Monday, November 28, 2011

Op-Ed on the Concept of the Student-Athlete

When I signed up to tutor student-athletes at the age of eighteen at Temple I was handed a paper to sign. The paper listed a bunch of rules and regulations on the sheet. I don't remember them all, but I remember there was a list of things you couldn't give a student-athlete including birthday cards. Weary of creating an NCAA violation I asked a girl in my class for a book I lent her back because she was on the volleyball team. I felt silly asking for it back, but at the time I took my job seriously. My boss told me that they never really hire incoming freshman, so I felt like I was being given an opportunity that normally wouldn't exist. I tried my best to led many student-athletes to a path of achieving a good education. Sometimes this meant going above and beyond simply checking their work. I created practice exams and even entertained group tutoring sessions in study hall. Sometimes though I think I was too helpful, as one time a football player tried to tell people he had a 24 hour tutor. Because the guy was for the most part nice and respectful, I laughed it off and treated it like a joke. I was dedicated though because as much as I believed in my own ability to be successful I also believed in other's ability just as much.

Not only did I try to do the best job possible, I also loved it. I grew up loving sports and being a part of the athletic program at Temple made me feel like I was a part of something. Plus being a tutor allowed some insight into the world of college athletics - especially one of the money making sports - football, as I primarily worked with the football team. Even at a school where college athletics isn't a big time program priorities still remained on sports for certain students, while academic concerns were a facade. I remember during spring practice for football the coach called out players for their outstanding work on the practice field. What the coach failed to realize or cared to realize was that some of the players he rewarded with acknowledgement were barely staying eligible. In fact some of them were on their way out the door thanks to Temple's deficiency point system and NCAA academic standards. And many of the players had complaints about the requirements and the lack of help their football status was giving them. Some were mad that their coach didn't have more relationships with professors to give them passing grades. One player complained that no one was checking up on his attendance in class. Another player said the deficiency point program was created to target and rid the school of football players. Many of these players failed to take responsibility for their own actions. Many failed at school. And although I cannot defend these players inability to study and do the work on their own, I think part of the blame lies with the NCAA and athletic departments and universities themselves for creating a culture of entitlement and power. Many of these players felt that because they were Division I football players they deserved to be treated the stereotypical way other athletes in Division I football were treated - the rumored preferential treatments of the players at places like USC, Notre Dame, etc.

And the rumors have proven to be true often. But the truth goes beyond the rumors. Not only are players and coaches aware of preferential treatment there appears to be a vow of silence among schools to keep what they know to themselves no matter how wrong the information is. I've heard rumors of a lack of warning for positive drug testing, players passing course work down from team member to team member, etc. Coaches know what goes on, but they pretend not to hear. They don't want to out their players and have problems with winning on the field. They ignore the practices that are harming the student, but propelling the athlete. We've seen these actions at Miami and Ohio State. They are disappointing and unfair to the people that played by the rules. The rules everyone, even myself pledged to follow. And what does the NCAA due with such violation of rules, they decide how best to handle it without causing themselves any undue hardship - which means so it has as little impact on their money as possible. It was always funny the OSU players got to the play in the bowl game last year, but if they returned they would be punished. Does that sentence really seem to be for the student-athlete? It appears to create a disincentive to return to college and head off to the NFL, where not everyone makes it and most of the contract money isn't guaranteed.

I think the NCAA and college athletic departments miss their marks often. I care about the student part of the student-athlete. But my arguments in this debate on the concept of the student-athlete aren't often understood or heard because the NCAA and college athletic departments don't seem to care about the student-athlete. Sure they have rules, but some of these rules seem more like an exercise of power rather than putting the student first and giving these students a chance to make something of themselves other than athletes.

Of course there are always exceptions to these ideas. There are obviously some places that do focus on the building of young people's character and propelling them for the future. For example, at my Alma Mater John Chaney had a history of taking local kids onto this basketball team. Sure they were still talented, but they weren't the top recruits necessarily. He invested in the whole person, not just the talent. All coaches, athletic departments, and the almighty self governing NCAA need to be on the same page, especially when it comes to athletes of the two big money making sports - football and basketball. There are only so many spots in the NBA and NFL and I've heard too many guys talk about how they should be in the league, are going to make it in the league, and deserved to be in the league. I don't discourage their dreams. I think dreams are a crucial part of life, but I do encourage plan B - when handed a free education take advantage of it. And I encourage that they surround themselves with people that only believe in their potential on the field, but off the field and this group of people should include their coaches and other parties guiding their athletic opportunities. I know I did my part. I'm happy to say I positively affected at least a few people's educational aspirations.

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