Despite increasing skepticism from the general public, the NCAA claims to hold “the pursuit of excellence in both academics and athletics” as a core value of its institution. The NCAA prides itself on being an organization with the students’ best interests in mind above all else. Although the NCAA generates massive amounts of revenue each year — in 2013 it generated a total revenue of $913 million — it still classifies itself as a nonprofit organization with a commitment to academics.
Ninety percent of the money brought in comes predominantly from the Division I men’s basketball March Madness tournament, through television marketing and ticket sales. Of the revenue generated by the NCAA, nearly 60 percent is directly distributed to Division I programs, with $120 million going towards grants-in-aid and $60 million in funding for student assistance. By paying the athletes’ tuition, the NCAA appears to be giving the athletes an education; however, in reality it is buying the organization the workers it needs at a discount price and does not give the student-athletes the benefits they would receive if they were employees, such as overtime and promise of safety.
Forbes magazine reported that “The typical Division I college football player devotes 43.3 hours per week to his sport — 3.3 more hours than the typical American work week.” The NCAA restricts weekly athletic activities to taking up no more than 20 hours, but because this rule is not enforced, colleges do what they can to take their athletic programs to the next level. Most other colleges follow suit to remain competitive, even though the safety and academics of their student-athletes are put at risk.
The schedules created by the NCAA suggest a tacit disregard for student-athlete education. It has been estimated that the students on teams that make it to the Final Four miss a 24.2 percent of the semester’s classes, and that is for the tournament alone. The NCAA may give the athletes an opportunity for an education, but if they are only learning a fraction of what other students learn, exactly how much is an athlete’s education worth? On the first day of winter semester last year, the University’s men’s basketball team was in Nebraska. This caused them to miss the first day of class, without significant ramifications. This comes while non-athlete students risk losing their seat should they miss the first day.
The apparent emphasis on athletics over academics in the nation’s universities has become clear in recent years. In 2008, a controversy arose at the University around retired Psychology Prof. John Hagen, who was accused of assisting student-athletes in maintaining eligibility by teaching independent study courses that were well below University standards of academic rigor. In Hagen’s courses, the student-athletes had an average GPA of 3.62, whereas their average in other classes was a 2.57. Some students were found to have spent only 15 minutes with Hagen every two weeks, but earned up to four credits for the class. Hagen taught 294 independent studies courses from Fall 2004 to Fall 2007, 251 of which were to student-athletes. After months of investigation, the allegations were dropped, but universities across the nation were left wondering about the academic rigor and standard of student-athletes.
Last March, attention was drawn to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when athletes received relatively high marks in regular, introductory classes. Paragraph-long final papers were given an A- on more than one occasion. An interview later discovered that athletes were encouraged to sign up for “paper classes,” classes with little work; later, they were guided into “easy” majors. Many student-athletes were not capable of keeping up with college academics. A UNC study showed 60 percent of football and basketball players at their school read between a fourth and eighth grade reading level. It’s not acceptable for universities to allow these students into an academic world for which they are not ready. This responsibility falls first to the NCAA to make sure that universities are compliant with the academic standards in admissions and throughout the college career of student-athletes.
For an organization that prides itself on putting academics first, even the money the NCAA gives to students is focused solely on what the player can contribute to the team, not what they can contribute to the classroom. Most athletic scholarships are granted for one academic year at a time, and they are available to be renewed except in cases of extreme injury that prohibit the student’s athletic performance from meeting expectations. If education and player safety are the goals of the NCAA, then they wouldn’t tie student-athletes’ education directly to what they can give the athletic department, and thus, what they can give the NCAA.
Universities will not change by themselves, and are stuck in this position the NCAA has put them in — with no room to act against the harsh conditions for fear of not remaining competitive with other schools. In order to keep up with other schools, universities will continue to push student-athletes as much as they can. Rules like academic standards and athletic boundaries were set for good reason, and only the NCAA can enforce them. It needs to take that first step. The NCAA needs to enforce the rules to protect not only the education of our student-first student-athletes, but also the integrity of our traditions.
In a 2008 Michigan Daily interview, Bruce Madej, then University Athletic Department spokesman, said “Compliance has a big stake in each and every part of the Athletic Department. They look at academics as much as travel expenses and recruiting and all other aspects.” This is precisely the problem. When our students’ bus rides become as important as their educations, the system is flawed and in dire need of a change. The NCAA and universities are responsible for their athletes’ educations, and must provide ways to make sure student-athletes aren’t left behind. Student-athletes should be given the chance to succeed and get the most from their college education, while engaging in their respective sports.