Fall is approaching.
Fall means two important things: baseball playoffs and football.
Football means two important things: college and pro.
College football means two important things: fans gambling and illegal activity in the program.
Most illegal activity involves players receiving money and gifts in order to attend or remain at a particular school. Many players come from such poverty that without assistance from the program, they might not even have enough money to buy the pens that they never use in class. Illegal activities usually involve everyone from players to coaches and recruiters to agents. Usually, the goal is to give players as much money and “stuff” as possible in order to keep them at the school. Two important things will then happen: 1) The school gets a big payday from television rights and bowl games, and 2) those people helping out the athlete will be paid back many times over when that player makes his millions in the NFL.
This is why ESPN and other sports outlets are revisiting an on-going question: should college athletes get paid? One knee-jerk reaction is “yes” because the school literally makes millions off the players’ backs, such as selling jerseys and collecting television money, so perhaps that talented individual should share in the wealth. The other knee-jerk answer is “no” because the university has already given that player about $100,000 worth of education for free as well as providing the opportunity to make millions if the student turns professional. While all of that is mightily important, none of it is what I really care about. My focus is on the common but incorrect term, student-athlete. It’s wrong, and I’ll prove it – with crayons.
Think about a box of 64 or 128 Crayola crayons, the box with the built-in sharpener. There were some wonderful color names like aquamarine, periwinkle, and mahogany, but there were other names that were a little confusing. For example, blue-green: is it more like blue or more like green? Same thing with orange-red. Here is how you figure it out. The second word is a noun, which is the real color, and the first word is an adjective, which is a slight influence on the real color. Therefore, blue-green is really green but with a bluish influence. Let’s apply that to college football players.
According to the term student-athlete, the individual is first and foremost an athlete. Secondarily, this athlete also happens to be a student. That seems unfortunately accurate when you look at the reality of the situation, but it’s backwards. You can have a school without an athletic program, but you cannot have scholastic athletics without a school. The young people involved are students for ten months but athletes for only about three months. It is likely that every one of these institutions includes the words “college” or “university” on the stationery. Also, you can fail at sports while continuing to being a student, but failing as a student – theoretically – will remove you from sports. It is “theoretical” because it seems as if top athletes never get a failing grade, even if they never once set foot in the classroom. So instead of student-athlete, they should instead be called athletic students.
College athletes actually do get paid, but it’s by subtraction and it’s delayed. Athletic students are passing up a handful of bucks now in order to collect a truckload of bucks in about three years. Four if they actually graduate. The average college student graduates with about $10,000 owed in student loans while also cramming in a few hours of part-time work just to keep some ramen noodles in their dorm fridge. Conversely, many athletes not only graduate without loans to repay, but they’re likely to have a few million in their pocket before the caps and gowns have been hung up in the closet. That doesn’t include the ones who run wild in the fall, get their names written in Sports Illustrated in the winter, and then quit school early in order to jump into the pro draft before their first Spring Break.