Are Colleges Discriminating Against Student Athletes?

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Sports and academia go hand in hand at most large colleges and universities in America. We’re the only country in the world where sports influences higher learning to the point where the academic calendar is shaped by bowl games and Final Four runs. Or at least the school effectively shuts down when its team advances deep in the NCAA tournament.

Financial Priorities

High profile coaches get paid several times the salary of university presidents, an odd priority most schools have grudgingly accepted in exchange for a successful program some believe enhances the school’s reputation. Star players go to the NFL or NBA, but for many students college is nothing more than four years of play in a high end sports league.

Such students may graduate, but many do not. In any case they are unpaid and often unable to thrive beyond academia. That’s a point of concern of scholars who recently met at Wake Forest University in Greensboro, N.C., for a summit, “Losing to Win: Discussions of Race and Intercollegiate Sports.”

Reflecting on race and athletics, the attendees agree that student athletes should either be paid or given a solid education.

Quality Education

He recommended diverting some of millions of dollars college athletes earn each year for their schools into programs that would ensure that every sports recruit receives a quality education and clear direction for a post-sports career.

“The reason we’re talking about paying players is because the institutions aren’t upholding their end of the bargain,” said Alphonso Smith Jr., former Wake Forest football player and NFL cornerback. If colleges followed through, “you don’t need to give anyone anything other than a free education.”

Such change isn’t inconceivable – but it certainly can’t be accomplished without the effort of a broad range of people, said Bernard Franklin, executive vice president of the NCAA. College sports’ governing body can’t do it alone, he said.

“If we’re going to affect change, then we have to look at things differently and a little bit creatively,” he said.

Key to that is getting college chancellors and presidents involved, he said, because those campus leaders have always been at the forefront of the NCAA’s policy changes.

The NCAA is coordinating a retreat this summer for Division 1 chancellors and presidents to talk about the issues examined during “Losing to Win.” Division 1 is the highest level of college sports with students typically receiving full scholarships for as long as they play.

“Black athletes are missing superb opportunities for learning,” said Deborah Stroman of the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at UNC-Chapel Hill. “I can’t sit on the sidelines while injustices and missteps occur.”

Community Opposition

The group faces strong headwinds from sports-minded people in academia who fear that any diversion of funds could effect performance on the gridiron or court. That’s unfortunate as student athletes are prized more for their physical prowess than for their potential, contributing to hundreds perhaps thousands of lives falling through the cracks of academia each year.

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