The start of a new academic calendar year for colleges and universities is an exciting time when fresh young minds converge onto college campuses all around the country for the purpose of achieving a higher education. It is also the start of one of the most profitable seasons for many high profile Division I institutions, with their helmets in the mix of the other college football championship hopefuls.
With football as one of the main sources of revenue for colleges in the Power Five conferences, winning has become paramount to almost everything and everyone. From administrators to the coaches, with their hands in the honey pot milking a system that preaches amateurism, only to turn around and sell players as products every Saturday of football season. With so much money floating around and the pressure to win being at an all-time high, I can only ask if the educational experience of the student-athlete paramount? A goal the NCAA highlights in its mission statement.
As a former college baseball player at two different universities, I was fortunate enough to fulfill my dream of becoming a college athlete, and like most wide eyed freshman, the business side of college athletics was the furthest thing from my mind until my sophomore season. After red-shirting my freshman year, I returned to school eager to improve on the strides I had made playing during summer and was even indicated that I’d be competing for a starting position. This only gave me more incentive to push myself.
For years there were rumors floating around the athletics department that the university was transitioning from a Division II into a Division I ranking. One could imagine the excitement we all felt when the rumors became a reality my sophomore year. For the university and ourselves, being promoted to the highest collegiate sports ranking meant more prestige, exposure, and of hopefully money.
Almost immediately upon arriving back on campus, practices resumed. There were many familiar faces and just as many new, which seemed odd as we were already two or three deep at every position. This made a lot of us uneasy about the direction of the coaching staff and where we would fit into the picture. It only took three weeks of practices to figure out that some of us didn’t fit in the picture at all.
Unfortunately for student-athletes, athletic scholarships are given on a yearly basis with no guarantee of renewal and are purely performance based. This can leave many futures in uncertainty, and if an athlete finds themselves unhappy at one school, they must sit out a year when transferring to another school.
Unlike the coaches who usually have multi-year contracts that will be honored even if they are terminated or if they choose to leave a program, they can do so the next season without penalty. What’s more troubling is the fact that most college coaches are the highest paid employee at their respective universities and the states in which their school is resided. This happens to be true for 40 out of the 50 states in the union who have either a college football or basketball coach as their top paid public employee.
The current system of amateurism that the NCAA has defended for many years gives many athletes the opportunity to receive a higher education that they may or may not have been able to afford themselves. But for the players whose efforts on the field generate a majority of the profits for their universities, an education is just about the only benefit they receive. However, a comprehensive meaningful education isn’t even guaranteed because of the intense pressure put on the coaches by administrators and boosters to cultivate and maintain a winning program.
Anyone who’s played sports knows that the objective is to win, but the “win now” culture that has manifested itself throughout college athletics has placed more emphasis on that aspect rather than the welfare of the student-athlete simply because winning means money.
For the coaches running the programs, there is an incentive to recruit yearly in order to find better players, in turn winning more games, making more money, and lucrative long term contracts.
The dark side is that too many go unseen and when players get pushed out, whether by being cut or discontentment with coaches who all too often break promises regarding playing time. There is little to no action student-athletes can take in their defense other than accept the fact they are no longer part of the team. Especially when transferring to another school to continue their athletic pursuits can cost a player a year of his/her eligibility, unless they move in divisions.
Financial gains and the importance of winning will only continue to blind universities in the coming years. College football programs will become even more powerful than they already are. But if the NCAA wants to hang its hat on the words expressed in its mission statement ‘to govern competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner, and to integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount’, they must first take a look at the current system. The harsh reality is that money and winning have become paramount to colleges and universities, while the student-athletes have become a means to an end in achieving greed driven goals.