Freshman, Political Science and History major
Photography by Connor Hartzell
With another college football season in the books, so too ends another year of lucrative college football programs across the country, not to mention the hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue generated by the NCAA. While we celebrate victory in the mighty Birmingham Bowl (or, perhaps, FSU’s dismantling at the hands of Oregon), we fail to recognize the plight of the college athlete at the hands of a broken, exploitative system. Year after year, the NCAA and universities profit enormous amounts of money off of college athletes, who dedicate long hours to their sport only to be granted increasingly empty scholarships.
Under NCAA rules, student-athletes are not eligible in any sport if they accept any form of pay for promoting commercial products/services or allow their likeness to be used to promote a product/service. In addition, athletes are prohibited from accepting pay or gifts of monetary value because of their status as athletes. These “gifts” can range from loaning a car to getting a free meal from a local restaurant.
Such frivolous, restrictive stipulations would not be so controversial if the NCAA and universities did not make exorbitant revenues off of the efforts of college athletes. In 2013, the NCAA made $912.8 million, 84 percent of which came from the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, better known as March Madness. This money makes its way to the university level as well, with college football coaches earning an average annual salary of $1.64 million, making them the highest paid public employees in 40 states.
In order to save face, the NCAA argues that student-athletes are already “paid,” or perhaps more appropriately, “compensated” in the form of a scholarship, this including tuition, room and board, and other services including counseling and tutoring. While these compensations are noble and seemingly adequate, they are contingent upon an athlete’s ability to perform. If a scholarship athlete continually performs below par, the school can take away his or her scholarship. On the other hand, if a student does not meet academic standards, he or she can be deemed academically ineligible to participate in athletics. This problem is often addressed with schools deciding which classes an athlete will take, oftentimes those which will be least likely to compete with the 40-60 hours an athlete devotes to his sport. Athletes will often receive generous tutoring for their classes to make sure they maintain good grades, often leaving the athlete with little work to complete. These occurrences are far too common within the realm of college athletics, thus placing an emphasis on athletics over academics.
For example, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, former basketball star Rashad McCants has shed light on rampant academic fraud amongst student-athletes that lasted for 18 years. At UNC, McCants and other athletes were directed to take classes within the African-American Studies program, within which they took several attendance-optional “paper classes” which consisted of only one paper to receive a grade. Students never had to go to these classes and relied on their tutors to write their papers for them, usually garnering straight-A grades for most. It is unclear how high up in the administration this scandal went, but those in charge within the African-American studies program have now been reprimanded, including the now former department chairman. In addition to UNC’s internal investigation, the NCAA is conducting their own investigation into the matter, which begs the question: how committed is the NCAA to uncovering similar instances of academic impropriety? UNC is not the only school to have scandals of academic fraud: other schools include Florida State, Syracuse, Oklahoma State, and Minnesota, to name a few. These empty scholarships damage the NCAA’s defense of adequate compensation through a free “education.”
Obviously, reform to such a grandiose system would be messy. If athletes were to be paid for their efforts, questions arise. Where would the NCAA get the funding? How does the NCAA equitably distribute money between athletes of different sports, schools, and skill levels? Such a widespread issue starts with finetuning the faults of the current system, reforming the “athlete first” mentality in college sports and ensuring that all student-athletes are fully compensated with a free and legitimate education. Regardless of the tricky process involved, it is evident that the time has come to finally reform this broken collegiate athletic system that robs talented young men and women of a proper education and puts them at a serious disadvantage as future professionals.