Thursday, July 28, 2011

College Football: Refocus on Tassels not Tackles

It's that time of year again.  The smell of freshly cut green grass, the taste of burgers and hot dogs right off the grill, and those thirst quenching sips of beer...all mean college football is back!

Weekends on college campuses between late August and November are glorious and when some of the greatest memories and friendships are made.  

But, the start of the college football season also means another round of the endless debates of whether or not college athletes should get paid.

It makes sense that the issue is most prevalent during this season because college football is, for the majority of Division One schools, the largest source of revenue.  It's a debate worth having, but I must confess, I don't have the answer.  I don't think at this point anyone has an all encompassing solution.  Sure, there are theories and ideas, but each has a wrinkle or two.

The debate continues to grow as each fall passes and a whole new class of athletes gets tide into a twisted scandal.

But, I think we, as sports fans, and Americans, are missing the greater point.


For the most part, I side with those who say that college athletes should get some kind of payment.  The amount of money football and basketball teams on major campuses generate for their schools is astronomical and help finance the rest of the university community.

However,  I also think that many of these STUDENT-athletes often forget that college is a place, first and foremost, for education.  It's where you go to build the foundation for your career.  It's a starting point, not an end.

A-A-U programs and Elite Camps are setting a dangerous precedent.   Athletics are no longer seen as extra curricular activities.  From the first sign a kid might have the ability to run a 4.4 40-yard dash or dunk a basketball, they are trained and pushed to pursue a career in sports.  At a young age, their sport becomes their job.

How sad.

About 55-percent of college football players are minorities and that number is even greater in college basketball where about 70-percent of athletes are non-white.

Steelers Safety Troy Polamalu
The Pew Research Center released a report this week that finds the median wealth (assets minus debt) of white families is, on average, 20 times that of black families and 18 times greater than Hispanic homes.

Where there is wealth, there is often better educational opportunities.

I'm not saying every minority athlete is poor and uneducated and I'm not saying that every white player is rich and a Rhodes Scholar.

But these statistics are alarming.  Many minority kids who excel in sports are told to focus on becoming the next Kobe or Barry Sanders because it's a way out of challenging financial situations.  They are told that if you can catch touchdowns or put up triple-doubles you can make millions.  The part of the story that is often left out is that only a minute percentage of those that play any sport actually get to the pros.

These kids are being encouraged to put all their eggs into one helmet.

Instead of preaching to youths who show athletic promise that sports are a means to an end, we, as a society, should encourage them to use sports as a tool to open, and eventually walk through, doors that they may not have ever considered.

That type of mentality may give those that play college ball a new perspective on their time on campus.  It gives added value to scholarships.  Instead of seeing it as a pit stop to the pros, student-athletes may view college as a chance to grow and discover new interests.

Fostering an education early helps kids think critically and often leads to interest in a variety of subjects.  If they go into college with a desire to learn more than X's and O's, they likely will use their athletic talents as a tool to not only enhance their draft stock, but their brains, as well.

Putting an emphasis and funding into education will help motivate student-athletes to do well in the classroom because they will no longer be intimidated by the course material.  Great athletes thrive under pressure. Who's to say they can't translate the clutch gene used on fourth-and-goal into acing an economics final?

Even for those who make the big leagues, average careers are less than a half-decade.  Having a well-rounded education means they can prosper even after their time on the field is done.

Student-athletes wanting to get paid is fair, but cashing in on an education is invaluable.