Monday, July 11, 2011

Should Colleges Pay "Student" Athletes?

College football is a mess. USC has been stripped of its national titles and Reggie Bush lost his Heisman Trophy. Ohio State’s coach just resigned in disgrace and the school gave back its Sugar Bowl win. Oregon was caught paying a middle man to circumvent NCAA recruiting rules, including helping a student change his guardian to a more Oregon-friendly relative. And those are just the tip of the iceberg. Some suggest paying athletes will fix this. I see that as treating a symptom.

Here’s the thing: college football is pretending to be something it’s not. To make the game sound like it’s not a business. . . to make it sound “innocent”. . . the NCAA pretends that college football is played by genuine STUDENT athletes. According to NCAA marketing, these are kids who might not have gotten a chance to go to college, but have been able to leverage their athletic ability to get some financial help toward getting their education. And we’re supposed to believe football or basketball or whatever is secondary to these kids’ desires for an education. Give me a break.

In truth, the vast majority of athletes are functionally illiterate. Most won’t graduate and those that do are getting an education in name only. The NCAA has lowered admission standards to the point that it’s almost impossible not to meet the requirements. They allow athletes to take puff classes and even then turn a blind eye as athletes are given answers to tests in advance, have others take tests for them, and are passed no matter what they do. Probably not one in ten can read at a first grade level -- even of the graduates -- and not one in five has ever seen the insider of a classroom.

This is a disgrace. The NCAA is hiding behind the idea that it’s providing quality education to these players so that it doesn’t need to pay them. But it’s not really providing any sort of education. What it’s really offering is the chance to get noticed by the NFL. But only something like 1 in 1600 college football players will make it to the NFL. Thus, the other 1599 will get nothing for their time except whatever equipment they can steal and whatever boosters illegally pay them.

At the same time, college football (and basketball) is a multi-billion dollar business. Teams that win titles and garner nation exposure can rake in $30-40 million a year. Even lesser teams are making millions. These are big businesses, who act like big businesses, pay their management as well as the Fortune 500, have bigger facilities than some state governments, and who’ve found a wonderful way to keep their labor costs down. . . actually free.

It’s this inequity that causes many to suggest it’s time schools paid athletes. But that misses the real point that the whole system is a corrupting fraud. The NCAA is sending all the wrong signals: (1) Exploiting athletes is fine. (2) There is nothing wrong with providing a fake education so long as the athlete has value on the field. (3) A college degree is just a piece of paper with no real worth except as public relations. (4) The idea of student athletics is a fraud and is not intended for genuine students, but it's ok to pretend because pretending enriches the school. (5) And cheating is acceptable. In fact, getting a whole community of coaches and boosters involved in cheating is fine. . . as long as you aren’t caught.

Paying athletes won’t fix this because it only addresses the first part and it leaves in place the NCAA’s false marketing. The real solution must come from making the NCAA either live up to its promises or stop making them. It’s time the NCAA actually requires athletes to be genuine students with real classes earning real degrees, or it should drop the pretense of an education entirely and allow programs to hire athletes just as if it were the NFL’s minor league, without forcing those athletes to pretend to be students.

Either be a school or be a business, but stop being a business hiding behind being a school. Anything short of one of these two solutions will just keep the NCAA limping along in the unethical land in which it currently resides.


(P.S. Think about the irony that schools run by leftists are exploiting the labor of poor black kids to enrich themselves to the tune of millions of dollars a year. And they call corporate America "capitalist exploiters"?)


AndrewPrice said...

By the way, this doesn't have anything to do with sports per se, but I see that 1 in 5 recent grads is unemployed. Good times.

Ed said...

Andrew, Hypocrisy is a huge liberal trait. They almost see it as a virtue. So exploiting black kids to make money for the school while not giving them a real education but telling the world they have is no big deal for them.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, That's liberalism for you. Do as I say, not as I do.

Tennessee Jed said...

Big time sports programs actually pay for themselves (like a business) and often fund all the teams that were gutted when Title IX came along. The rules are hypocritical because these people have never been students. I say, let the big time professional feeder sports like men's football and basketball pay the thugs they bring in, drop the rules crap and enforce the rules only for school sizes or teams that really involve students

T-Rav said...

"A college degree is just a piece of paper with no real worth except as public relations."

Jeez Andrew, make me slit my wrists, why don't you?

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I don't actually feel strongly enough to say either that they should go to the "real student" model or the "paid thug" model, but they really should choose one or the other. This idea of hiding behind being real students but looking the other way as the thugs get paid and then having to punish people only when the publicity of that catches up to them is just a corrupt system. It helps no one.

I'm a believe in truth and this is by no means a truthful system.

Tennessee Jed said...

Here is a possible other way of looking at this. There are certain areas of the country that don't have local professional sports. College ball is it. If we dropped the hypocricy, we might just kill the industry. One anybody give a rat's ass about semi-pro football? Hell no, but to have your school play at a BCS bowl gives lots of good publicity. If we drop the pretence of student athletes, and it just becomes a pure developmental professional league, there might be a real tendency to put pressure on schools to drop sports altogether. I'm having a hard time explaining this, but it just might kill the golden goose.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, That's the message they send when they graduate people who can't read as well as first graders: "our degrees are just for show." Obviously, that isn't true of all students, but it's still not good for the school to put their name behind that product.

Think of it this way, when a school starts letting people pass for reasons other than passing, that's like Coke letting some random number of cans go out filled with sewage. Not every can will be bad, but it certainly doesn't help the good ones sell.

And I'll tell you, the more schools get knows as football schools or basketball schools, the lower their degrees are held in estimation by the public.

But even more to the point, we're talking about schools that are supposed to be preparing people for the world and the messages they are sending are "lie, cheat and steal." That's not a positive thing.

CrispyRice said...

I think you're right Andrew that this sends the wrong message. This is truly maddening when you think about it.

And consider how many inner city kids dream of using sports as their way out. Not college, not education, not intellectual work, all of which is much more likely to make you a financial success, but pro sports. And the colleges just play right into that.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, That's possible.... but I would doubt that would be a problem. These programs bring in tons of money, so schools won't let them go. The only thing that would change would be the "student" athlete connection and frankly no one believes it now any ways. I think it would only remove the lying aspect.

Or alternatively, the schools need to start getting serious about educating these kids -- which is probably the better model anyways. That means actually making them attend classes and enforcing rules on cheating and failing grades. That's probably the more principled and better solution.

T-Rav said...

Andrew, don't worry, you didn't depress me. I was depressed enough by things as it was.

I don't do this personally, but I have friends in grad school who tutor student athletes, and they are just horrible. Don't have even a basic grasp of history (no doubt this is true for most other subjects as well), are generally late for appointments, show little to no interest in actually learning and appreciating the material the tutors are explaining to them, etc. Partly I attribute this to laziness, but it's also the result of an athletics industry that gives them virtually no incentives to be good students.

AndrewPrice said...


Excellent point. We could definitely argue that colleges are contributing to a downplaying of the desire for education in minority communities because they let these kids get into sports without meeting any academic requirements. In effect, they are telling kids "you only need to be physically good, don't worry about learning anything, we'll still take you."

If you've ever seen Hoop Dreams, then you know how prevalent this attitude is in minority communities. And colleges really are catering to that.

If they started forcing athletes to actually learn something, that might change the dynamic a good deal for the better.

Interesting point!

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. I'm having trouble with my sign in, so if I'm slow responding -- that's why.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, It's even worse than that. I've been personally aware of groups of athletes getting answers to tests hours before a test was given, teachers passing athletes at the request of the coach, and athletes who never one attended a class. That is not uncommon at all.

And if you've watch any NFL interviews, then you've seen that some of these people don't even have basic langauge skills -- how did they make it through college?

To me, the biggest issue here is the hypocrisy. And what Crispy says makes a lot of sense to me too. How can we continue to let colleges attract these kids under this whole false pretense. They either need to get honest about what they are doing or they need to start actually making these kids learn something.

Based on what Crispy says, I would suggest that making them learn is the better plan. But whichever way they go, I think they need to stop playing innocent, but being dirty. It doesn't help anyone to let them do this.

Ed said...

Andrew, Basketball got our local school on the map! LOL!

I agree with you about the hypocrisy. So what do you recommend?

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, What's you local school if you don't mind my asking?

On a solution, I think this is the sort of thing there is a political solution to. Most of the biggest schools are state programs and so state should start to impose more stringent academic requirements. At the same time, Congress should think about changing the NCAA's status by taking away the nonprofit status if they don't raise their standards and enforcement efforts. That would be my suggestion.

T-Rav said...

Andrew, the hypocrisy is what bothers me most, and I'm thinking especially of schools which rat each other out on this stuff when one profits from it and the other didn't. You may remember, for example, the big to-do last fall about the Heisman Trophy winner, Auburn QB Cam Newton, and whether or not he'd been acting improperly. Being at an SEC school, I promise you we heard all about it, and what made a lot of people irate was that Mississippi State, which went public with info it had on Newton essentially being bribed to go to Auburn, was being treated as a noble whistleblower. Fact is, everyone knew the only reason they went public with it was because they'd been trying to bribe Newton themselves, got outbidded by Auburn, and decided to retaliate. A lot of people were angrier at MSU for that than they were at Auburn for the (alleged) bribery; the rationale is, this is going to happen anyway, so don't get spiteful about it when you play the game and lose.

(In the interests of full disclosure, I should add it's an open secret that Ole Miss has been paying off its athletes too.)

CrispyRice said...

Hoop Dreams was a very good documentary, Andrew. Made me really sad, too.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, I remember that and I had the same reaction. These schools are all dirty and they are all playing the same games and then they use the rules as a weapon against each other.

I think the Ohio State thing is a perfect example. I despise Ohio State because they always acted holier than thou, but it's always been clear that they are as dirty as the rest. Now they are acting all shocked at having learned the truth -- of which they were already aware. So along come the schools they beat and say "hey, we got cheated." (Same thing with Texas vis-a-vis USC.) But they're doing it too! They have no right to complain.

It's ridiculous. It truly is the classic example of no honor among thieves. And yet, this is the example these schools that are charged with educating young people are setting -- that lying, cheating and hypocrisy are all fine. It's ridiculous.

What's more, sometimes this stuff goes well beyond just academic cheating. Look at Jeremy Stevens (current Tampa Bay Buccaneer) who got away with rape in Washington because he was a protected athlete. Or the guys like who steal or beat people up at parties and always get away with it because they're considered untouchable.

Is this really the lesson we want taught?

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. T-Rav, There have been at least two examples I know of where players have exposed the truth only to find the schools attacking them and their characters and the boosters making death threats. One guy was at Auburn in the 1980s and the other was at Ohio State in the early 2000. In both instances, the player admitted to the NCAA that they had been paid, and in both instances the schools attacked them savagely. And in both instances, the players were telling the truth.

So what's the message there? Loyalty trumps legality?

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, Hoop Dreams made me very angry. I so wanted to punch the adults in those kids' lives. They kept saying things like "white people ain't gonna let you succeed except in basketball." That just made me furious that these people, who were theoretically raising these kids, would keep telling them this.

And then the father doing a drug deal in the middle of a day out with his son? WTF?!

And then the schools did little to educate them. It was very, very frustrating.

Ed said...

Andrew, UNLV. We got banned from the 1992 NCAA tournament after it was revealed Tark the Shark had mob connections.

Unknown said...

Andrew: I'm kind of neutral about the payment/nonpayment part, and I know that sports bring money to the universities. But I had that painful personal experience of having my brilliant son (academically and extracurricularly, with a nearly perfect SAT) rejected for admission to Cal the same year Jason Kidd was admitted. Even the legacy advantage he had from both his parents being UC Berkeley alumni wasn't enough to overcome the athletic/affirmative action advantages Kidd brought with him. Kidd stayed and took up space at Cal for a year and a half, then dropped out for a multi-millionaire basketball contract. So Kidd makes millions playing a boy's game. My son made his millions by picking UCLA instead, where he studied instead of playing, got a legitimate degree, then went into business for himself. College was wasted on Jason Kidd. My Alumni donations stopped the day my son was rejected.

Cal traded a short-term academic loser who got a few brief basketball victories for a fine student and lifelong productive member of society. Cal's loss, UCLA's gain.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, Yeah, no to offend Nevada, but I can't say that I think of them as anything other than a basketball school. And on the bright side, even though you were kicked out of the 1992 tournament, at least you didn't have to give back the championship!

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, That's another aspect of this. These athletes are taking up spaces that could be given to people who really do want an education. So that's definitely something to consider.

I'm glad you stopped donating, they definitely deserve it after that.

T-Rav said...

Andrew, that doesn't surprise me in the least. I should add that the NCAA, most of the time, is itself a complete racket. The "judicial" organs which mete out punishment to erring schools are a law unto themselves, with practically no means of appeal, and I suspect that for precisely this reason, their power gets abused a lot.

And it's the same way, incidentally, with high school athletic associations. When I was an adolescent, the thing that turned me against big government was not events in DC so much as the muddling and moralizing of these distant state groups.

rlaWTX said...

I used to have this argument with my ex every March Madness. My main argument then was how much classroom time are these kids getting during the tournament? How is this educational? It's getting more like that at the HS level.

I went to a tier 3/district 3 -whatever- college. We had one professional football player to our name [Pierce Holt, 49ers]. (I think we ended up with another over the last 15 yrs). And student-athletes were still treated differently. It wasn't nearly as blatant or bad, but still there. And the attitude of those athletes about their chances of "making it" was wildly out of alignment with reality.

I think that college sports is like college research money - screwed up.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, Yeah, the NCAA is a joke. In my experience, most of these self-regulatory bodies are little more than PR providing cover for the whole industry and they only act when they are absolutely forced to act by overwhelming public scrutiny.

That's interesting that you drew the connection between the evils of big government and high school athletic organizations. It's funny what draws people to conservatism. What kind of problems did you run into?

As a related aside, one of the things I found troubling as a kid was playing football, we had a coach who wanted to work for a college. So he was all about winning at all costs. He refused to let everyone play -- state rules required only 1 quarter each for the whole season and that was all he was going to give, because he wanted the best kids out there all the time (even at the end of a blow out).

As a conservative, you would think I would be fine with the idea of competition. But it struck me that this was wrong, that the point to team athletics was to actually be a team and to impart more values than just "win so the coach can get a better job."

By comparison, the coach at our primary rival played everyone, every game. And he never had a losing record in 25 years. Our coach only had the 1 winning year (ours) but that was enough to get him his new job at Colorado State.

In any event, that's always stuck with me: what is the real point to school-based athletics? Is it to build character and teach values (and have a good time) or is it to agrandize a coach?

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, I think that's really the issue -- these major sports in college have little to do with education. It is like research, which brings money and fame to the school, but does nothing to benefit the students. Only at least with the research, you can argue that it attracts some of the best professors who then may teach a class or two, and whatever they discover might actually come to benefit everyone through the advancement of science.

Sports can't even say that. The best sports can say is that it brings in money. But often, that money never leaves the sports department. So it's like its own little business attached to the school.

And as Lawhawk pointed out, there are costs to this, even if the sports department is self-sustaining in that the slots the athletes get are keeping others from attending the school.

T-Rav said...

Andrew, wow that sounds totally fair (the coaching thing, I mean).

It would take a while to explain, but basically, school districts sometimes fudge the law too. For example, each district covers a specific geographic area, and the kids in that area have to either attend that school or pay tuition to attend somewhere else. But in practice, school districts almost always give and take with each other on this--say, my school would let a kid who lived on the opposite side of the road that formed a boundary attend without paying tuition. And neighboring schools did the same with kids in our district.

Everyone except the state muckety-mucks knew this went on, and no one complained about it...until our school started winning basketball championships with the aid of students who had been from other districts and now lived on the edges of our district. THEN everybody started splitting hairs about "primary residences" and blah blah blah, and got state officials involved, and these officials, who knew nothing about the local jealousies and so on, decided to impose a fine on our school and...yeah. It sounds more than a bit petty now, but I have a lot of residual hometown loyalty, and it still burns me. Point is, I lost faith in the ability of government officials to manage things properly--even in the state capital 200 miles away, to say nothing of those in far-off DC.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, Very insightful. I can see where that would teach you both that (1) distant government is not good government and (2) people are better at sorting out their own problems without the government getting involved since everyone seems to have sorted this out themselves? (Hence, conservatism!)

It also raises something that has always bothered me with government, which is that people tend to use government as a weapon. In other words, they ignore the rules they don't like, i.e. the ones that would hinder them, until they run across one they can use to shut the other guy down. And that, to me, is the very essence of what's wrong with interest politics -- that they use government to mess with other people.

On our coach, he was a royal bastard. I don't think any of the players liked him and I don't think the players got much out of the year despite the 10-2 record.

AndrewPrice said...

You know, we should ask one of these days what made people see the conservative light? I'll bet we would get some interesting responses.

T-Rav said...

Andrew, that's something I'd be interested in reading. By the way, the school incident didn't "make" me conservative--I was already moving that direction--but it did force me to think about why I objected to it, and to think about the implications for the rest of society. It's a clearer example than many theoretical arguments.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, I'll put something together for Wednesday or Thursday -- it's a slow news week anyway right now. I think that would be an interesting question. (Tomorrow, the Elves are back, complaining about TSA.)

I figured one incident didn't make you conservative, but I took your statement as the key moment that crystallized it for you. I've met a lot of people who have that moment where it all kind of came together for them.

Koshcat said...

South Park had an episode about this. So bad; so funny. Cartman asking the AD at CU how he was legally keeping slaves.

Although we hear about the bad students, there are several who know they are not going to play in the pros and are using there abilities to get an education. My neighbor in the dorm during under-grad was a very talented football player but about average on intelligence, if that. He told me there would have been no way he could have afforded college without the football scholarship. I am sure there are several others.

I don't like the preferential treatment and I don't like the hypocrisy of the NCAA making billions off these kids. "But they're getting a free scholarship!" Yes, but the school has fixed overhead costs. It doesn't cost them anything to take on this athlete.

Frankly, the NCAA should stop being the free farm system for the NFL and NBA. Both baseball and hockey have their own farm systems so the others can afford it. Pay them to play. The talented will work their way up rapidly. The others can get day jobs or go to school. Finally, get rid of the athletic scholarship altogether. It is a place of HIGHER LEARNING. Athletics is an extracurricular activity. (Spoke by a true man with no athletic ability)

AndrewPrice said...

Koshkat, I remember that scene with Cartman dressed up like a southern plantation owner.

You raise another aspect of this, regarding the pros. By pretending to be not a business, colleges are missing their chance to earn fees from the pros for the services they provide. Not only do they act as a farm team, but they make facilities available to scouts, they set up pro-days, they provide things like video and other information to the teams, etc. If they admitted they were a business, they would be charging the pros for all of that.

I agree with you that modern athletic departments really don't fit into the mission of education. In the past, I think they did because these were largely meant as extracurricular activities to give students something to do to improve their health and entertain themselves. But these days, students aren't allowed to participate -- only the semi-pros.

On the kids who couldn't have gotten in without a sporting scholarship. I'm not sure I buy the economic argument anymore because student loans are so large by now. You might not be able to afford a private school, but anybody can afford a decent state school. If the issue is academic, then I guess the response is that the way to lean then is to force the schools to teach the athletes. I can honestly go either way, I just think the NCAA needs to stop trying to have it both ways.

Koshcat said...

The athlete I was referring to was a poor, black kid from Colorado. His family really didn't have the money and he didn't have the grades. Now, should he be able to go to college? My feeling today is no; I don't think it was the right fit for him. But I could respect a young man trying to take advantage of what was given to him to hopefully make his life better. This was at a small state school so the chances of making the pros was very slim. Incredibly, he did play for the dolphins for a few seasons. Not sure what happened to him after that.

AndrewPrice said...

Koshkat, I'm happy to hear he took it seriously. I do think one of the hardest questions for schools is how do you find the kid who deserves to be there even if they don't have the background to show it?

But I have to say that sometimes, schools aren't doing these kids any favors. I started in an engineering school in New York. It was one of the top engineering schools in the country. And they were letting in a few dozen black kids with scores that were half those of the white and Asian kids because they wanted to be able to say they had a diverse student body. But these kids were totally outclassed and almost all of them failed out -- and those that didn't were at the bottom of the class. They would have been better off at a lesser school where they would have gone at a slower pace and had less cut-throat competition.

I'm not sure what the right answer is in terms of how to get kids to get the right amount of education, but I do know that the current system is not a good one and there needs to be a better way to get these kids into schools and educated than the whole NCAA scam.

T-Rav said...

Andrew, I think student loans (for athletics or otherwise) have generally been a bad idea. Besides encouraging corruption on this scale, they've no doubt been at least partially responsible for driving up tuition costs as a result of expanding the student population to its current bloated size. The whole thing is rotten from top to bottom.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, I totally agree they've been a bad idea. But let's make the distinction.

As a matter of public policy, they are a horrible idea. Schools have taken advantage of the availability of these loans to raise their tuition in lock step with the loan increases. This means that people can no longer afford schools without loans, which means that we are putting crushing debts on our smartest young people. It's obscene and the whole scheme should be eliminated.

BUT... speaking in terms of individuals, the fact is the loans are there and they can be obtained as a matter of right. So no one can legitimately complain that they can't afford school anymore. They might not be able to afford the most expensive private schools, but they can afford 90% of the schools out there.

Of course, that doesn't necessarily make it a good idea, but whether it's a good idea really depends on what you do with the opportunity.

patti said...

it's all a business, starting with the schools. students are paying for a valuable (diminishing as it is) piece of paper, not an education. to say that it's otherwise is the height of hypocrisy.

wait, the student DO get an education, but for the most part not in the way it's sold.

AndrewPrice said...

Patti, It is a business, but that is indeed not how they sell it. And while they technically get an education, it's worthless for all but a handful.

Anonymous said...

Great article! It seems it's time college athletes should be paid. The NCAA has held down this racket for a long time. If they don't change, more than $2,000 per year, they're going to fall. The debate over at TC Huddle got me thinking about this. I wondered what other people were saying and found your opinion.

Thanks for the post! Enjoyed it. Here's the article that led me here if you're curious:

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