The Shame of College Sports

College sports are a great American institution; celebrated in prose and song; where in legend hearty student athletes strode across the sporting fields bringing honor and joy to the ivied halls of higher learning. But the reality of college sports is not so romantic.

Consider the players. Once student athletes, many are now athletes who often cannot find the classrooms. There are quality programs such as the military academies and premier schools like Stanford, Duke, Notre Dame and Wake Forest with high graduation rates. There are exceptional individuals as well, for example Myron Rolle strong safety for the University of Florida and a Rhodes Scholar. And analysis shows that graduation rates for student athletes are now the same as for the general population.

But these statistics hide the snake in the grass. Included in the overall athletic statistics are the minor sports, where graduation rates are high. Also added to the mix are the Ivy League schools and other schools that do not offer athletic scholarships. When only major sports at major sports schools are considered, the picture is far less rosy.

Graduation rates for football and basketball players are generally lower and in some cases dismal. The Connecticut men's basketball team has a graduation rate of 25%. Some entire schools are little better. Alabama graduates 44% of its athletes, Minnesota 44%, Georgia 41%, Texas 40% and Arizona 39%.

The question is why school administrations tolerate this. The answer, of course, is money. In 2009 Penn State's football program generated profits of $50 million on revenues of $70 million or a profit of $568,235 per football scholarship after factoring in the cost of the athlete's room and board and 'education'. The PAC-10 has a 12 year TV contract worth $3 billion. This monsoon of money has created a casual relationship with ethics.

Recent well publized scandals have led to the firing of coaches and executives at some of college's preeminent sports programs. The shame is that no action was taken until either media exposure or criminal proceedings had exposed the sordid details.

Thankfully high profile scandals like these, while a bitter condemnation of the ethics of college sports, are rare. What is not so rare is the professionalism of amateur sports. Colleges recruit blue ribbon basketball players they cynically know have no interest in the classroom. They are only playing out their mandatory college year before entering the NBA.

Top rank football players cannot enter the NFL draft for three years after graduation from high-school; which is beneficially for both the NFL and major colleges. The NFL gets three years of minor league instruction for its players at no cost and colleges make money off the players without having to pay them. College athletics has provided free or subsidized education for many athletes who have used it to embark on successful careers.

But consider the 32 athletes selected in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft. Only 12 of them had at least four years at college (and that includes years at junior colleges). Athletes in minor sports live in the general population. In the majors they live in athletic dormitories. In the minor sports they take courses in career building disciplines, in the majors they take courses to maintain eligibility. In the minors the coaching staff holds little sway in academic decisions. In the majors it takes a strong willed academic to derail the gravy train.

At its top level college sports is played by mercenaries who pick the schools that will best launch a professional career not for any academic benefit. Coaches will pay lip service to graduation, but no coach in the history of the major programs has ever been fired for a substandard graduation rate. It is a cynical exercise.

The author, Pitt Griffin, is fascinated by why people make the choices they do, some as common as the food they buy, others as important as the religion (if any) they chose or the politicians they elect.
Arrayed against the individual are businesses, politicians and religious leaders eager to take his money, her vote or his fealty. The author explores their tactics and strategies.
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