Intercollegiate Athletics vs. Academics: The Student-Athlete or the Athlete-Student

ABSTRACT

Athletic programs at many colleges and universities are inconsistent with the school’s mission statements. The term “student-athlete” basically
means that they are students first, and then athletes. We have reached a point here it can be argued that they are instead more athlete-students.
Regardless of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rules and regulations that stipulate that they are not allowed to, some student-athletes still receive
preferential treatment and extra benefits while in college. Some recruited athletes are not prepared for the cascade of academic college work along with the additional
demands that NCAA athletics require. The athletic pressures that accompany NCAA athletic scholarship can leave the unprepared student athlete with little time
for academics.
With collegiate athletics becoming a big business the rules associated with how we treat the student athlete must change. It is not unreasonable to suggest
that is the business of college athletics changes then the way we treat the student athlete must change as well. Something needs to change in the way the
NCAA conducts its business. Considering the large amount of revenue that is, and for the foreseeable future will be, generated each year in this industry,
it is only fair that some sort of a stipend system be put in place to compensate student athletes.

Athletic programs at many colleges and universities are inconsistent with the school’s academic missions. The focus on maintaining a strong athletic
program has taken precedence over the scholastic quality of the student-athlete that is accepted into the institution. For the student-athlete this can mean
lowered academic admissions standards and preferential treatment in school. On the other hand, many student-athletes are attending college but not learning,
and are being overworked and undercompensated (Ting 2009). Overall the issue here is about the big business that intercollegiate athletics has become versus
the academic missions of the colleges and universities. The term “student-athlete” implies that the individuals should be students first, and then athletes. We
have reached a point where it can be argued that they are instead more athlete-students.
History/Background
Athletic programs were first incorporated into institutions of higher learning for several reasons: it was believed that participation in sports helped to
build character, it provided entertainment, and it generated positive school and community spirit. “It was also believed that athletics could contribute
to the institutional mission through resource acquisition in the form of money, widespread visibility, increased student enrollment, and enhanced alumni support”
(Gerdy, 2006, p. 46). However, it seems that ever since collegiate athletics began in the late 1800’s, there have been noted problems. In the first
organized collegiate football game Rutgers University beat Princeton, but the team included three players that were failing a math class (Igel & Boland,
2010). Over time, the problem has grown: in the 1980’s 57 out of 106 Division IA institutions (54%) had to be censured, sanctioned, or put on probation for
a major NCAA rules violation (Mandel, 2007). Fifty eight out of one hundred and fourteen did the same in the 1990’s (Friday, 2011). Because of the
current state of most intercollegiate athletic departments, particularly those belonging to the NCAA Division I, colleges and universities have become more
than just institutions of higher learning; they are now also huge players in the commercial entertainment industry (Clotfelter, 2010).
Overall, many athletic programs have become something bigger than the school itself; without the program’s success the schools would not be as attractive
to incoming students (Pope &Pope 2009). The success of these athletic programs lies in the hands of the student-athletes, and they need to be taught that success
on the field does not always mean success in the classroom or in life. Athletics should be extracurricular to the academic priority (O’Toole, 2010).
The Athlete-Student
It is not a question of whether or not the experience for a student-athlete is different from that of a traditional student. Instead, the issue at hand
here is whether or not student-athletes are students that participate in extracurricular competitive sports, or have become athletes that also go to classes whenever
their athletic schedules allow. On one hand, it can be argued that the student-athlete benefits greatly from the relationship that he or she has with the athletic
department and its stakeholders. On the other hand, many claim that the athletic departments have reached a point where they are unjustly exploiting

and overworking
these athletes, using them to further grow their multimillion dollar corporations.

Some student-athletes still receive preferential treatment and extra benefits while in college in clear violation of the spirit of NCAA rules and regulations..
Colleges and universities routinely lower admission standards for athletes (Laderson, 2002) (Bracken, Scoggins & Weiner 2006). On average, student-athletes enter
in the bottom 25% of their freshman class (Eitzen, 2000). They may even be promised “grades” to get them to attend a particular institution. (Lumpkin,
2008) Some might argue That such unethical behavior would not be necessary if student athletes were encouraged to hold their studies as their highest priority.
Student-athletes also receive extra benefits in the form of money and gifts as rewards for attending a particular university or for a good game-time performance.
Many athletes do not attend college to learn, but rather hope to use their collegiate competitive athletic experience to land positions on professional sports teams
(Ladenson, 2002). They have a distorted idea of what it should mean to be a student-athlete, and believe it to be more like a required minor league that
allows them to get enough exposure to someday make it to the major leagues. With the focus on athletic competition and away from academics, collegiate athletics
has become simply one game after another, after another, devoid of a larger educational purpose or vision, just like professional sports (Gerdy, 2006).
Recruited athletes are not prepared for college work, and then even more athletic demands than they are accustomed to, are placed upon them that allows little
time for academics (Gerdy, 2006) (Ting 2009). Student-athletes entering their first year hold more responsibilities than the non-athletic participating student,
and it may be more difficult for them to transition through changes in athletic participation demands on top of the new social and academic changes. McEwen
(2010) conducted a study using a sample of eleven freshman female student-athletes that were interviewed at the beginning and then the middle of the season. He
found that although all successfully adapted to their new social and athletic lives, only two of eleven (18.2%) were able to transition academically as well.
Athletes spend 30-40 hours per week on their sport which is mentally and physically exhausting, allowing them little time or energy to put toward their studies.
This is one of the reasons why coaches tend to require they take “easy” courses and “easy” majors so that they have a better chance of maintaining
academic eligibility and can still compete (Eitzen, 2000) (Manzo 1994). By promoting an emphasis on athletics being more important than anything else in college,
this also sends a poor message to the future college student-athletes, that athletics provide a “get rich quick avenue from the realities of hard
work, personal sacrifice, and a commitment to excellence” (Haynes, 1990 PAGE NUMBER HERE!). This could not be further from the truth; however, as less
than one out of ten thousand athletes make it into professional sports (Haynes, 1990).
Collegiate athletics has been estimated to be a sixty billion dollar industry (McCormick & McCormick, 2006). It is interesting to note who benefits from
this enormous amount of money. The big conference coaches are allowed agents and sign contracts that bring them hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars
per year in salary alone. The NCAA and the universities benefit from the billions of dollars made and do not have to pay taxes on their earnings as they are claiming
that athletic functions are in line with their academic missions. Corporations and the media benefit as they get business from the exposure at the athletic
events. The student-athletes are the only group involved that are not able to benefit proportionally from the billions of dollars raked in each year.
The NCAA claims that student-athletes are classified as such for a few very important reasons. First, athletes need to be able to claim amateur status.
They do this by remaining academically in good standing and by also not receiving any pay or gifts for their performance or presence as a student-athlete. This
way the NCAA can require them to perform work as athletes for free because it is considered part of the educational mission, which also means that they do
not have to pay taxes on their profits (Eitzen, 2000). McCormick and McCormick (2006) claim that student-athletes at Division 1 NCAA sports at revenue generating
schools are actually employee-athletes and they argue that they should be able to profit as well. The NCAA revealed that football players devote more than
forty hours a week to practicing, playing, and training, but only twenty of those hours are mandatory. This means that putting in the extra hours is a well-known
but non-documented requirement. Being required to participate in any work over forty hours a week is the equivalent to a full time job (Smith, 2011). Like
no other industry in the U.S., the NCAA is allowed to employ one type of labor (athletic participation and performance) without paying a competitive wage for
it (McCormick & McCormick, 2006). The student-athletes instead are provided with scholarships to attend school, which is a positive, but in comparison to
the billions of dollars brought in every year, the tuition money is equivalent to payment in ‘peanuts.’ The student-athletes are being exploited
economically, making millions for their institutions, the NCAA, and other corporations but are provided only with a subsistence wage or room, board, tuition and books.

The long hours that the student-athletes are required to put in are due to the athletic department’s attitudes of having to “win at all costs.”
This can lead to heavily publicized athletic scandals of schools that will pay athletes in money or gifts to attend their schools, or grade changes in order
to keep athletes academically eligible (Lumpkin 2008). Fans and stakeholders of big time programs would rather win and later get busted for cheating than
finish 8-4 or 9-3 every year with a straight-laced program of student-athletes (Mandel, 2007).
Discussions/Solutions
Eitzen (2006) suggests some ways to correct the current state of intercollegiate athletics in order to align the departments with their respective institution’s
academic missions. He suggests that institutions should no longer make admissions exceptions; eliminate freshman eligibility; provide remedial classes and training;
reduce time demands; allow athletes the freedom to transfer schools whenever they would like; give them the right to consult with agents just like coaches
are able to; and give them the right to make money from endorsements, speeches, etc. Smith (2011) suggests that all scholarship athletes should be able to receive
a guaranteed undergraduate education including living expenses, for each year that they participate as an athlete on a varsity team, which they should be
able to redeem at any time. This would allow them to focus on their sport if they choose to do so. At a certain point, taking the sport to the next level
will either pan out or it will not, and at that time the offer should still be on the table for the athlete to complete their degree. The NCAA has been
somewhat receptive to changes regarding the compensation of student athletes. A reform agenda has recently been passed by the NCAA’s Division I board
of Directors that allows schools to increase aid and lengthen scholarship terms to individual athletes (Cohen 2011).

CONCLUSION

Collegiate athletics has become a big business, but athletes are expected to stay the same? How can they be expected to be responsible for contributing to
the growth of a multibillion dollar industry but be the only party to not see any benefits from it (Toma & Kramer, 2009)? Balance needs to be maximized
between academic and athletic programs. If we are going to refer to individuals as student-athletes then they should indeed be held to the highest standard
of both student and athlete. Something needs to change in the process of how the NCAA conducts its business. The NCAA is going to have to admit that the
requirements for a student-athlete, particularly in Division 1 revenue producing sports, are the equivalent of that of a full time job. Considering the huge
amounts of money that are generated each year in this industry, it would only be fair if the student-athletes were all paid a monthly stipend for their participation.
Focusing on the “athletic” aspect of being a student-athlete more than the “student” is unfair and will limit the experiences that
the student-athlete should have while enrolled at the college or university of their choice. In order for the student to be well-rounded, programs must
focus on the concepts of self-sufficiency, independence, and personal goal getting (Haynes, 1990). Almost all student-athletes will end up as a professional in
something other than sports. It needs to be ensured that the students will succeed off the field as well as on the field (Smith, 2011). College is meant to prepare
students for the real world. By failing to adequately prepare our student-athletes the institution also fails to serve this important function.
The argument can be made that collegiate athletics overshadows academia at many schools. However, many feel that the whole university community benefits greatly
from a very successful athletic program. Although preferential treatment may be given to certain student-athletes in order for them to be able to attend
and complete an academic program and play for the athletic department, many believe it can be justified. It can be argued that many of these athletes would
never make it in a higher education program if there were no sports programs to help them get there, and no motivation for them to try to attend. On a small
scale, the university, directly the athletic department, benefits from the athletes because they help in growing the program and making it a success. A large number
of the student-athletes benefit from the university because it provides them with a quality and aspect of life that they normally would not be able to experience.
It is only a tiny minority that benefit from the institution preparing them for a future in professional sports.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

None

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