In recent years several noteworthy trends have developed in college sports to the traditional revenue sports, football and basketball. D1 coaches are making exponentially more money in salary and benefits annually, major universities are spending money like never before on training facilitates, and more student athletes are caught in the cross-hairs of trying to simply stay eligible so that they may later have a chance at playing professional sports. Where aspects of the current “amateur” model of college sports gets slimy are when student athletes and universities are exposed breaking rules and throwing integrity out the window in attempts to keep star players eligible, thereby generating the dollars needed to pay football and basketball coaches millions of dollars a year, pay off huge debt to facility construction, and create a winner on the field that strengthens branding and moves team products off the shelves at record rates. Student athletes make all of this go, but there is always the looming burden of simply staying eligible.
The main problem with the current college model lies at the heart of it, where increasingly more talented athletes are forced to major in anything to simply to stay eligible. But what about student athletes who could care less about being a student, or don’t find much worth being in a “dummy major” that even they know won’t lead to many job opportunities? And what about the professors, advisors, mentors, and support staff who have their values and integrity regularly compromised trying to do anything they can to keep star athletes eligible, and thereby allowing the entire college athletic fiscal model to thrive? As the dollars become bigger more athletes are downplaying the value of academics, and more otherwise upstanding college personnel are put in positions that challenge their character and integrity.
The Amateur/Pro sports model
Apparently there may be an answer to these problems on the horizon. A new minor-league football system is developing that will allow talented football players not interested in college to work on their craft and attempt to make it to the NFL — but without the traditional academic parameters and restraints on the current NCAA model of eligibility.
Whether the new Pacific Pro Football League makes it might not be the real story here, as odds are against them being able to quickly find the market share needed to survive. What is really interesting, however, is that we may be near a tipping point in college sports because of the factors I just mentioned, and if this league doesn’t work out it’s likely that additional, non-traditional ideas probably aren’t far behind.
“Student” athlete conundrums
Many student athletes began to minimize the value of a college education when they saw for their own eyes how lucrative sports have become — for the coaches, universities, the NCAA, and other ancillary personnel attached the program (everybody but them, ironically). The problem, however, has been that the talent that makes it all go — the student athletes — have been tied to classes and academic requirements they aren’t interested in, much less committed to keeping. These young men are not anti-academics necessarily, but instead left to wonder how majoring in general studies will ever come close to the money they can earn in the NFL? And if this is true, why adhere to the rules governing college sports — herein is where leagues like the Pacific Pro Football League may have found an important opening.
Colleges will likely have little interest in supporting these types of leagues, as the same star athletes who might choose these leagues over colleges are the very assets colleges have used for massive financial gain. But these leagues make a lot of sense when you think about it. Why should we require 18-22 year old men to have to take classes and stay eligible when they really only want to play football?? It’s like jamming a square peg in a round hole forcing them to enroll in college when many have little interest in going to college, and don’t value the opportunity to take free or reduced classes as a “trade” for making universities millions of dollars through ticket sales, television revenue, and apparel merchandising.
Regardless of whether you side with colleges for creating a model of wealth by using amateur athletes in the ways they have, or student athletes who are disgruntled by the fact that their payment of reduced or free college classes isn’t fair when compared to how colleges profit, one thing that does seem to gain consensus is that “amateur” college sports today are anything but amateur. Practically speaking, many college coaches today earn more than anyone else on campus (including university presidents), and make more in earnings than even professional coaches! Can you blame student athletes, some literally hanging on week-to-week with bills, becoming upset that they are the ones making all this go yet they are the ones receiving the least in compensation? From this perspective it seemed like only a matter of time before other groups got involved and created ways to focus solely on athletic development without any attachment whatsoever to college classes.
Can traditional amateur sports & new leagues co-exist?
Of course, there are some student athletes (especially in non-revenue sports with no professional league opportunities after college) who attend school and dedicate as much, or more of their effort, to academic success over sport success. In these examples receiving free or partially-reduced classes are a great benefit of being a student athlete, and the trade of sport participation for an education makes perfect sense. But why force other young adults with little interest in college have to “stay eligible” simply to pursue their dream of being a professional athlete — a career completely independent of a college degree anyway? In a way this is like requiring a would-be lawyer to also have to earn a varsity sports letter in order to graduate with the law degree. Hanging an academic requirement over a young man’s head when all he wants to do is become a pro athlete doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense in modern times. At the same, keeping college sports in place for those student athletes who do embrace the school/sports model makes perfect sense, too. Why can’t both exist?
In a previous lifetime the vast majority of student athletes greatly valued their reduced/free college education in exchange for playing sports, but things are different today. As colleges make millions and millions of dollars off student athletes each year, increasingly more student athletes are looking past the education part of the trade and instead focusing more on how to play professional sports. Personally speaking, I wish every student athlete valued their education, but reality has shown me this is not always the case — hence the need to deliver sport opportunities not directly attached to academics.