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Phillip Marshall: Will presidents deal with reality?

May 21, 2014

The off-field, off-court happenings in college athletics are enough to keep your head spinning these days. Lots of people with agendas of their own are getting lots of attention. Some of what they say makes sense. Some of what they say is self-serving junk.

A recent so-called study by something called put a value on college quarterbacks. Former Auburn Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, the study said, was worth $2,686,729 to Auburn. Of course, in the current climate, no one points out how much Auburn was worth to Newton, who is now a very wealthy man.

While the debate goes on in the courts and elsewhere about whether college athletes should be able to profit from their likenesses and such while in school, others are wringing their hands about athletes who choose not to do what it takes to earn degrees.

In the midst of all that, the Pac-12 presidents recently sent a memo to other presidents in the top conferences suggesting some reforms. Most of them make some sense. Some make a lot of sense. Some not so much.

Here is a look at their suggestions and my thoughts:

Permit institutions to make scholarship awards up to the full cost of attendance.

This is almost certainly coming and is long overdue.

Provide reasonable ongoing medical or insurance assistance for student-athletes who suffer an incapacitating injury in competition or practice. Continue efforts to reduce the incidents of disabling injury.

This one, too, is overdue, but there are always going to be injuries in football. A very small percentage of them are going to be disabling. There is a much better chance you’ll be disabled in a car wreck than you will by playing football.

Guarantee scholarships for enough time to complete a bachelor's degree, provided that the student remains in good academic standing.

Auburn helps and encourages former athletes who want to get their degrees. I assume others with resources to do it do the same. If they don’t, they should.

Decrease the demands placed on the athlete in-season. Increase the time available for studies and campus life by preventing the abuse of organized "voluntary" practices to circumvent the limit of 20 hours per week and more realistically assess the time away from campus and other commitments during the season.

This is a red herring. Yes, athletes spend more than 20 hours a week on their sports. And they’ll do it in some fashion no matter what rules are passed. It always amuses me that college presidents apparently think that studying is the No. 1 priority for college students. The notion that athletes who aren’t practicing or other students who aren’t working are going to rush to the library to study instead is laughable. When athletes talk about the time they put into their sports, they frequently include time they are required to be in study hall.

Similarly decrease time demands out of season by reducing out-of-season competition and practices, and by considering shorter seasons in specific sports.

Athletes want to compete. They want to improve. Most football, baseball and basketball players want to play for money, and they want to work on preparing to do that.’

Further strengthen the Academic Progress Rate requirements for postseason play.

One man’s opinion: The APR is a joke. It is partly about academics but mostly about a convoluted formula someone with nothing better to do came up with. Is it the university’s fault when a baseball player leaves after three years? Is it the university’s fault if an athlete doesn’t take advantage of the massive amount of academic help available at places like Auburn?

Address the "one and done" phenomenon in men's basketball. If the NBA and its Players Association are unable to agree to raising the age limit for players, consider restoring the freshman ineligibility rule in men's basketball.

Fire up the lawyers. You’ll need them. The NBA should change the rule. If it doesn’t, there’s nothing college presidents can do about it.

Provide student-athletes a meaningful role in governance at the conference and NCAA levels.

That’s coming, and it should.

Adjust existing restrictions so that student-athletes preparing for the next stage of their careers are not unnecessarily deprived of the advice and counsel of agents and other competent professionals, but without professionalizing intercollegiate athletics.

Sounds good in theory, and it has widespread support. But who says a particular agent is “competent?” Does anyone believe all those agents will really go by the rules?

Liberalize the current rules limiting the ability of student-athletes to transfer between institutions.

I am 100 percent in favor of this. Athletes ought to transfer to any school they want as long as they are willing to sit out a year and they were not recruited while on scholarship. No coach or anyone else ought to have the right to tell them where they can go and where they can’t.

Like it or not, college athletics is going through a period of major change. Will it come out better or worse? It depends on whether college presidents, most of whom actually understand little about college athletics, deal with reality or with the bluster of self-promoters.


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




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