Thursday, January 04, 2007

Sorry, Mom, I Won't Be Home For The Holidays...

...because I'm scheduled to play in the Rose Bowl.

I love this time of year. It's "Bowl Season" for college football fans-- great teams matched up in memorable games, heaps of pomp and tradition, endless battles over cryptic BCS rankings--and if you're a fan, as I have been all my life, it just doesn't get any better than these two post-season weeks. That said, this time of year also reminds me of a monumental and enduring injustice suffered by collegiate athletes. It's not popular, but I'll say it again:

COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYERS SHOULD BE PAID!

I know, I know... they get scholarships (which in some cases amount to upwards of $200,000 over four years of eligibility), they get the best possible "pre-professional training" available (though most NCAA athletes never turn pro in their sport), and in marquee schools like those in the SEC and Big Ten conferences, many of them live the lives of demi-gods. BUT, I say, they should still get paid.

I could go on ad infinitum about this, but here's a short argument. The two major collegiate sports, football and basketball, fund almost all other sports programs with the revenue they generate (which, incidentally, has increased over 300% just in the last 10 years). These kids make money for the school, for the sponsors, for the NCAA, for the conferences, for the other sports programs, for university libraries, stadiums and buildings--not to mention the almost $5 billion made in (still illegal) gambling on collegiate sports. The NCAA regulates college athletes' lives (especially football and basketball players) with an iron fist. They can't be taken out to meals or be bought a pair of shoes or a watch (or a Hummer), they have curfews and meal restrictions and insane travel schedules, every minute misbehavior is subject to (sometimes national) scrutiny... AND they still have to study, maintain decent grades, and try to be "regular" college students with families, friends, boyfriends/girlfriends, and all of the other stressors of collegiate life.
Yes, they get scholarships, but a lot of college students get scholarships. Do we expect the same sacrifice from the non-athletes? Hardly. Most college scholarships don't come along with the rigorous personal restrictions that athletes sign off for, nor do they come along with the constant threat of life-altering injury or public humiliation. (I was once at a UT Vols game and saw a fan in the crowd with a sign "damning" a tackle from the 1971 squad for costing the team a game.... sports fans' memories are very, VERY long!) Other students who enjoy scholarships aren't forced to miss holidays with their families, or try to manage end-of-semester exams and assignments in the midst of conference playoffs or March Madness. And no other recipients of collegiate scholarships are constantly treated as if they aren't "real" students.
I should say that I think ALL collegiate athletes should be paid, though I genuinely believe there's a stronger argument for paying football and basketball players than the others. (And this is not an attempt to promote even more collegiate gender disparity... in universities like UT and UCONN, the women basketball players are as important as any male athlete.) College athletes secure the "brands" of their colleges--and, thus, help to promote their schools and recreuit for them--more than almost anything else. It's this time of the year--Bowl Season-- that I'm reminded just how unfair it all is...

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