Disclaimer: All thoughts and opinions are that solely of Dan Kotnik.
The NCAA is at it again, coming down with another suspension in an attempt to make itself look useful. Syrcause has been slapped with a suspension for violating academic rules. The NCAA is…it’s just awful. It’s no better than the guy at work who gathers everyone’s coffee orders. He’s the same guy that organizes a “task force” to figure out why the party planning committee is losing money. That guy sucks. The NCAA conceived the idea of the “student-athlete”, fights anyone who challenges it and everyone has taken it hook, line and sinker. I mean, when you hear about schools like Syracuse and North Carolina being exposed for these “scandals” what seems to be the public’s reaction? “Look at these guys playing a sport and trying to skate by on grades! They aren’t taking this seriously! What’s wrong with these kids??”
Which is EXACTLY what the NCAA wants you to be thinking. That these kids are rebels, renegades fighting against the sanctity of amateurism and that the NCAA needs to be there to fight the good fight. It doesn’t want you to think, “Hmm…maybe we’re looking at this the wrong way. Maybe the system is failing these kids and this is only a side effect of the true problem”. That’s dangerous thinking to the NCAA.
The reality is that the system is failing because college sports have changed. It’s a business now, one of the biggest in the country and one whose workforce is almost entirely FREE labor. Remember those commercials that portrayed the NCAA as “cheerleaders” for student-athletes? I laughed every time that spot played during a Tuesday MAC football games or weekday tournament games. The NCAA preaches over and over again that these are students first, and then schedules games in the middle of the school week and classes because their eyes are filled with dollar signs. It doesn’t care about students getting degrees or going to class because it helps the kids. They care about it because by doing so, they make you believe that it’s ok for them to make billions of dollars of the backs of these kids while not giving them anything in return.
We have to pull back the curtain and realize that the landscape has changed and that we need to change the system along with it. How do we do that? Personally, I believe that they should get a cut of the profit made off of their image/likeness and athletic merchandise sales. They’re the sole reason that every time Michigan losses to a team like NJIT, people in Ohio crash their site trying to buy T-shirts. But that doesn’t fix the problems we have. Academic fraud, cheating, it doesn’t get fixed by only throwing money at it. So here’s how we fix it.
Separate the student from the athlete. For the top athletes, college is a means to get to the next level of their sports career (which is, by the way, exactly what ever other student does with their careers, so please don’t act as if you’re superior because of it. The only difference is their field of study is just much more competitive than yours). If you treat college athletics as a pseudo area of study to prepare them for the professional field, then we’re essentially forcing “student-athletes” to complete a double major when all they really want is one. Why do that?
Instead, let’s make it reflect the model in place for the military. You put in your service, then you get your degree second. Am I putting these two on the same plane of importance? No, but it’s a model that would work here. A player comes and plays 2-4 years at their university and depending on how long they stayed and played get that many years/semesters at college. It cures the enticement to cut corners academically because grades would no longer have an effect on eligibility. And it still allows athletes to come back and get their degree whenever they want.
In our current system, “student-athletes” are the only ones getting hurt. The NCAA says education and academics is central to their goal, but promote a culture that makes academics play second fiddle to athletics and then punishes schools and athletes for acting as such. In this new hypothetical system, academics and athletics are both elevated and made better by being treated separately.
People complain when athletes get preferential treatment, that they should be treated the same as regular students. Those people are wrong. They are in a different situation than regular students, with unpaid jobs that half of a university’s staff relies on to perform well and keep their jobs. By treating them like regular students, we are doing them a disservice.