The Widening Gap Between “Student” and “Athlete” in College Sports Today
There is a lot of criticism when it comes to the caliber and type of “student” NCAA college football and basketball coaches recruit these days, with many feeling that athletic talents far outweighs anything the student is capable of accomplishing in the classroom. Of course, this complaint has been made for many years and is nothing new in college sports, but the gap between athletic abilities and academic potential might never have been as glaringly wide as it is today.
A generation ago, when the money in college sports was a mere fraction of what it is today, most college teams were comprised of student athletes who better understood the academic obligations of college, as well as the responsibilities expected when it came to their behaviors off the field. Sure, there were still some student athletes who failed courses and got into trouble with the law — but those figures paled in comparison to what college athletic departments deal with today. In fact, most big colleges across the country have actually beefed up their academic advising personnel significantly in recent years in order to respond to, well, simply keeping kids eligible.
The inevitable question, then, is why is there so much of a need to simply keep student athletes eligible, when they should be vetted properly in the first place as it applies to their interest and abilities in completing the required academic work that all college students are expected to complete? Either students across the country are seeing more failing grades and violations with the law, or student athletes are becoming vastly different than the former student athlete prototype that once existed. My “wild guess” is it’s the second reason.
Money over Integrity
As the money continues to pour in the college athletic departments, college presidents have failed (and continue to fail) when it comes to maintaining the integrity of their respective universities. Athletic departments are regularly given every break possible, and enormous amounts of financial resources are devoted to these athletic departments to simply keep their prized products — the student athletes — eligible. College football and basketball coaches aren’t helping, either, as they are fully aware of the value of recruiting talented athletes – regardless of whether they have any ability or potential to succeed with college academics. The result of this new model is a decaying of the value of a college education, especially as it applies to the millions of proud college degree holders who hail from football and basketball powerhouse “schools.”
As an alum of Ohio State, I both cringed and sat in amazement when I heard OSU president Gordon Gee utter the now infamous “I just hope the football coach (Tressel) doesn’t fire me” desperation plea. Was this a joke, or a Freudian slip of the tongue? I know one thing, I have received more than my fair share of jokes about Gee’s plea from friends of mine around the country who couldn’t believe what they heard from the OSU president. Is this what I want people to think of my education from OSU? Hardly.
The current NCAA athletic model will not be able to sustain itself in the future, not so long as college coaches are making millions of dollars and athletic revenues continue to be prized more than other academic pursuits. Assuming college sports will stay with the model that is currently in place for as long as humanly possible, we can only expect there to be even more questionable recruiting of “student” athletes with little interest or potential ability to succeed in the classroom, or commitment to stay out of trouble off the field. What this means is more issues with eligibility, more suspensions of players and coaches, more fines for universities, and sadly, more insincere talk from college presidents and the NCAA about the importance of academics over athletics.
As Al Davis once said, “Just win, baby.” Amazingly, college presidents have bought into this motto hook, line, and sinker, completely disregarding the former value of the education their universities once promoted in sell-out moves to protect the “integrity” of college sports. As other non-athlete students at universities nationwide struggle to make it to class, turn in their papers on time, and score well on their exams, student athletes are being worked with by legions of helping professionals at their beckoning call to make sure they get the minimum required scores to stay eligible. Is that what colleges are about? I understand that as fans we want the best product on the field, but do we really want this type of student athlete when it so terribly compromises the values of higher education?
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Dr. Chris Stankovich is a Professional Athletic Counselor and Sport Performance Scientist and studies the psychosocial variables impacting human performance and success. He is the author of 5 books and has had his work featured in numerous national media outlets, including USA Today and ABC World News. Dr. Stankovich is known as "The Sports Doc" for his regular television feature on Ohio News Network and NBC 4 Columbus (OH). For more information on peak performance products, speaking engagements, training seminars, and free education downloads, please visit http://www.drstankovich.com.