What if we’re asking the wrong questions about amateurism?

A sports historian at Arizona State University, who’s also a former NCAA champion and retired professional runner, thinks we should be asking this instead:

Are schools failing in their educational mission to develop brains and bodies? In other words, should schools even be in the sports business? And, more tragically, why have we been allowing them to get away with horrible business practices?

Considering Christion Abercrombie and Jordan McNair, do schools value football players’ lives?

Considering the FBI probe into college basketball, do schools, the NCAA – even the federal government – care more about policing amateurism than they do about ensuring athletes receive the world-class educational experiences they’ve been promised?

Considering the stories of decades of abuse emerging from multiple campuses, do schools care more about the negative PR of a publicly-exposed scandal than the well-being of the athletes they’re supposedly serving?

I can’t say I agree with everything she writes, but I do think those questions do a good job of framing the way the schools and the NCAA try to have it both ways.  Food for thought.


Filed under Academics? Academics., The NCAA

16 responses to “What if we’re asking the wrong questions about amateurism?

  1. Derek

    The problem is mutual exploitation. Kids skate in, skate through, all the while thinking they’re gonna make the big bucks at the next level tomorrow. Schools pass unqualified students, who can play, through while cashing checks today.

    The problem is that so few actually make it in pro football and too few have the tools to fully realize the educational opportunity presented. If we simply prioritized accepting qualified kids in the beginning and emphasized education first, sports second the model would be fine. I don’t think the problem is that the sport is too popular.

    If the same or similar revenue were generated by “real” students, no one would see an issue with coaches salaries or ticket prices. When you’re using kids and convincing them of 2 lies: nfl riches & quality education to squeeze out that revenue, it’s patently wrong.

    I watched a little bit of an Ivy League game on tv recently and I have to say that the idea that your average fan would say: I’m not pulling for Georgia they’re not athletic enough is just absurd. Fans understand how to read the scoreboard and they know who thier team is. If the quality of players mattered wouldn’t it be more expensive to watch the falcons than the bulldogs?

    Up the entrance standards. Make the poor and average students go the juco route to prove they want the education. If they don’t, some agent can sign them out of juco, pay to train them for a year and put them in the draft. (Chances are high that the nfl would change the draft eligibility rules under this scenario.) Encourage high schools to ensure their students have a chance to play big time college ball straight out of high school rather than coddling (failing) them.

    Look at the academics of the non-revenue generating sports. Typically soccer players and cross country runners etc.., well out perform the student body in academics. There’s no reason that can’t also be true in football and basketball. It’s simply a matter of disinterest in these kids well-being now and in the future.

    Trent Thompson is a perfect poster child for the problem. Everyone around him thought football was enough. Turns out it wasn’t. Where is that kid now? Probably totally fucked by a system that didn’t care about the person, only what he could do between the lines.

    It’s a constant amazement to me that people find excuses to not do the right thing when just doing things the right way will solve so many wrongs. Expediency isn’t a value, it’s a lame and dangerous excuse.


    • JCDawg83

      I rarely agree with you on anything but I fully agree on this. Make the players have to be accepted to the school under the same entrance requirements as other students before they can enroll and be on the team. Phase it in over 4 years or so to give the middle schools and high schools time to adjust to not coddling the star athlete and passing him through so he can go on to pro sports glory. It would also allow time for the kids to realize they can’t skate by on their athletic ability alone.

      The NFL would change their age limit rules overnight and so would the NBA.


    • South FL Dawg

      It’s very hard to force people to do that right thing, but we should at least try to keep them from getting away with wrong things.

      To me it isn’t wrong for universities to create a revenue stream from their athletic programs ….as long as they put it towards their educational mission. Put it this way, the university has to raise funds somehow, and football games bring in more than bake sales and car washes. The problem is that most of the money is not going to the educational mission.

      To your point about the entrance standards, I used to think “don’t let them in” but I changed a long time ago. The reason is that accepting these students is the price of admission. If you don’t accept them, you wouldn’t be able to compete at the level where the big revenue is. However, I do agree with you that once accepted, many of these players are owed more than they’re getting now. So that needs to be addressed.

      I would really like to see the tax exemption taken away from athletic associations. If what they say is true that they don’t make a profit, it shouldn’t be a big deal. Even if there is a profit, they would still get a tax deduction for expenses and could make a charitable donation to further cut down on taxable income. I’m not saying that this will fix everything, but they are trying to have it both ways.


      • In a world where one big program goes cavalier, like a 2018 version of Sewanee leaving the SEC to deemphasize football, then yeah the premise of falling revenue because of competitive disadvantage is absolutely true. I think the discussion is more about system wide changes. If every athlete, at every SEC school, had to qualify under the same admissions standards as regular students at that University, the competitive playing field would remain balanced (insert Auburn admissions joke).

        Given the very valid point (above) about how, if on field talent was the major determining factor, then demand for NFL games should easily exceed collegiate games. It’s probably naïve to think that 93,000 people would show up to see an extensively less talented UGA football team. But with 89 years of Sanford Stadium tradition under our belts, could I see 60,000 people show up regularly in a decreased, all-suite / box seated Sanford Stadium to see Hudson Prather as the starting tailback ? Yes.


        • Mayor

          They show up in droves for Ivy League games.


        • JCDawg83

          The rule change would have to be NCAA wide. I still think Sanford would be full for the games and I also think the luxury suite thing would be in much smaller demand. I could easily see 93,000 fans paying $20 a ticket with a very small contribution requirement for renewable season tickets to see a less talented Georgia team.


          • South FL Dawg

            I don’t see how you can control this at an NCAA level because every school has its own admissions standards.

            But even if you could somehow get every university in the land to agree to only accept athletes that would get in anyway if they were not athletes, this would be like cutting off your nose to spite your face. If the arrangement worked the way it’s supposed to, everybody would win. The athletes would have access to a better university that they could not otherwise get into, while the university would get to generate revenue that it can use for the benefit of the entire university community.

            Let them in, but make sure they have the support to make it through. They are not going to graduate in brain surgery but they should be able to complete a real course of study and not get credit for sham classes like what happened at North Carolina. Then, take the money that is being generated from competing at the highest level and give most of it back to the university.

            I was one who thought players getting a scholarship was enough….but no longer. Every year there is more money, and every year there is more being siphoned to pay a few individuals. It’s not even just for salaries anymore but buyouts. So to me the problem is how the money is being spent.


    • DawgFlan

      You have several great points, but I think there needs to be more nuance.

      Most public universities already have sliding scales for accepting great talent (musicians, artists, coders, etc.) and for diversity (legacies, minorities, rural counties, etc.). It’s all part of creating a rich learning environment, and one that competes across all levels. I have no problem with this, and feel the same for athletes.

      For every Trenton Thompson tragedy, there is a Malcolm Mitchell success.

      Without the current minimum standards requirements, conferences would have to be completely realigned based on academic tiers. (Auburn v. Georgia would likely turn into Auburn v. Georgia Southern.)

      Alternately, you would just be passing the likelihood of corruption and mismanagement downstream through grade inflation, test takers, etc.

      On the NCAA side, I’m a pay the players for name/image/likeness guy and would be happy to blow up the current model of amateurism on that front, but on academic standards I’m in favor of the current incrementalism for raising entrance requirements.

      On the college/university side, there should be MUCH higher standards and enforcement in place for maximizing the athlete’s educational experience while there. Scholarships should be extend in perpetuity for athletes to be able to finish school if/when their playing career ends. Ban one-and-done on the basketball side.


      • JCDawg83

        It seems to me you want a minor league NFL system. You want the players to be paid, which makes them professional athletes. Raise the entrance requirements and the NFL and NBA would start farm systems almost overnight. I’d be fine with that and let colleges be more like high schools in who the players are.

        I wholeheartedly disagree about scholarships in perpetuity. Basic economics tells us that scarcity makes a product more valuable. A scholarship that never went away would have very little value. Let the athlete know if he leaves the team, he leaves the scholarship. If a student on academic scholarship leaves school to pursue a business venture and decides years later to return to school, the scholarship is not sitting there waiting on him/her. College sports are not some sort of social program designed to allow marginal students an opportunity to get college degrees. The premise of athletic scholarships is simple; we will pay for your education because you have value to our ____________ team. If the athlete no longer has value to the team he/she should not be receiving an athletic scholarship. The exception to this should only be if the athlete is injured while playing the sport and cannot continue to play.


        • DawgFlan

          Well, I definitely don’t want a minor league team, I just want the same rules to apply across the student population. While in school, a business major can start a business, a communications major can start a youtube channel, an art major can sell a painting, a computer major can develop and sell an app – an athlete should be able to get royalties on signatures, jersey sales, pictures, and digital likeness used for commercial (not promotional) purposes.

          On scholarships, maybe perpetuity is the wrong word, or even the wrong concept. A major university degree is just so valuable across a lifetime, and the average professional athlete career is so short, that it is part of the dilemma in selling kids on both an education and a pathway to the pros, but if you go pro your on your own. Maybe if they make to the NFL/NBA etc. they will have the money to finish school on their own coin, but minor/Euro league and practice squad players don’t make a lot. Anecdotally, I took a year off from UGA to pursue a professional opportunity not affiliated in any way with the school, but my UGA scholarships were all in place when I returned, so it is a thing. I definitely agree with you on medical disqualification.

          Public colleges and universities absolutely ARE a very large sort of social program. And back to my first point, schools have always recognized that marginal when it comes to SAT/ACT and GPA does not equal marginally talented, marginally creative, marginally entrepreneurial, marginally skilled, marginally connected, etc. Schools are looking to create the strongest student body across all these categories and more.


      • Anonymous

        Not to shit on a DGD like Malcolm Mitchell, but his “success story” was that he learned to read at an adult level while in college and only did so because after an ACL tear got him to put his priority in order instead of planning on going pro after his Junior year. Mitchell has admitted that he read at a 6th or 7th grade level when he arrived at college. That is probably better than average for scholarship football players. That means they have to take remedial-remedial English to prepare them to take remedial-English. This should be a national embarrassment.


  2. JCDawg83

    College sports are starting to have a feel of being a universe unto themselves and not a part of the overall college world. The facilities for revenue sport athletes and venues for those sports are almost obscene in their lavishness when one considers they are for amateur sport atletes and games. The athletes playing revenue sports live lives that are almost completely separate from the other students and have access to facilities and resources no other students have. The “college experience” of a football or basketball player will have almost nothing in common with the regular student. I cannot help but wonder if we are seeing the peak of college sports.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mayor

    We are so far away from the concept of student athlete that was the original model for the NCAA it’s a joke. It is pro football without the players getting paid. D-III is the only one left that is really amateur and it’s corrupted too be recruiting and playing fast and loose with “academic” scholarships.


    • Tronan

      You make an interesting point about D-III “not” giving out athletic scholarships. I went to a D-III school my freshman year, before transferring to UGA. My roommate at the former was a pretty good high school LB but wasn’t big or fast enough enough to play D-I. The D-III school was interested in him but it cost more than his folks could afford and his academics were a bit below what the school normally accepted. But, the football team had a void at LB, so they gave him 50% off tuition (including room & board), which he and his parents gladly accepted. I’ve never begrudged him the favorable treatment, but naive as I was at 18, was surprised that not all “academic” scholarships were really for academic merit.


      • South FL Dawg

        Good story and it just shows that when the scholarship is awarded by the school as opposed to a third party, there’s usually a twist. Your roommate was probably the best combination of academics and athletics they could find, and the only way they could get him was by helping him out, so they did.

        It happens with jobs too where the chosen candidate is often not the one with the best technical skills, but rather the one with the best combination of technical and people skills, for example.