Between the NCAA's shameful, money-grubbing use of the Jerry Dome for the men's basketball finals ("Hey, let's play football in the Grand Canyon -- it will seat millions!!!"), the potential of a labor union for college athletes and the very real probability that all five of Kentucky's starting five will go pro (again), there are lots of voices opining about college sports these days. But, sadly, one has been missing. Mine.
Let's make one thing clear right up front. "Student athlete" is by-and-large an oxymoron. At least as it pertains to participants in the money sports (whose revenue supports all the rest of the teams on campus). Although you are lured in the recruiting process with the notion of an education in exchange for ball playing, the fact is that once you are on campus, not a soul cares whether you get an education. Yes, lots is done to keep you academically eligible -- from North Carolina's famous phantom black studies classes to "tutors" who can not only teach but actually do the papers for you. Frankly, you are not there to learn. You are there to play.
There is a caste system in college sports. How well you are treated is directly related to how well you play. If you are at the lower end of performance expectations, everything from your medical care to your relationship with coaches will be profoundly different than the upper echelon of teammates. The difference between appearing in a top-tier college football bowl and one of the far-too-many bottom-tier bowls is about $15 million. Coaches don't care two shits about you -- if you are learning anything or if you are hobbled for life with injuries -- if you can't help get them into the money games. That is really what is behind the player's union: fairer treatment now and when your college days are over.
I'm not buying that pinko notion that sports uplifts the disenfranchised and provides them with an education and a shot at the pros. For everyone that makes it to the show, there are hundreds more (who did NOT get an education because it was an impediment to their ball playing or they never belonged in college in the first place) who will end up as assistant high school football coaches or selling cars. And if they are former football players, will have to deal with a lifetime of medical costs related to injuries poorly treated in their playing days. Another reason to unionize.
While I think it would be extraordinarily difficult to create a system that fairly compensates players for the revenue and notoriety their efforts bring to the schools, some of that income should be set aside to pay for post-graduate (or dropout) medical costs. Or enrollment in technical schools where ex-players might actually learn a trade.
Yes, there are those precious few players who actually learn something and go on to careers in business or professional life (I like to think I was one), but for the vast majority, they live the lives of indentured servitude without much to show afterwards other than scars and memories.