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Phillip Marshall: The truth about college athletes

April 9, 2014

If you were not familiar with college athletics and read the prose of supposedly horrified columnists or listened to the utterances of student-athlete “advocates” who are really advocating to make themselves wealthy, you’d come away with some very clear ideas.

You would probably believe the following:

* Athletes don’t go to class, all have meaningless majors and really aren’t students at all.

* Athletes are so deprived of money that they can’t afford to buy a pizza and sometimes can’t afford to buy anything to eat at all.

* Anyone who doesn’t believe players at Northwestern should unionize is either uninformed, cold-hearted or both.

* If you thought Kentucky and UConn basketball players were having fun Monday night, you were wrong. They were just being exploited.

* University athletics programs make millions of dollars in profits every year and refuse to share it with the players.

The fact is that not one of those things is true.

Voracious “national” reporters, who just a couple of years ago thought it was their duty to join the NCAA in its quest to rid the world of $100 handshakes, now scour the country for athletes or former athletes who didn’t have the best of college experiences. What they thirst for most is an athlete who will say he or she did not get the education promised.

What about thousands of young men and women who never played a minute professionally but earned college degrees they otherwise would not have? They don’t fit the narrative, so they don’t matter.

And what about personal accountability?

Some athletes take difficult majors and some don’t. Some are very serious students and some aren’t. Take any random sample of students at any university anywhere and the same will be true.

The poorest of students, including atheltes, get Pell Grant money, approximately $5,000 a year to spend as they choose. Like other students, athletes can get student loans. A lot of them might need education on how to handle money, but none of them should be doing without a meal.

I don’t agree with NCAA president Mark Emmert on many things. His view, however, that making college athletes employees would basically destroy the game as we know it is right on target.

I’ve seen athletes who were unhappy and left. I’ve seen athletes who decided they didn’t want to be athletes. But mostly I’ve seen athletes who cherish the opportunity to compete at a high level and make the most of it.

College athletics, particularly college football, matter very much to lots of people. You can see it at Tiger Walk, at Jordan-Hare Stadium and at other venues from coast to coast. Athletes deserve more than they have received. Of that there is no question. They are about to get it, and they were going to get it before Northwestern’s ill-advised union movement.

Even at big-time schools, balancing athletics books is hard. At most BCS schools, football brings in lots of money. Men’s basketball is at least a break-even proposition. And that’s it. Are all the hand-wringers prepared to see other sports being eliminated so those who play the revenue sports can be compensated?

Really, the major programs are what this is all about. They previously tried to establish full cost of attendance scholarships but were rebuffed by the smaller schools. Now the big schools have backed the smaller schools into a corner with an unspoken threat to leave the NCAA altogether.

Full cost of attendance scholarships are coming. That means room, board, meals, tuition, books, fees and a stipend to cover the cost of going away from home to attend school.  You are going to see unlimited training table meals for athletes. There will probably be some kind of trust fund so that players can be compensated after their eligibility is up for use of their likenesses.

Beyond that, don’t expect much. The massive change so many predict will not materialize. And it shouldn’t.


Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for Follow Marshall on Twitter:




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