First, let me say I love college football. There is nothing greater than watching a college football game on a Saturday afternoon.
But, as we enter the heart of the college football season I am convinced that top male athletes who are playing football and basketball for “Good old Big U” are really getting screwed. It is almost criminal.
A number of things have arisen in this college football season that have really made me step back and examine exactly how athletes in major sports are just chattel in the big scheme of things. It isn’t a pretty situation.
Take for instance Missouri quarterback James Franklin, who was publicly embarrassed by his head coach Gary Pinkel last month because he refused to take a cortisone shot to numb the pain in his shoulder. Keep in mind, this is a coach who iced his own kicker last season, got a DUI in the off-season and is not exactly considered a paragon of virtue.
Thanks to Pinkel, Franklin was ridiculed in many circles for not being a “team” player. Many said he should have played “through the pain.”
A friend of mine even stated, “Hey, Mizzou is giving him a scholarship. He owes them.”
What a bunch of crap! First, do fans realize players like Franklin really don’t have four-year scholarships? Their scholarships are for one year and must be renewed every season.
If Franklin had played and became too injured to play you can be guaranteed someone at Mizzou will be handing his scholarship to the next guy in line. Without a scholarship many athletes such as Franklin might likely have to drop out of school.
In essence a college athlete can go from a superstar quarterback to college dropout in a few months. Colleges don’t really care. They feel they owe him nothing. He can limp around the rest of his life without a degree and the college really doesn’t care one iota.
What exactly is the value of a scholarship for these guys? It varies. What does it cost a college to have an extra student in a classroom? Not much. Many of their courses are taken on-line, which costs next to nothing.
At best, if an athlete does graduate his degree will likely be in something that will guarantee he is not marketable to anyone in the real world. A degree in recreational science won’t open doors on Wall St.
Keep in mind, the travesty is many of these athletes bring in millions of dollars to their universities. When Brady Quinn was the quarterback at Notre Dame the announcers noted that a single drive versus USC could be worth millions of dollars to the Fighting Irish by guaranteeing a better bowl berth.
The sad part is athletes in the major sports are getting pummeled daily in order to fund virtually all the other scholarships given out—mainly to women’s sports—where absolutely no one cares if the women’s team win, lose or even show up.
Ask yourself: How did the Kansas State women’s rowing team do last year? How about the women’s equestrian team? It is totally out of balance. Male athletes in major sports today carry an unfair burden in order to subsidize all the other “athletes” on campus.
How bad is it for male athletes, many of whom are African-American?
Take a look at Savannah State, the historically black university in Savannah, GA. With a puny enrollment of just 4,300 and a home stadium that rarely fills its 8,500 seats, SSU, a FCS school (lower level) scheduled consecutive road games against major college powerhouses Oklahoma State and Florida State.
The greedy brain trusts at SSU had no problem sending their football team into OSU’s famed Boone Pickens Stadium (60,218) to take on the Cowboys. When the dust cleared Oklahoma State won by an incredible score of 84-0.
The very next week Savannah State traveled to Florida State (capacity 82,300). The gamblers made FSU a 70 ½- point favorite, the most ever for a college game. For those keeping score, that is a 10-plus touchdown favorite!!
SSU lost to Florida State by a 55-0 margin. It would have been much worse except the game was called due to lightning storms with 24 minutes remaining in the second half.
Was it really fair of the administrators at Savannah State to put their players in a position to be seriously hurt by playing a team where they were so totally overmatched? Why would SSU’s athletic director risk severely injuring its players and put them in such a humiliating position? For the money, of course.
For the honor of getting crushed and embarrassed by Oklahoma State SSU took a $385,000 paycheck. FSU paid Savannah $475,000 to kick its butt. SSU’s athletic director originally had his team scheduled to play Northern Iowa instead of Florida State, but that game was only going to pay $150,000, so he dumped NI for a bigger payday.
Did the Savannah State AD or coach or any administrator care if any players got severely injured? Doubtful. They only cared about the money. Did OSU or Florida State worry about playing such a weak opponent? Hell no. It was a guaranteed victory and a packed stadium was like printing money.
The reality today is many athletic directors across the country really don’t give a damn about their male athletes. They are operating a business and the players are simply pawns. And once they bring them these star athletes on campus the athletes are pretty much trapped from ever leaving.
Colleges can pretty much use football and basketball players any way they want. If an athlete is a big enough star the school can use his name and likeness on a variety of items. And the jock is not allowed to receive a penny of that money. He can bring in millions of dollars for his one-year scholarship.
I’ve always loved the term “student-athlete” to describe college players. It makes it seem so, well “academic.” It shows the fans that in college you are a student first and an athlete second. It just sounds so enlightened. In reality, it is simply a legal term.
A recent article in the Atlantic Monthly pointed out the NCAA came up with the term “student-athlete” in the 1950’s after the widow of player killed playing college football tried to collect Workers’ Compensation benefits. The court ruled in favor of the university since the college “was not in the business of football.”
In 1974 a Texas Christian University athlete was paralyzed in a game against Alabama. TCU paid his medical bills for nine months and then stopped. TCU won in court again because he was not considered a paid employee at the school. He was simply an “athlete.”
“Today, the term “student-athlete” is intended to carry with it the nobility of amateur athletics that the NCAA epitomizes,” wrote Taylor Branch in The Atlantic. “Originally? It was a good protection for keeping those carried off the field from suing the schools.”
Tulane’s Devon Walker suffered a broken neck and collapsed lung this year in a game against Tulsa. Anyone taking bets how he will be compensated after the initial publicity of his injury fades away? Remember, he is really just a “student-athlete” and not an employee.
With TV contracts for college football and basketball now hitting the billion dollar mark it is high time that those athletes who are risking life and limb start to be compensated fairly. These players are being taken advantage of by athletic directors, coaches, administration, TV networks, bookmakers, etc., in ways never imagined. They are the ones earning the billions of dollars for their schools.
It is an absolute travesty that the ones who are putting it on the line every week for good old “Screw U” and ever-increasing TV ratings are the only ones getting screwed in the process. In fact, it is criminal.
(Bottom Line’s John Landsberg is a featured columnist for Kansas City Sports & Fitness magazine. This is his Oct. 2012 column.)