In high school, every fall semester was consumed by Friday night lights. The student section was packed, the band exploded with fanfares and the concession stand seemed to burst with fried food. So much of Southern culture is consumed by football. The football players on our team dreamed of playing in college, and some of them did. But as the months went on, their expectations of their football careers grew.
Once they signed with their universities, their possibilities seemed endless. High school athletes start to think it’s likely they’ll play professionally, but these kids need a reality check –– not a paycheck. The NCAA wants to exploit college athletes’ desires to go pro by allowing them to make a profit. What will student-athletes have to give up in return?
As of 2015, 52% of Division 1 football players and more than 75% of Division 1 basketball players believed they would go pro, but only 2% of college athletes will end up being a professional athlete. By allowing student athletes to make a profit, we’d be treating them as something they are not. This will create an aura of superiority. They’d be getting paid. It can’t get much better than that.
Our teams sometimes travel hundreds of miles. It’s exciting, but unfortunately, just one day away from Oxford could equate to as many as three or four classes missed. Now, with the chance to make money off of their athletic skills, will students have any incentive to make up classwork?
Let’s say between practicing and going to games, an athlete’s GPA drops, and they lose a scholarship. With that extra money they could now make, would they even notice the loss of a scholarship? So, an athlete might ask themselves, “Why should I go to chemistry or history class when I’ll still get paid to do what I love?” That’s called a career. This is college.
The NCAA ensured that there would be a “clear distinction between college and professional opportunities” among paid college athletes, but I don’t see how this could happen if athletes can make a profit off their name recognition. At that point, what’s the difference?
The educational bar for student-athletes is already low. The national average GPA of a college athlete is 2.379 while it is 2.681 for non-athletes. On a four-point scale, this is a big difference. To stay in the NCAA, athletes have to reach a cumulative GPA of a 2.0 by the end of college. Meanwhile, to be eligible for academic aid, Ole Miss students must have a 3.0. With the extra pressure this new rule puts on students, will the GPA disparity grow?
The academic expectations of student-athletes are different from non-athletes. Since athletes work so hard on the field, their GPA requirements aren’t as intense. Athletic and collegiate environments clash. Coaches expect their players to put in 100% effort, but so do professors. At some point, student-athletes have to choose.
This new rule could incentivize a lower academic standard, but this isn’t the only concern.
A 2012 study reveals that almost 30% of college athlete injuries are from “overuse.” A paycheck will only increase the amount of stress athletes put on their bodies. I can only imagine the kind of additional pressure these athletes will be under. The students that have the potential to go pro risk never reaching their academic potential, or getting seriously injured, before they graduate.
The bottom line is that the purpose of college is higher education, and it doesn’t have to happen in a traditional setting, but it can only work if student-athletes are treated as students first.
Emily Stewart is a freshman international studies and Arabic major from Columbia, Tennessee.