Let the players get paid

by Brian Clarey

After the first couple of rounds in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament have come to a close and newspapers around the nation have run their annual companion coverage, one story jumps out among the tales of wasted office time, Cinderellastyle wins and storied histories. This one involves the graduation rates of men’s basketball players in top NCAA schools, and the numbers are disturbing.

The study being cited comes from the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, tallying 2009 graduation rates for the 64 teams in contention for the tourney. And on the whole, teams didn’t fare so poorly — about 70 percent of them graduated at least half of the players on their rosters, and 29 teams graduated at least 70 percent of their players.

The Triad’s own Wake Forest University sets a shining example, one of six teams in this year’s tournament with a 100 percent graduation rate for the years studied. For this they deserve recognition.

The most startling trend: The gap in graduation rates between white players and black players in the NCAA continues to be tremendous.

But while the study itself is a valuable one, it overlooks the elephant in the room.

College basketball players sometimes leave before graduation to turn pro, either in the NBA or one of many other professional leagues around the world, in order to start earning a living for something they’ve been required to do for free, and to do it before an injury prevents them from playing professionally.

The NCAA has a unique business model in that it is a multibillion-dollar organization in which those who make the product do not — in fact, cannot — share in the profits. This flaw in the system exacerbates low graduation rates and contributes to the overall schizophrenia of the term “student athlete.”

Why should student athletes not get paid for service to their school? Students who take managerial positions at college newspapers usually get paid a small stipend. Students who work on campus get weekly checks for their labors. Some grad students find themselves in the position of getting paid to study. Why should the athletes who help college sports generate an awful lot of money not get a share of the proceeds?

Furthermore, we think that college athletes — particularly football and basketball players, but also participants in sports that have professional leagues — should be able to major in their sports.

Take football, for example. Have you ever seen a college football playbook? Most are twice the size of standard textbooks, and the sport itself is rife with theory, history and technique — all of which lends itself to serious study. A football major would be prepared not only to play the game on a professional level, but also to coach, recruit or manage. And all college football players — even the ones with no professional future in the game — could benefit from finance, physical education and broadcasting classes, all of which could be incorporated into a major. And with practical knowledge in the offering, many more might just stick around to collect their sheepskins.

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