The Plight of the College Athlete

Irvin Muchnick in BeyondChron provides a necessary reminder of the business of NCAA scholarships:

Most fans mistakenly believe athletic “scholarships” – the very word is an Orwellian perversion – have four-year terms. Not so, Huma points out: “The NCAA only allows year-to-year scholarships. At the end of a scholarship year, a coach can take the scholarship away from a player for any reason, including permanent injury.” You can’t accuse them of reneging; the agreement is explicitly worded to permit the institution, at its sole discretion and convenience, to yank the scholarship out from under the recipient like a hook rug.

For whatever reason, the exploitation of the college athlete tends to pass under the radar. Keep in mind that college athletics is wildly profitable–consider, for instance, the 2007-08 budgeted revenues reported by the NCAA:





As you know, college athletes get not a dime of the $600 million-plus (conservative estimate) that the NCAA makes each year. And those figures, of course, don’t account for the billions of dollars that individual athletic programs take in. But the NCAA is about education rather than money, right?

The poor graduation rates are, to be sure, partly the fault of the athletes, but the system bears a great deal of the blame. After all, when the NCAA allows more in-season practice hours per week (20) than a student spends in the classroom, it’s a mixed message, to say the least. And it goes without saying that those rules are routinely flouted, particularly in the ”football/basketball factory” environments. The overwhelming majority of college athletic programs aren’t gateways to higher education; they’re profitable commercial enterprises that pay neither taxes nor their labor force.

And then you have the NBA and NFL, which see the college programs as free proving grounds and, accordingly, artificially restrict access to their ranks. The NBA requires draftees to be one year removed from high school and at least 19 years of age. In essence, they must spend a year in college (regrettably, the Brandon Jennings experiment isn’t working out so well), risking injury and squandering a year of earnings.  And before signing with an NFL team, a player must be out of high school for at least three years. (Also worth noting: Less than one percent of college football players will go on to toil for the only major professional sports league to have a salary cap and no guaranteed contracts.)

So what’s a young athlete to do? There’s really only one choice: Go to college, enrich that college, make no money, tempt injury, almost certainly never make the pros, have less time for academics than his/her peers, and–as Muchnick reminds us–possibly get that scholarship revoked without explanation.

If Upton Sinclair were still around, he’d probably write a book about it.



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7 responses to “The Plight of the College Athlete

  1. Pingback: The dish » Blog Archive » March Maidens.

  2. Kevin S.

    Well, they do get a small stipend. Still, it’s the labor practices reminiscent of the Lowell spinsters, and not the BCS, that should have Congress reviewing the NCAA’s anti-trust exemption.

  3. daynperry

    Hey, Kevin-

    Agreed. It’s ridiculous that there’s much more righteous outrage directed toward the BCS than there is toward the exploitation of amateur athletes.

  4. Dayn,

    How do you detach the wordpress addendum to your URL?

  5. Pingback: More on College Athletes « SPOLITICAL

  6. daynperry


    Maybe this link will explain it:

  7. I’m curious if ever the Cold temperature around the northern half of the world is considered to be due to the lesser sunspot action, if a sustained level of fallen sunspot activity would expect to change this speed of global heating.

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