‘I’m at a money-hungry faculty’: Athletes offended as schools shun likelihood to pay them | School sports activities

IIn its athletic department’s mission statement, UCLA promises to “recruit only student-athletes who exhibit both an interest in the academic component of undergraduate life and the potential to succeed in the increasingly competitive academic environment of UCLA.” Duke University likewise “requires that students engaged in intercollegiate athletics be students first.”

Yet, despite the supposed commitment to academics at these two premier universities – who have endowments of $7.4bn and $12.7bn respectively – neither has chosen to take up new NCAA rules which allow colleges to pay their athletes up to $5,980 per year for getting good grades. or merely retaining eligibility. Just this week Duke publicly acknowledged that it “has not yet made a decision on whether we will provide benefits for academic performance that are now permitted by the NCAA.” Nor are Duke and UCLA outliers: ESPN reported this month that only 22 of the 130 schools at the highest level of college football have firm plans to pay players for academic performance this year.

In fact a men’s basketball player we spoke to at a school in the Power Five, the elite level of college sport, was surprised to hear that these educational benefits were even a possibility, although he had little doubt why his institution wasn’t offering them . “We all know that the concept of ‘student-athlete’ is a joke created by the NCAA to limit athletes in the past from benefiting monetarily so that the revenues they drive in would be given to the schools and coaches,” he said.

Indeed, as sociologist Billy Hawkins has demonstrated, the structure of big-time college sports produces an “intercollegiate athletic industrial complex,” in which universities where most of the staff and students are white profit from the unpaid labor of Black athletes. It just another version of the plantation dynamic that has long exploited Black people in the US for economic gain.

We talked to athletes at a range of colleges about whether they had been told about academic compensation. Not one of the 10 players we spoke to had been told such payments were a possibility, although one noted that school supplies had been mentioned. One player from a team ostensibly on the list of institutions with plans to pay players educational benefits had no idea such bonuses existed.

Colleges are more than happy to talk about the marriage of academics and athletics when it comes to self-promotion though. Northwestern says that “the success of the athletic program both on and off the field is inextricably linked to the educational mission of the University, especially with regard to the academic and personal development of student-athletes.” Vanderbilt’s 2020 Strategic Plan for Athletics asserts that it will, “Use our Athletics platform as a model for the commitment to academic and personal development espoused by Vanderbilt University.” At Michigan, head football coach Jim Harbaugh has trumpeted that “we continue to strive for excellence in the classroom.And, at Stanford, the university proclaims that its “dedication to excellence in both academics and athletics is unparalleled.”

Players we spoke to noted that the importance of academics was frequently emphasized in athletic department communications. One cross country and track and field athlete explained she “can count on receiving an email from my school’s athletic department every day” that details academic responsibilities. A player at a top Power Five public university added, the “athletic department really does hammer the importance of academics to us. I kind of think of it as they wanting us to do our part in maintaining our [academic] ranking… to reach a certain level of excellence.”

Yet, according to ESPN, few of these schools have chosen to pay players who perform well academically. This is despite the fact that at Michigan and Berkeley, for instance, the head football coaches receive bonuses for athletes’ academic performance (on top of incredibly lucrative bonus-laden contracts).

Most players we talked to only learned they could get paid for academic achievement when they read ESPN’s report. Understandably, many were angry about it, including a Conference USA football player: “It really frustrates me that I didn’t hear about this new rule until now.” One player currently at an institution supposedly offering academic bonuses told us, “I’ve never heard of this stuff.”

A Miami (Ohio) football player was “not surprised” his school didn’t offer compensation. “Miami is a money-hungry school, so I could see why they don’t offer it.” Jayden Wooden, a Morgan State football player, agreed. “Our administration doesn’t care for its athletes and it shows.” Still, he was frustrated at the lost opportunity for compensation: “The amount of money we get now, it’s hard to live off of. It’s a struggle for most of us. The fact that I have a 3.6 GPA, I feel like I should be rewarded for my efforts.” Likewise, although the Power Five player from an elite public school was pleased that compensatory school supplies has been mentioned, he also acknowledged that he “would definitely rather have them give the 6k reward as cash so we could decide what we want to use it for.” .”

The Power Five men’s basketball player argued that academic compensation is a potentially meaningful way to reward players largely shut out from current models of funding: “Providing a stipend for academic performance should be something every school implements as it’s a way to benefit the athletes that are going through 10-12 hour days working hard on the court/field and in the classroom. Not every athlete is on scholarship or getting big time NIL money and this is a way to reward those athletes.”

A Big 12 football player who hadn’t heard of the possibility of academic benefits had a different perspective. “I don’t think it is fair to offer athletes this incentive and not all other students on campus. It also creates this stigma that college athletes don’t want to be in college other than to play their sport, which is not true for everybody.” While the former point gestures powerfully to the increasingly inaccessible cost of higher education across the country for all students, the latter also references one of the key academic barriers facing college athletes, particularly in men’s football and basketball: the (often racist) assumption of many faculty and students that athletes do not deserve to be on campus.

What was evident from nearly every player we spoke to was that despite the claims by institutions to place academics first, the reality is fundamentally different.

A recently graduated Power Five football player laid out just how much athletics are prioritized over academics: “I was told directly by a coach to let my GPA fall because he felt it was taking away from my athletic performance. This was during a year that I wasn’t even for competition, but he wanted me eligible to be as ready as possible to perform in the starting lineup the following season. I’ve witnessed athletic administrators put pressure on and attempt to persuade athletes to fail classes in order to get access to a fifth year in undergrad.”

A football player who had transferred from a Big Ten school explained, “I think at the end of the day coaches just need you to be eligible for them. As long as you’re passing your classes that’s all they care about.” A former Big Ten baseball player had a similar experience: “Coaches, teachers, and other students were aware of the weight a sport held over our heads as student-athletes. Thus when it came down to it, remaining eligible for the season was far more important than out-reaching a GPA goal. And all of us knew that.”

Similarly, the Power Five men’s basketball player explained: “I know at many places it’s just something that the guys are required to do. Basketball comes first and as long as you are able to get the grades to stay eligible then that’s all that matters. I think that’s how most schools/programs tend to operate.” That was the experience of the Conference USA football player: “I feel like our [position] coach does prioritize academics, but the program overall prioritizes football.” Indeed, sometimes athletic performance can mitigate athletic failings, as Wooden pointed out: “If you perform in your respective sport they are more willing to look past certain things.”

There is a very practical reality to the emphasis on athletics over academics. A Big Ten rower explains, “I can name at least five teammates who have had to change their majors to accommodate rowing. Education majors have had to quit the team because their student teaching interferes with practices, and no accommodations are made for them. And scheduling around practice times closes many academic doors for us.”

At the end of the day, college sport comes down to winning, and winning, for coaches, means exercising power in order to extract value via performance. The former Power Five private school football player explains: “Coaches constantly asked for leaders, but in reality they wanted followers. People that were only serving one master, that master being football and the coaches that were holding it over their heads. Coaches don’t like players who have options outside of football, and if you do they question/test your ‘loyalty’ to the team and to the game. They really were just seeing if you were dependent. Much easier to control people who are like that, and if they were able to control you they were often more willing to invest in you. It’s all about maintaining their power structure.”

For most of the players we talked to, then, the failure to offer academic compensation ultimately confirmed a bitter truth about college sports.

As the Big Ten rower put it, “It really just emphasizes what I already know – that at the end of the day, I, as an athlete, am a part of the business that is [my school’s athletic department]. And that claiming to have our best interest in mind is not the same as actually having our best interest in mind.”

  • Players spoke under anonymity for this article for fear of penalties from their colleges. Nathan Kalman-Lamb, Derek Silva, and Johanna Mellis are co-hosts of The End Of Sport podcast.

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