Josh Rosen Is Right About College Athletes, But Sports Media Doesn’t Want You To Focus On That

By now I’m sure you’ve seen this quote plucked from UCLA quarterback and (probably) future 1st-round pick, Josh Rosen’s Bleacher Report interview:

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And being early August and in the dead zone when it comes to sports talk (sorry baseball, I still love you) it has gotten covered in segment after segment on ESPN and the like and there have been some polarizing viewpoints.

Here is Rosen’s full quote about the topic, which explains his viewpoint beyond the soundbite that every talking heads show is running with:

 Look, football and school don’t go together. They just don’t. Trying to do both is like trying to do two full-time jobs. There are guys who have no business being in school, but they’re here because this is the path to the NFL. There’s no other way. Then there’s the other side that says raise the SAT eligibility requirements. OK, raise the SAT requirement at Alabama and see what kind of team they have. You lose athletes and then the product on the field suffers.

….It’s not that they shouldn’t be in school. Human beings don’t belong in school with our schedules. No one in their right mind should have a football player’s schedule, and go to school. It’s not that some players shouldn’t be in school; it’s just that universities should help them more—instead of just finding ways to keep them eligible.

Any time any player puts into school will take away from the time they could put into football. They don’t realize that they’re getting screwed until it’s too late. You have a bunch of people at the universities who are supposed to help you out, and they’re more interested in helping you stay eligible. At some point, universities have to do more to prepare players for university life and help them succeed beyond football. There’s so much money being made in this sport. It’s a crime to not do everything you can to help the people who are making it for those who are spending it.

And I admit when I saw every website and blog putting together their fancy graphics honing in on the 1% of the quote that will get clicks I was going to write about the fact only 1.7% of college football players get the opportunity to play professionally. And how the ability to give that dream a chance while obtaining a degree that offers an option for after football is incredibly important.

Without that degree many college athletes, not just football players, would end up in a similar unfortunate situation we see our veterans constantly face. Your body gets used up for a name, whether that be UCLA or the United States Army or whomever, and after they’ve gotten out of you what they can or want then you’re on your own, often with an insurmountable struggle to begin their next chapter.

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But, that’s not what Rosen is saying. Rosen is highlighting an issue that is often swept under the rug, even with the amount of academic scandals we see facing the country’s most prominent college programs (see North Carolina, Florida State, Syracuse, etc).

The goal of higher education is to prepare its attendees for life outside of the bubble that is college life. And many of us non-college athletes can relate. Do you feel prepared for your first job? Do you feel like you learned the skills necessary to succeed outside of that bubble?

Chances are you don’t. You put in countless hours memorizing textbooks and concepts just to regurgitate it on some test or in some presentation and then you forget it and go on to memorizing the next topic that may or may not have any significance in what you prepare to do afterwards.

You spend late nights in the library or in your dorm cranking out work to receive an arbitrary grade while pushing your brain to the limit for an outcome that is temporary and then forgotten. And these grades virtually don’t matter after you get that first job and have to relearn everything to fit that new environment anyway.

Now, imagine your college experience, all the hours studying, doing homework, and attending class, but now you have practice everyday and you’re traveling on weekends for games, missing vital classes and time to maximize your academic abilities. And on top of that you have to do things outside of the NCAA regulated practice times. All of which is taking away from your time with your studies, to indulge in your education to get the most of it that you can.

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Could you manage that workload? Likely not. I know I couldn’t. I’ve been through undergrad and grad school with varying time strains on my life and even in my easiest semesters there was only a small window of time for, you know, life. So, not having the faintest idea what Rosen is going through, I can understand his viewpoint.

Colleges and universities aren’t trying to do their best for the student part of student athlete. These institutions are businesses, no matter what the name on the front of the campus says. University of California Los Angeles might as well have “Inc.” tacked on the end because at the end of the day the football team is about money and the pawns in that venture are temporary.

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Why do you think they pay their head football coach, Jim Mora Jr., over $3.5m a year? Not to help these young men succeed in the classroom, but the football field. The professors aren’t making this type of money and to this aspect of college life they aren’t even viewed as teachers, but instead as roadblocks.

And when 98.3% of the kids coming through their lorckerrooms end up in the real world with an academic background that looks good on paper, but not in practice, it’s no longer their problem.

And even the ones that do make it are hamstrung. The average career of an NFL player is 3.3 years, shorter than the duration many of them will spend in undergrad.  In 2013, the average NFL player’s career earnings was calculated to be $6.7m, which yeah, seems like a good chunk of change and puts them in the middle of the average earnings a person will make in their lifetime.

But, people have just that, a lifetime, to make that and that comes with the ability to plan and learn from age and experience as they earn, these kids, even the lucky few, will get all of that handed to them before they’re 30 years old and theoretically have no other income over the 50-60 years of their lives.

In a 2009 Sports Illustrated article they found that 78% of NFL players are bankrupt or experiencing financial stress within two years of retirement. And most of them either left for the pros early without a degree or have one that was spoon-fed to them to keep them eligible, leaving them without the skills the average student will leave school with, which as I have noted, isn’t that much to begin with.

So, while you see Josh Rosen getting trashed on television this week for his seemingly dense opinion, remember that this isn’t just the star quarterback who once got in trouble for having a hot tub in his dorm, this is someone who has the experience being a cog in the NCAA machine.

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And most importantly remember all quotes deserve context, especially here, because he’s shedding light on an issue that no matter how many cautionary tales get turned into 30 for 30s or how many times its hammered into our skulls, is going unnoticed or simply not cared about.

The NCAA gives people a chance to experience success we would all dream of, but at the same time it’s making sure to dictate that experience and the institutions tasked with making that worthwhile are failing its revenue generating young men and women on a regular basis.

The system wants to have its cake and eat it too. It places athletics above academics, while flying the false flag of education first and hinders the ability for them to achieve the most possible at either.



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