Athletics at a Crossroads: An Argument for Deemphasizing the Importance of Collegiate Athletics

It is hard to articulate just how magical and exciting football Saturday is. I will never forget that first Saturday, 110,000 fans screaming as our fearless classmates went to war. We laughed, we screamed, we cried, and we bonded together. It was truly an experience unlike any other, something impossible not to love. Sports have a power to bring us together and it is no question that it is something that will always unite the students and alumni of this and other universities.

I point this out not to just muse in my memories or spew Go Blue propaganda, but to demonstrate that feelings of attachment to sports are an important part of the college experience. However, it is this sense of attachment that causes people to defend something that they know is corrupt, and in truth it is understandable. Sports are magnetic, and for many, taking away collegiate athletes would ruin this continued enjoyment. As a result, while many people may have issues with the NCAA itself, they either choose not to speak out because they love the entertainment or just ignore the lack of wages for athletes altogether. However, it becomes impossible to avoid discussing issues with the NCAA, and specifically how athletes are kept in limbo by being forced to compete for no wage in order to have a chance of getting to compete at the highest level for pay.

Athletes are pushed to take easier classes, and are forced to miss exorbitant amounts of class time to compete and represent their school, for money they will never see.   

Regardless of why we ignore this problem, this takes away from the student-athletes themselves–the ones that go out and often times risk their lives for our fun. Preventing these athletes from earning a wage keeps them in a state of limbo in which despite producing a large amount of revenue for their school and the NCAA, they are told their paycheck is in the form of an education which is often neglected for many athletes. Athletes are pushed to take easier classes, and are forced to miss exorbitant amounts of class time to compete and represent their school, for money they will never see. This also does not include the numerous practices and “voluntary workouts” that can add up to an estimated 30-50 hours a week; blowing well past the NCAA’s “20-hour rule.”   Many wonder where we should go from here as the NCAA experiences an increasing number of scandals including payments, paper classes, undermined practice rules, and most recently an FBI investigation into payments of “one and done” freshman athletes by sports agents and schools.

Should students be allowed to play sports in college? Absolutely, and I am by no means arguing that they cannot. However, those at the highest levels of their sport should not be required to go to school to play their sport. In other parts of the world, kids as young as thirteen are put into academies, and are eventually able to earn a salary. While the “college experience” is not the same at schools in Europe, it is significantly cheaper and focuses on what the purpose of college should be: academia and future employment. The NBA has begun taking steps to get rid of the so called “one and done” rule and has begun offering a genuine alternative to collegiate athletics, and I applaud them for doing so. More leagues need to follow suit, and there is no reason why NFL and NHL teams cannot begin making development academies of their own, and allow athletes to get paid what they are worth.

The building up of academies and alternatives for collegiate athletics would not only clear up the legal absurdity surrounding college sports, but it would also allow for better recruitment and talent to appear in more sports, and allow us to truly become a powerhouse in many sports outside of just football and basketball. In one of my previous articles, I detailed why the United States failed to qualify for the World Cup, and what I thought were potential solutions. In it I discussed my beliefs in regards to the “pay-to-play” system, in which the only way for many young kids to participate or get involved in soccer have to pay first (i.e. a league, clinic, or club team) in order to get an opportunity to compete in soccer or play at a high level. This in my opinion takes away passion from the sport, as it restricts access and as a result reduces competition amongst players, as it is less about who wants it more and more about who has access to the best training.

One of the reason basketball and football are games filled with so much passion is that there is huge motivation amongst the public to provide these sports to others. Whether it is football stadiums and gear for many high schools across America, or your local park or gym that has a basketball court, these sports are accessible for Americans regardless of socioeconomic status. The same cannot be said of other sports such as soccer, water polo, field hockey, and others. Creating more accessibility to all of these sports can increase our field of talent as well as allow these students to have an opportunity to earn a paycheck as a result of their talent.

Currently, the only sports leagues that provides high level athletics that is accessible to most kids are offseason leagues and competitions like the AAU, which I can say from personal experience, is an unregulated and chaotic nightmare.

In addition, allowing for more students to have access to better training, will help many learn and grow in their sport and become better athletes and people as a result. Currently, the only sports leagues that provides high level athletics that is accessible to most kids are offseason leagues and competitions like the AAU, which I can say from personal experience, is an unregulated and chaotic nightmare. Instead of focusing on development, kids are dragged from tournament to tournament, playing as many as 5 games in one day while hoping that the right scout notices them at the right time, instead of allowing athletes to focus on actually becoming better and learning.  

Ultimately, reducing the need for collegiate athletics is helpful for not only the athletes but the pro leagues themselves. It allows for athletes to actually have a paycheck, while helping increase accessibility and allowing for the best talent to compete at the highest levels. Many have argued that for these leagues it is good for their business to force kids to go to college and get an education. While having college fans become engaged in the pro leagues may be helpful, ultimately I would argue the opposite. Reducing accessibility reduces the pool of talent and ultimately the level of play in the respective sport. Increasing accessibility makes everyone better, and creates real passion in and competitiveness in each sport. This in turn can help return the NCAA to what its purpose should actually be; an organization that allows those receiving an education to play sports, not play sports at the expense of receiving an education and the right to earn a wage.

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About Noah Garfinkel

Noah is a freshman looking to study International Studies. He is from Southern California, and his main interests in writing are sports (particularly soccer) and politics. In his free time he likes to play basketball, listen to podcasts, run, and read.