Last month, the NCAA unleashed stern punishment upon the University of Southern California for violations regarding former football player and Heisman trophy winner, Reggie Bush. Allegations indicated that Bush and his family received special gifts that violated the NCAA’s rules for student-athletes.
Following a long investigation, the NCAA has dropped the hammer on the school, banning them from postseason football for the next two seasons, and taking away a total of 30 scholarships over the next three seasons.
But amidst the chaos lies a conversation that few seem to be willing to have—are these rules truly fair to college athletes?
The “Student Athlete” Title Is a Farce
The national average graduation rate of Division I football players already sits at a paltry 55 percent. But further investigation shows us that many of the biggest football programs in the country fail to meet even that number.
Some shocking examples include programs which were awarded the BCS National Championship in each of the past eight seasons: Texas, 29 percent; LSU, 37 percent; Florida, 42 percent; Alabama, 47 percent; Ohio State, 49 percent; and USC, 52 percent.
It’s not just football schools, either. More than half of the teams that made up the 2006 NCAA men’s basketball tournament failed to graduate even 50 percent of their players over a six-year span. Sixteen of those schools failed to graduate even 40 percent of their student-athletes.
In 2003, the NCAA passed a resolution which allowed programs to recruit students who scored 400-or-below on the SAT test. A score of 400 is the lowest score possible on the test. Before this resolution was passed, the previous standard was 700, while the national average among test-takers was approximately 800.
How can universities and the NCAA say that college players are “students first and foremost” when they hand out scholarships solely based on a player’s ability to perform in a given sport? If athletic scholarships were completely removed from the equation, how many of these kids would actually be able to attend the school for which they eventually play their sport?
There is no denying that college institutions are granting scholarships to students who are unlikely to succeed on an academic level. One glaring reason for this is because these universities know that elite athletes will bring in money for the school in the form of television revenue, merchandise, ticket sales, and countless other forms of income.
The fact is that most of the students who attend these powerhouse athletic schools are not going to college with the primary objective of receiving an education. They are going to college to play a sport and hopefully to become a professional one day.
The “student athlete” title is a complete sham that the NCAA hides behind in order to keep their obnoxious, dated traditions alive. Traditions that were created back in the days when college sports weren’t a multi-billion dollar industry and back when playing a sport was truly secondary to a student’s education.
Many Athletes Already Choose Money over Education
The eye-popping graduation numbers we see among the country’s best athletic schools tell us that not only are most of these students not receiving the benefit of a four-year degree, but that a good percentage of athletes are already choosing money in the pros over their education.
But before you start burning these kids at the stake for choosing money over their education, you have to consider the circumstances in which many of these kids find themselves.
A high number of elite athletes—the ones who have a chance to play their sport professionally—come from low-income families. These athletes oftentimes find themselves being counted on to bring home money for their family.
If a college player has to play basketball for a year, or football for three years, they are losing out on a ton of potential income during that time. It’s no wonder that we see so many students foregoing their senior years in football, or leaving after their freshman years in basketball.
Many critics have the perception that student-athletes should be able to find jobs and work like everyone else. While that makes sense on the surface, there are NCAA rules which prohibit student-athletes from getting a job which pays more than $2,500 for an entire year. This number may even be less, depending on what the school determines to be “incidental expenses.”
How is a student supposed to help his family financially on a $2,500 salary? Universities are supposed to be in place to create a more well-educated public, while preparing students for their futures. This is completely missed by the limits on income that the NCAA creates for their student-athletes to remain eligible at their sport.
Suppose an English student writes a best-selling novel; there are no restrictions on the profits that this student may receive from the sale of the book. Suppose a physically attractive student is approached by Playboy to pose in the “College Students” edition of their magazine while wearing the school’s colors and logo; again, there is no limit on the amount of money that the student may receive.
But if a football player is approached by EA Sports to do an advertisement for their upcoming video game—a video game in which this player’s exact likeness down to everything but his name will be marketed—it’s against the rules for the player to receive money. What kind of ridiculous system is this?
Are we supposed to be surprised when we find out that an athlete like Reggie Bush is receiving money and other forms of payment such as a place for his family live, by a member of a sports marketing company? It’s pretty obvious that this wasn’t the first time this has happened—and it likely won’t be the last.
Scholarships Are Not Enough
We’ve already looked at the national graduation rates among athletes in the two major college athletic sports and determined that most of these students are not receiving the benefit of their full, four-year degree, oftentimes due to their own decision. But let’s look deeper into why using scholarships alone as compensation for what these athletes bring to their universities is not enough.
During the 2005 football season, the University of Texas saw quarterback Vince Young lead the program to a national championship and a reported $42 million profit from football during the fiscal year.
Just like the NFL, the majority of that money comes from television, marketing and media, tickets, and merchandise. The better the team is, the better television opportunities they have, the more tickets and merchandise they sell; thus, the more money is made by the university.
By simply assuming that a scholarship alone should be enough compensation for a player like Vince Young, who was a finalist for the Heisman trophy, we are also assuming that his contributions are exactly equal to every other player’s contributions on his team. As can be seen when star players are injured during a season, that is simply not the case.
For all of his great work, dedication, and revenue-generation for the University of Texas, Vince Young was awarded only with a full athletic scholarship, which allowed him to attend the university free of charge. Though it is impossible to pinpoint the exact amount that Vince Young contributed to the university, it can be assumed that he received just pennies on the dollar from his scholarship alone.
The average cost of tuition, room, and board at a public university in the United States is approximately just $13,000. With Young attending the school for three years, he likely received around $50,000 in value from the University of Texas, while potentially generating millions in extra income for the university.
It is great that universities are willing to provide free education to their student-athletes, but there is one dark secret that is regularly overlooked by the media…
Scholarships Are Not Guaranteed
The NCAA rules are clear. Athletic scholarships are a one-year, merit-based award that requires that a player meet both academic performance as well as “participation expectations” in their sport. It’s not just something that is thrown in the rule book with no effect on real-life situations, either.
Former football kicker Durrell Chamorro received an athletic scholarship from Colorado State University following his senior year in high school. During his recruitment process, he was told that as long as he retained at least a 2.0 GPA and didn’t break any rules, that he would have his scholarship for four or five years.
In the spring of 2007, former head coach Sonny Lubick told Chamorro that his scholarship had been revoked following his red-shirt freshman season and another season as a backup. Chamorro was invited to remain with the team as a walk-on, but would also have to fork over out-of-state tuition costs of more than $17,000 a year—a cost which he and his family could not afford.
Being a backup kicker on the football team, Chamorro had little chance at a future NFL career; but non-guaranteed contracts aren’t only a concern for players who don’t often see the field. The lack of guarantee on scholarships is also a concern because of potential injuries on and off the field. Just like a player’s scholarship can be cut for poor performance, it can also be cut due to injury.
Take former University of Southern Cal running back Stafon Johnson, for example. During the 2009 football season, Johnson was working out in the team’s weight room and dropped a 275 lb. barbell across his throat. He was rushed to the hospital in serious condition where his life was eventually saved. There was a chance that he would never play football again, but Johnson worked hard and was eventually able to get back on the field and subsequently enter the NFL draft.
However, there’s no rule stating that the university couldn’t have revoked Johnson’s scholarship, had he not been able to return to the field following the accident.
It’s a grave injustice that these players put their bodies and lives on the line, generating millions of dollars for their universities, while not even being guaranteed the scholarships which are supposedly “enough compensation” for their efforts.
Allow College Athletes to Receive Endorsements
No one is trying to say that the universities themselves should be paying students to play the sport of their choosing. But removing their potential income through sponsorships and endorsements is not only doing an injustice to the players, it’s doing an injustice to the entire country.
If elite players like Reggie Bush can sign $5-plus million deals with Adidas after college, before they ever step on an NFL field, why should they not be able to do the same while they are playing in college?
With the way things are right now, top-level college athletes (particularly football players) are practically forced to enter the professional level before they are done with school, in order to maintain the potential income for themselves and their families.
There are countless cases of players who have stayed in school for their senior seasons and financially hurt themselves by doing so, instead of taking the money following their junior seasons.
Maybe if Bush could’ve signed a deal with Adidas while he was in school, for even half of the amount that he eventually received, he wouldn’t have resorted to taking money illegally from a shady sports agent. Maybe he would’ve even stayed in school for his senior year and received his degree, before heading into the NFL. Not to mention, if he would’ve been injured in his senior season, at least he would have some money on which to fall back.
After all, isn’t what the NCAA claims on its website—that it is “committed to the best interests, education and athletics participation of student-athletes?”
What better way to prove that than by giving these top-level players the opportunity to support themselves and their families while completing their education?
Let’s put all of these ridiculous rules aside for one minute and truly look at what is in the best interest of these kids. It’s time to allow them to get a piece of that multi-billion dollar pie that everyone else is stealing from them.