EDITORIAL Student-athletes often students in name only

August 9, 2017
Jim McNutt/Observer-Reporter Exterior of the Observer-Reporter building in Washington.

“Look, football and school don’t go together. They just don’t. Trying to do both is like trying to do two full-time jobs.”

Those are the words of UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, in a recent interview with Bleacher Report. The subject of compatibility of major-college football and academics came up when Rosen was asked whether a shoulder injury that caused him to miss the second half of last season had allowed him to catch up on his studies. It didn’t, he said, and this spring, when the economics major had a class he needed to take, he was unable to schedule it because it conflicted with his football duties.

Writer Nick Bromberg, in a column for Yahoo Sports about Rosen’s comments, noted that the so-called Power Five football conferences approved a rule earlier this year that prohibits athletic-related sessions – whether they be practices, conditioning or weightlifting – between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. In other words, not much more time than is needed to get eight hours of sleep.

Bromberg’s column also noted that the NCAA has put a 20-hour-a-week cap on “sport-specific” activities for athletes during their respective seasons, but here’s the loophole: “Voluntary” weight-room programs and other such sessions don’t count toward that limit. Also, a travel day for athletes before a game can be counted as their mandated day off for that particular week.

Bromberg cites a PAC-12 conference survey of athletes a couple of years ago that found they spend an average of 50 hours a week on their sports and often are “too exhausted to study effectively.”

Clearly, we’ve gotten to the point with big-time college sports programs that the “athlete” part of student-athlete is the part that matters most. When college football was in its infancy in the late 1800s, it was something students did in their spare time. As years passed, football become more and more important – and lucrative – at major colleges, and by the time billions in television money started rolling in, the horse already was out of the barn when it came to prioritizing sports at the expense not only of academics, but of a school’s mission and its reputation.

One needs look just to the east of us to see a school that is the poster child for what happens when a major athletic program is allowed to control a university and, ultimately, to open it to public wrath and ridicule. We are, of course, speaking of Penn State, where legendary coach Joe Paterno and other top officials looked the other way while Jerry Sandusky was sexually abusing children.

UCLA’s Rosen, in his interview with Bleacher Report, also pointed to another problem that arises when sports are placed ahead of the true purpose of our institutions of higher learning.

“There are guys who have no business being in school, but they’re here because this is the path to the NFL. There’s no other way,” said Rosen. “Then there’s the side that says raise the SAT eligibility requirements. OK, raise the SAT requirement at Alabama and see what kind of team they have. You lose athletes, and then the product on the field suffers.”

Alabama, of course, is the pre-eminent program in college football. The Crimson Tide’s coach, Nick Saban, signed a new deal in May that will pay him more than $11 million this year and runs through 2024. The school’s president, Stuart R. Bell, was hired in 2015 at a salary of $565,000. That’s not only just a fraction of what Saban makes; it’s considerably less than the $1.3 million annual salary of Saban’s defensive coordinator, Jeremy Pruitt. Yes, an assistant football coach makes much more than the president of the university. That really tells us all we need to know about where the power lies at our major colleges and universities today.

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