid.

The NFL or anyone else could start a minor league football program at any time!  If they did, it could cut into college football profits.

Yes, they could start a minor league football program in cities that don't have NFL franchises, and there'd be no educational requirements.  There are a lot of talented players who can't qualify for college, and there are others that just want to play football, and not go to class.

If this ever happened colleges might want to think differently about offering their football players more.

You might be saying, "What about the NFL age limit?"  That could be changed whenever they felt like changing it.

This scenario might seem unlikely to most fans, but there isn't anyone who can say college football isn't a business!

As a business pays its employees, colleges get around it by giving their student "football employees" scholarships.  They claim they aren't paying anyone; they're offering these players scholarships, just as they offer other students.

Bleacher Report reader Joe West summed up the feelings of many when he wrote, "College athletes already get paid. A college education is very expensive."

Joe's statement, a college education is very expensive, is correct.  But as I wrote earlier, many of the college football players don't end up with real college education.

At football powers like Texas and Oklahoma, only 50 percent of college football players graduate, and the ones that do are pushed toward what Murray Sperber, a professor of Education in the University of California system, calls "Mickey Mouse" courses.

Sperber talks about special curricula that athletes are steered into.  He told the Atlanta Constitution that "many athletes are graduating from schools who are semi-literate."

ABC columnist George Will wrote, "In a recent year, 41 percent of Texas football players were majoring in youth and community services, compared to 0.2 percent of all students; 78.4 percent of Michigan's were in general studies, compared to 1.6 percent of all students there."

Two weeks ago Rutgers finished No. 1 nationally in the latest APR results.  The Academic Progress Rate (APR) deals largely with graduation rates. 

But if the Atlanta Constitution's 2008 study is true, and football players at the large football schools average 300 points less on their SAT scores than the regular student population, what good is the APR?  What good is the APR if Rutgers produced the highest graduation rate of students that primarily graduated with a degree in General Studies, or something called Sports Studies?

The Atlanta Constitution wrote that "The University of Florida won the prize for biggest gap between football players and the student body, with players scoring 346 points lower than their peers."

Two years ago, Stanford's football Coach Jim Harbaugh took a lot of heat from his Michigan alums when he blamed his former school for "Steering athletes toward softer majors than the general student population."

And the gap between player SAT scores and the student's is worse in college basketball.  Graduation rates are also worse.  In a study released last year, the University of Maryland men's basketball program was reported to have a graduation rate of 10 percent.

Sol Gittleman of Tufts University asks, "Does anyone actually believe that a freshman varsity basketball player at Duke, Stanford, or Georgetown can handle a normal first-year curriculum at these rigorously academic institutions?"

Gittleman claimed at Duke, entering students had a combined SAT of 1392. The average for basketball players was 887.

I know those statistics were real, when Gittleman made the statement, because famous Duke grad, author John Feinstein, wrote pretty much the same in his book, "The Last Amateurs."

This brings me to situation that goes on at Notre Dame. How can every freshman on the Notre Dame football team pass calculus?  If they're doing it with round-the-clock tutoring, are they really students?

At some point, someone has to step up and ask, "If athletes are not ready for college, if they lack skills needed to perform, can they earn a degree worthy enough for a school like Michigan or Duke to put its name on it?"  

I get it, someone with a college degree is worth more than someone without one, and  it's great to see as many football players with diplomas as possible.  But are they really diplomas, or certificates of attendance?

The players have done nothing wrong: The schools are luring them into a system which doesn't deliver what they promise.

So few of these athletes ever make it to the NFL, and each one is at risk of injury every time they step on the field.

Now we're seeing conferences like the Big Ten and SEC talking about billions they expect to make in football television revenue.

None of it would be there without the players.  Shouldn't they share a piece of the pie? 

And speaking of the Big Ten, what about the hypocrisy of that conference?

It won't invite any school to join if it isn't a member of the Association of American Universities. The conference was so righteous about Nebraska's educational credentials, but when it comes to educational standards for its football programs, where is it?

Where's the University of Michigan when its coach made the players practice more than the NCAA allowed?  Did it care that the students would have less time to hit the books, or did it care more that Ohio State beat the Wolverines the last six years?

I know that some of you are going to bring up Title IX.  You're going to claim that whatever you pay a football player, you have to pay that amount to every student athlete.

You're going to insist that college athletes, who play on teams that don't make money for the school, have to be treated equally.

If you believe that there is any logic to this argument, I guess we're going to have to respectfully disagree.

If you feel that this borders on Communism, we agree!











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