Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Lingering Issue Regarding Payment of College Athletes

While a previous post addressed the issue of paying college athletes beyond their scholarships, there is still a lingering issue that was not addressed. Unfortunately in their zeal to attempt to apply an inappropriate solution to the question of student finances proponents of paying athletes have failed to seize a genuine opportunity to improve the future lives of these athletes.

Potential college athletes are clearly presented with the information that the college scholarship will be the compensation for their participation in a given collegiate sport. Nevertheless some proponents believe that for the more skilled athletes the utility of a scholarship is lacking, similar to giving a coupon for 10 free car washes as payment to an individual who does not own a vehicle. If these athletes do not accept the scholarship as adequate compensation there are other avenues to acquire requisite experience before attempting to enter the professional level of their desired sport: semi-pro, overseas, private workouts, etc. No professional league has a requirement demanding a prospect plays in college. Therefore, the availability of these alternatives (regardless of their equality or development) and the intern argument neutralizes the chief argument made by the proponents regarding additional compensation to athletes.

Instead of trying to fight against the scholarship for the 1-2% of students critics believe does not suit them, it would be more productive to work within the scholarship to help these athletes. For example anyone who rejects the usefulness of an education that can be acquired with a college scholarship is a fool. However, both proponents and those that support the status quo rarely assess how useful the education is to these individuals. Therefore, it is rational to ask the question: how can the athlete receive the maximum value from the scholarship if he does not plan to graduate from college?

In the given scenario most of these athletes will elect to forego their college eligibility to enter the professional ranks for their respective sport. One of the primary purposes of education is to develop the practical reasoning and communication skills an individual will need to be a productive and effective member of society. This purpose still applies even if an individual elects not to pursue a degree in favor of moving to the professional ranks in a given sport. The time spent in the classroom under these circumstances should focus even more on this primary purpose because there will not be instruction in a particular career pathway.

At first glance one may question the belief that colleges should establish, what a cynic would regard as, a major in ‘Going Pro’ as silly; when raising this concern it is important to consider the value college athletes, who will leave early, receive from their existing majors. When looking at college athletes in high profile sports like football and basketball a large number claim to be majoring in ‘Communications’, ‘Sociology’ or some uncommon major like ‘Undergraduate Studies’. It is difficult to ascribe a real value to these types of majors (or any major for that matter) when these athletes have more than likely selected them because of their perceived low difficulty to ensure continuing academic eligibility, not because they find any kinship with the courses that make up the major. It is reasonable to contend that a major specifically designed to aid these individuals as professional sports athletes as well as provide the necessary support to become well-rounded individuals in society makes more sense than the current system.

Assume for a moment that this proposal moves forward, what course work should make up the bulk of the major. One problem that adults have, especially young adults that come into a large amount of money that is commonly only available over a short period of time, is effectively managing that money. Therefore, one course in this major would focus on finance, investment, budgeting and various other accounting elements. Another element in the career of a professional athlete is conducting interviews and expressing ideas. This requirement lends itself well to including a public speaking/debate class in the curriculum. In addition to helping prepare the athlete for these interviews, the debate class should also assist the individual in developing a basic strategy regarding how to process different ideas and judge their validity. The ability to properly judge the validity of different ideas is important for an individual that wants to be a useful member of society.

Another class that would be useful to these specific types of athletes is a class on basic biochemistry with a focus on energy generation. Basically the class would focus on how various aspects of nutrition and training translate into biological and biochemical changes in the body. Such an understanding would be useful for athletes both in development and maintenance of physical attributes. Also due to the high stress and high ego world of professional sports, instruction in conflict resolution through various diplomatic strategies would be useful as well. Finally a fifth course would involve civics/government, so the athlete would have a better understanding of both how their professional league is structures as well as how government influences their lives as well as others.

The above five courses should not be remedial type courses, but legitimate courses with legitimate instruction because the point of this major is to give these athletes tools to succeed at the ‘next’ level, not an easy path to ensure college eligibility. These courses should also be available for non-student athletes to ensure that these courses do not devolve and so non-student athletes can acquire the same skills if they so desire.

Overall the prospect of paying college athletes is still incredibly small, especially with Title IX, the NCAA code of conduct and basic rationality on the side of not paying them. While the specified courses above are merely suggestions, the development of a specific set of course work for individuals that are viewed as highly probable to make a professional sports league would be an important step in allowing these individuals to better optimize the scholarship benefits that are provided in exchange for participating in athletics. It definitely seems like a better strategy to outfit early departing athletes with the tools to succeed both at the professional level and in life more than throwing a couple of thousand dollars at them, even if that were viable.

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