In this edition of “Beneath the Surface” Adam Crawford looks at what we’re missing from college athletics.
Beneath the Surface is peeling back the layers of this onion we call sports.
When I was a student at Kentucky, college athletics was about school pride. It was about watching my Wildcats win basketball games and beat the number one ranked LSU in 2007 as Commonwealth Stadium nearly collapsed on it’s 70,000 plus fans.
But sadly it’s not the truth. It’s about revenue for the school administration and coaches. I’m afraid that the real purpose of college athletics is lost, and we’re not taking care of those who earn the revenue.
This is no surprise to anyone. We sit on our couch and watch bowl games all through the winter. We are glued to our television in March as 12 seeds upset 5 seeds. And yet we wonder what in the world is wrong when schools like UNC-Chapel Hill get blistered for setting up fake classes.
And such is the paradox of college athletics.
The New York Times published an article excoriating University of Kentucky Head Coach, John Calipari, after UMass announced it was going to honor its former coach with a retired jersey for his 1996 Final Four appearance. It’s the only such appearance in school history, exempt for the fact that it doesn’t officially exist. It was vacated, because players on the roster were determined to have been academically ineligible. Calipari was found to be guilt-free in the ensuing investigation.
Ten years later, Calipari found himself at Memphis with a young Derrick Rose on his team. Again he led his team to the Final Four only to have that accolade vacated because Rose allegedly had someone else take his SAT for him. Academically ineligible, Rose went to the NBA. Coach Cal was hired for the open position at Kentucky.
Competing interests in college sports create this tightrope for all involved. Most would argue, for sake of the athletes, the importance of academics is impossible to quantify and therefore should be the undeniable focus. But for the school, revenue from its top earning sport is required for the other sports to even exist, so academically ineligible players are really bad for business.
For a school like UNC-Chapel hill, a scandal uncovering fake classes degrades the experience of athletes of teams past. But what it does even more so is degrade the validity of an education that players who did not receive a scholarship had to pay for.
College athletics for a select few is less about education and more about getting to the next level. There was no question, barring a career ending injury, that Anthony Davis would be a first round pick. And he was.
There was no question that his one-year of college was simply a stepping-stone required after 2003 because he couldn’t jump straight to the NBA.
Undoubtedly some schools look at this question differently. Schools like Harvard and Yale don’t struggle with the academic eligibility because it’s clear standards of academic achievement are of the utmost importance. They don’t need the revenue of sports to continue fostering an environment of greatness.
Auburn, however, is on the opposite side of the coin. The athletic program, football in particular, is the only reason many people know the school exists. And if people don’t know the school exists then it can’t increase enrollment.
The point of college athletics has never been more in question. Jim Boeheim has potentially disgraced his legacy at Syracuse due to a smorgasbord of infractions ranging from forged class work to lenient drug policy enforcement. All in the name of winning basketball games, which is all in the name of increasing revenue.
It’s been a debate for years about whether schools should pay college athletes because the schools are making so much money off of their sport. I take offense to the idea for two reasons.
- Kentucky Football players on scholarship receive free tuition, room and board, and get a monthly stipend in the range of $900.
- As a member of Army ROTC, I received tuition (they now offer room and board as well) and the highest monthly stipend I received was $500 for my senior year. Along with that was a requirement to serve in the Army for four years.
A year’s worth of out of state tuition for Kentucky will cost a student over $22,000 not including room and board. These athletes on scholarship get paid more money in the form of tuition and stipend than a Soldier with a rank of E-4 in the military. They also get the benefit of college education.
The purpose of college athletics is to reward those willing to put in the work and who have special talent with an education they may not have been able to acquire through other means. It’s to put a group of kids on a field or court and let them represent the values of their school with pride. It’s to turn kids into adults through values of discipline, sportsmanship, and work ethic. The purpose of college sports is not to increase revenue. That’s the by-product of a good sports program.
The purpose of college sports is not to get to the professional level. Professional sports is a by-product of the values outlined above coupled with incredible talent. Many of our country’s men in particular feel like if they’re good at a sport they don’t need to be well educated. They feel as if they can just make it to the NBA or the NFL then everything will be fine. But therein lies the problem. There are 400,000 NCAA athletes. 395,000 of them will never get paid to play their sport.
There has to be some sort of change.
Until we are able to truly understand that college sports aren’t about money there will be scandals. There will be teams finding loopholes in the system. And there will be coaches, players, and administrations that break the rules.
It’s not only about taking classes and it’s not only about shooting 70 percent from the free throw line. Education is a process to build independence and foster good decision-making.
That’s the real purpose of college athletics. Turning kids into grown ups.
That’s what it takes to be a good student and a good athlete. It’s also what it takes to be a good person and a good citizen. This is the purpose of college athletics.
We just don’t seem to realize it.