*Phil Everyguy* loved basketball. Throughout childhood he dreamed of playing in the NBA.
Phil knew that he would have to go to college first so he worked hard to improve. Earning a scholarship became the most important thing in his life. Finally he was offered a scholarship. Phil was excited; he had made it to the next level.
On the other hand Phil had put his faith in a person and institution that (in the best of circumstances) would be motivated to help him for the next 4-5 years. More likely the coach and institution are interested in Phil only as much as he can help win games and increase revenue.
One of the main problems with college athletics is that once Phil accepted the scholarship he was at the mercy of Coach Authority.
Athletic scholarships are one year agreements between a student and the university. Unfortunately college for most people is at least a four year process. So it is important and problematic that the school has the option to renew the scholarship agreement each year. This is generally at the discretion of Coach Authority so Phil has to make sure he conforms to what Coach wants or his ability to pay for (and stay in) school goes away.
The NCAA has standards regarding how many hours a team can practice but voluntary workouts are not part of these regulations. So when Coach Authority asks his players to attend early morning or late night conditioning sessions, Phil doesn’t have to go. But often there is a pressure to attend because not doing so puts his scholarship in jeopardy.
Many college athletes would like to attend class and really prepare for life after sports. Unfortunately an effort to take on a more challenging academic schedule requires that much more effort outside of class – time that could be spent in the weight room as Coach Authority suggested. Again there is a conflict of interest that will be decided in favor of what Coach wants.
Even if Phil attends all of the voluntary and mandatory workouts, there is still no guarantee that the school will renew his scholarship because Coach Authority may have recruited better players at his position and need to offer those other players scholarships.
So what happens if Phil decides he wants to transfer schools to a place that is more sympathetic to players taking a tougher course load and players who want to do an internship instead of off season skill sessions? Coach Authority has the option of forcing Phil to sit out a year before being allowed to participate in basketball at his new school. This penalty makes it less likely that schools will want Phil to transfer because they need help winning games now.
When someone says that college athletics exploits the student athletes, the number one defense is that the athletes shouldn’t complain because they are getting a free education. But the structure of the scholarship agreement establishes that is part of the very exploitation and shows that the free college education is not a certainty.
On the other side of this equation is Coach Authority who is having his behavior forced to some degree. Coaches are demigods on college campuses; in many states the basketball coach is the highest paid state employee. And to maintain their status all coaches have to do is continue winning games. This leads to the coaches perpetuating the exploitation of the athletes because it is to their advantage to push their players to participate in voluntary activities. Players who do not participate are more likely to games lost. Based on their own self-interest then, coaches should jettison such players and give their scholarships to other players.
Another defense of the status quo is that it doesn’t affect the vast majority of players. In other words most players are more than happy to practice as much as possible, minimize their academic commitments, and aren’t looking to transfer. All of this may but true but it is ultimately irrelevant. The structure of collegiate athletic scholarships should be revamped because it lends itself to exploitation when it doesn’t have to. Plenty of regulations are established not because they are needed at that moment but because there is the potential for future problems (The Second Amendment is an example).
A four year scholarship structure can get coaches the same labor force but it would oblige them to make sure they work with a player to improve rather than giving up on him. Would coaches go for that?
*I hope you can tell these were made up names.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.