As the college football regular season came to a close and college basketball ramped up, I began to think about the lives of student-athletes when they are not on the field or the court fighting for that top ranking.
My musings took me to an article recently published by Player’s Tribune titled, “Let Athletes Be Students”. In it, former NBA player and Duke alumnus Shane Battier addressed the current lives of student-athletes, whose eligibility for participating in sports is valued over the quality of their education.
Research certainly affirms Battier’s criticism that “the message many programs give to student-athletes is simple: Stay eligible and win. That’s success.” For example, CNN reported that out of 183 student-athletes at UNC-Chapel Hill from 2004 to 2012, almost 70 percent read below the ninth-grade reading level.
This statistic demonstrates how colleges have failed their students. For many student-athletes, college represents their last stage of formal education before they enter the hectic, unstructured life of the adult world. Thus, the mission of colleges should be to prepare their students for the real world. Given that only 2% of participants in college football will play in the NFL, and 1% and of participants in men’s basketball will go on to the NBA, this mission should remain the same for student-athletes.
The NCAA believes it is up to the college to decide who they admit and how they set their students up for success. “Once the school admits them, the school should do everything it can to make sure the student succeeds,” said Kevin Lennon, the NCAA’s vice president for Division I governance.
However, when schools can make a profit of about 24 million dollars, as Louisville did in 2013-14, the athletic program will almost always neglect the importance of the student’s academic success in favor of their athletic talent.
In some cases, programs will go to extreme measures to ensure their athletes can participate in sports. For example, UNC-Chapel Hill was recently involved in a scandal in which students took fake classes and received inflated grades.
U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein found that 3,100 student-athletes took these classes to get higher grades from 1993 to 2011. Faculty leaders, such as Jeanette Boxill, encouraged students to take these classes to allow for academic eligibility without losing their focus on athletics.
Former football player at UNC, Devon Ramsay, is reportedly suing the school for failure to provide students with the quality education they deserve. Students should “receive legitimate classes that are worthy of their university,” Ramsay said.
UNC is not alone in committing academic fraud. In 2015, the NCAA investigated twenty schools for academic misconduct, meaning either athletes were treated differently than non-athletes, or they received credits which allowed them to participate in sports they otherwise would have been ineligible for.
As a result, the overwhelming majority of student-athletes do not receive the college education necessary to lead a successful life removed from sports. Colleges should strive to provide their student-athletes with the education they deserve and need for the future. It is the responsibility of the NCAA to enforce this policy and ensure that colleges meet the educational needs of their students.