The plight of ‘student athletes’

The issue of college athletes being recognized as employees and having the right to unionize has resulted in a lot of information coming out about them. I had not realized that athletes at those universities that have big sports programs have to practice and watch game films and the like for fifty or more hours per week. That is shocking because that would leave them hardly any time to attend classes, let alone study for them. No wonder that this breeds the practice of bogus classes that they sign up for in order to maintain their academic standing.

It is a far cry from my university where we field teams but academics come first. We are nerds and proud of it. Some of my best students have been athletes and I have had students who, if an exam conflicts with a game, would skip the game and take the exam, even though I was willing to give a make-up exam. (There was a widespread belief among students that physics make up exams were harder than the regular ones.)

As these clips from The Daily Show show, it seems like everybody in the schools and the NCAA do well at the expense of college athletes while some of them do not have enough money even for food and go hungry.

(These clips aired on April 10, 2014. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post. If the videos autoplay, please see here for a diagnosis and possible solutions.)


  1. Endorkened says

    So, wait, are they magical rape goblins or heroic proletarian martyrs? My simplistic moral narrative is breaking down here!

  2. says

    I recommend Taylor Branch’s Atlantic article of a few years back

    Charlie Pierce has written trenchantly on the subject.

    They are a multi-billion dollar industry that is allowed to have rules that outlaw their principal workers from getting paid for what are essentially full time jobs with extensive travel requirements. In the case of football the work is quite dangerous.

    As for the scholarships, they’re tenuous. They’re dished out one year at a time and are completely at the coaches discretion. You can attend as a freshman on scholarship and have it pulled out from under you as a junior if the university thinks it’s on-field success is better served by someone else. Binding 4-year offers are prohibited. So is giving scholarships to every player.

    Then there is the hateful term “Student Athlete”. On the surface it sounds like a noble thing (as it is meant to sound) until you learn why it was invented. It was invented by the head of the NCAA and the organization’s lawyers as a ploy to avoid responsibility for workmen’s compensation obligations to athletes badly hurt in the course of playing for the university. Add the growing findings about the long term damage to the brain from unrestricted force impact sports and you can see both why they didn’t want to pay those obligations and why we should simply hate them for avoiding it. Evil mother-f—–rs.

  3. says

    Mano, your observation about how the players at your university (which is also mine) would skip a game in favor of a test is interesting. The conventional wisdom is that this doesn’t happen at the elite level because of privilege (slack is cut for the athletes) and the pressure to give all for the universities athletic ambitions.

    But there’s another more insidious reason. As a group the players at the higher division are all to varying degrees auditioning for a chance at a career in the pros, and there is a tacit (but nevertheless accurate) understanding that teams won’t select you if they learn that when you had to make a choice between football and school you didn’t sacrifice school. If you fail to demonstrate uninterrupted single-minded commitment to the sport you effectively rule yourself out as a candidate for the pros. Legal troubles, belligerence, poor academics are all things a pro team will tolerate or take a chance on.

  4. dean says

    It is surprising to see the false “student athlete” treated as a new thing: records and articles show that in the same way the conservative myth of better times in the 50s (or whenever) fall apart under scrutiny, so does the notion that decades ago college football (or basketball, or baseball, when they existed) were pillars of integrity who valued education over sport. It’s always been a scam on the purpose of the university.

    It seems that now would be a good time for football and basketball to consider minor leagues, the way baseball does, and to simply say: if your goal is to try for the big leagues don’t bother with college, go here. If you want to get an education and still play some sport, come here to our school.
    With a miniscule percentage of universities at the top level even breaking even on their athletic programs (the school where I earned my doctorate announced that they made little money on athletics last year: a check on the public records shows that without 75% of the expenses being paid by dipping into the school’s general fund they would have been in a world of hurt), and more and more of them making only weak waves at academic integrity for the athletes, something has to give.


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