Fix the NCAA

Submitted by gpsimms not to… on September 28th, 2013 at 11:10 AM

I have what I think is a super-awesome-ncaa-fixing idea which I have mentioned to a few friends in conversation and most seem to think it is a pretty good one.  I'd be curious if y'all have any thoughts on it: 

The obvious problem is that many NCAA athletes contribute way more to a school than they are compensated by way of an athletic scholarship.  Of course, any NCAA commercial will tell you that the value of the student athlete's education is beyond measure.  Meanwhile, for every Denard Robinson that seems to squeeze every ounce of value out of his college experience, there are 12 [insert one and done from Kentucky here]'s who have no interest in what a college education has to offer. 

A degree from USC, or even a year of free education from USC, had no value at all to OJ Mayo, I'm sure.  At Michigan, I remember knowing of several classes which were specifically known to be 'football classes,' (at risk of pissing someone off from the Ojibwe department, I won't mention that Ojibwa was definitely one such class).  So here's the thing: let's not force athletes to rack up 120 credits in Ojibwe to complete their degree.  It's a joke, and it does no one any good.  Another issue with the degree is some kids come from such worthless high school backgrounds, that they are completely unprepared for college level courses, so they don't get as much out of the free education as they should.

Let's make the Michigan football experience what it actually is: a serious education in multi-million dollar industry which has just as many career opportunities as linguistics, history, medicine, or engineering (ok, maybe not engineering/medicine).  Make athletics a major.  Film study and off-season workouts?  Make them classes.  Are they not learning how to be players or coaches or fitness experts or nutritionists?  Is there any less opportunity in these fields than there are in traditional college majors?  Also, it's a cool way for coaches to enforce attendance rules on what used to be 'optional' workouts.  If the kid doesn't do summer workouts, they fail the class, and then their grades are not good enough to participate in the sport.

All sorts of majors have to satisfy basic requirements, so I am not suggesting they take no English or history or math.  I am only asking that they be given course credit for the 40 hours a week they put into mastering their craft, just like a music performance major might.  And for those kids I mentioned previously who come to college unprepared, let's allow the 'school of football/baseball/whatever' to offer some *truly* remedial courses.  I am *not* suggesting watering down the degree.  I am suggesting that we make players receive fantastic, personalized education that meets their needs.  Some athletes are crazy smart and have a strong high school background.  I am not suggesting that they have to get 120 credits of remedial reading, I can think of all sorts of cool/advanced courses.  How sweet would it be to get to teach a game theory course, coaching 423-Expected Value and the Punt? 

Also, since this 'school of athletics' (or whatever better name someone comes up with), is a bit of  a special case, I would say that athletes should be allowed to dual enroll in another school if they choose.  So, speaking of the crazy smart athletes above, (like Jordan Morgan and Devin Gardner) let's still let them enroll in social work, or engineering if they choose.  Honestly, Jordan Morgan has been working his ass off for 4.5 years at basketball and school, he totally deserves to have 2 degrees.  Or a volleyball player or a swimmer might wisely choose to dual enroll in athletics and education, for example, since she knows her field has a few less opportunities than football or basketball.  But still, she is learning a lot of the same fitness/nutrition/competition/management skills the football players are, and she should receive a degree that reflects that.

Of course, this does not entirely solve the fact that Universities are making millions of dollars and the kids don't see any (much) of it.  But I think less people would poo-poo the idea that a degree is a special and important thing if we made this clear distinction.  "I'm coming to Michigan to play football and learn football.  If I master my craft, I could get drafted and make millions.  That sounds like a worthwhile degree to pursue."  And again, I think if this school of athletics could offer some really dynamic classes to serve the needs of those that really have weak backgrounds, then this education could be so valuable.

I think it would be really cool if a few schools pioneered an idea like this.  "Come to Michigan, the first University to ever have a school of football.  Lloyd Carr teaches handling the media, and Mike Barwis teaches how to get paralyzed people to walk again."

Obviously, this does not address every issue with the amount of money that there is in NCAA sports.  But at the same time, I feel most pay-for-play options being considered have a lot more drawbacks than my idea.  Instead of rehash them all, I will simply say that to me the most compelling anti pay for play argument is in a quick comparison of attendance at college football games vs. attendance at arena football league games (or whatever your minor league system of choice is).  People love cheering for these kids that lived in the same dorms, went to the same classes, dealt with the same ridiculous weather and long walks, etc.  I love Michigan football because I had the best time of my life there.  As soon as athletes are legit superstar millionaires walking around campus, those kids have *nothing* in common with me, and my love/association with Michigan football will definitely be diminished.  There is a reason college sports are the only ones who approach the professional leagues in terms of popularity, let's try not to mess with that.

Sorry, this got really long, but I would love some feedback on why this idea won't work, as I feel it's pretty unique and the best way to deal with the problem that I have heard.





September 28th, 2013 at 11:21 AM ^

It is interesting. What if 50 percent of the team decide to get this major when only 2 percent of them, and maybe even less, will make the NFL? What happens to those players that have a degree that may not be valued by employers?

snarling wolverine

September 28th, 2013 at 12:24 PM ^

But given that ex-athletes already are entering these fields, what is the benefit of having an "athletics" degree?  

Qualifications for a job do not always depend on a specific degree.  Michigan has no school of journalism, but writers for the Daily regularly get journalism jobs because of their experience.  Adding a J-school would if anything limit their future prospects, because it would pigeonhole them into one field whereas now they have to major in something else, which can open up other possibilities if journalism doesn't work.  

Same goes for athletes.  I think it's good for them to major in a non-sports field, because realistically, most are not going to end up getting a job related to athletics in the long run.  (Many of those who do become high school coaches, which often requires them to go into education and become teachers.)  Getting a degree outside of sports opens up more avenues for them.  If O.J. Mayo didn't see the value in it, well, that's too bad for him.


Mmmm Hmmm

September 29th, 2013 at 11:36 AM ^

Having a focused degree sets you apart from every other person who has similar credentials.  It is not a replacement for the experience, but the althete can go into an interview and talk about how they had experience in athletics plus an academic approach to (fill in the blank job in professional or college athletics).  That doesn't mean that they will automatically be hired over people without the degree, but it would set them apart.


September 28th, 2013 at 11:33 AM ^

It's not at all clear to me that the degree would have no value to those players if the program were well constructed.

I'll take music as an example since it's close to home for me. I went to a school where about a quarter of the student body were conservatory students. Most of them came in with the dream of becoming professional performers, or composers or conductors in a few cases.

Few of them made it, and in most cases it wasn't easy to know in advance who would and who wouldn't. But that pretty vast majority of con students that didn't have successful professional lives as performers are doing ok with careers as teachers, or on the business end of music.

Set up your program so it doesn't just train football players, but gives them understanding of how to be an agent, or player rep. Of how to run a rec program, manage a sports franchise, run a marketing agency. That stuff would be of enormous use to those that became players and it would give the degree a lot of value to those that didn't work out.


September 28th, 2013 at 5:15 PM ^

But with just a few exceptions (eg, becoming a coach), the vast majority of these career options already have schools associated with them. There are degrees in Nutrition, degrees in running a business, law degrees (common for sports agents). But the classes are a lot more than simply 'doing' these things, which the OP seems to be suggesting should earn them credit. It's about learning the underlying physiology, rationale, theory, science, whatever, which the student athletes aren't getting just for showing up to their workouts, so this makes little sense to me.


September 28th, 2013 at 11:57 PM ^

I'm still thinking this through, but my first thought is this: isn't that also true for violin majors? They could have majored in music education, which was the primary fallback for many of them when the professional career with the violin didn't work out. But they chose to major in violin performance instead, and got credit for the time they put in practicing their violin.

They still had to satisfy all the academic requirements of the degree, of course---I wasn't in the conservatory so I don't remember what was required and what was just elective, but there were extensive theory and history requirements for sure. And they had to satisfy the requirements for getting in to the school in the first place, which since it was a conservatory attached to an A&S school were pretty demanding. But their major field was a performance degree in a specific instrument. How is that different, really, from majoriing in performance in a specific sport?

And yes, they got a certain number of hours credit for a performance course every semester, which basically consisted of private instruction with a professor in the instrument. Practice time on the instrument was like homework in any other course, except a lot more life-consuming.

snarling wolverine

September 28th, 2013 at 12:31 PM ^

Meanwhile, for every Denard Robinson that seems to squeeze every ounce of value out of his college experience, there are 12 [insert one and done from Kentucky here]'s who have no interest in what a college education has to offer.

I think your math's pretty far off on this. Yes, some athletes may come to college with a one-track mind and think sports is all that's out there, but most eventually come to the realization that it may not happen for them. (For one thing, most don't even become star players at the college level.) Most do, in fact, end up staying in school until the end of their eligibility. The one-and-done guys are a very small subset of the total number.

I really don't think the NCAA is that "broken" at all. For whatever reason this blog is obsessed with that tiny percentage of college athletes who have marketable value. Most don't. No one's buying a official cross-country singlet at the M-Den (or, for that matter, do they buy the vast majority of football players' jerseys).

gpsimms not to…

September 28th, 2013 at 4:21 PM ^

You are right about that situation being more rare than I make it sound.  And I also agree with you in principle that the system is less out of whack than many say.

I think my solution is a lot less dramatic than some of the pay-for-play ideas, which is why it is reasonable.  I just think giving them a comprehensive education in their field of interest is a good idea.  And they work so many hours a week at their sport, and are learning tons, so I just don't see how it hurts anything to give them a little course credit for all they are learning.

This doesn't pigeonhole anyone.  Since they are *all* capable of doing sports 40 hours a week, plus being a full time student in every major imaginable, then there is no reason to believe that giving them more credits for workout, film study, etc would make those who wanted to be engineers drop all their engineering courses.


September 29th, 2013 at 12:10 PM ^

Participants in revenue sports should get the use of Health Services for life.  I'll go one further.  If they're making grades, their scholarships should be extended for their lifetime.  If some lineman wants to stick around and go to medical school...Or heck, if somebody that didn't make the league wants to try their hand at engineering.  Time constraints for football, and especially basketball make academic progress in challenging majors near impossible in-season.  Let's give them their time back.  We should give them schooling until they get the job they want.

The school the OP was talking about largely aleady exists, it's called the school of kinesiology. 

Honeslty, I think any discussion that starts out "how do we pay players" ends with one inevitable conclusion: Burning the whole damn thing down.  And maybe that's what some people want.  But I'm selfinsh, and I like college football(and Michigan's position therein) hence I am praying that this storm just passes.

I like the idea of housing them, caring for their health, and educating them until they can get the job they want, kind of a "Teach a man to fish" solution.  Our athletes deserve it, their efforts would certainly pay for it, and it may be the step that holds college football together.

gpsimms not to…

September 28th, 2013 at 4:15 PM ^

I love Michigan more than anything in the world, but if you think that letting some athletes replace x credits of 'sports in ancient rome' and ojibwe, and 'the biology of sex' etc. with x credits of film study, weight lifting, etc. is going to seriously devalue a Michigan degree, then your pride in the University is clouding your perception of reality.

It is not easy what these students do, and I don't think that my idea, if executed correctly, waters down anything.  It would be cool if Michigan had the most academically rigourous 'sports performance' major in the country.

Mr Miggle

September 28th, 2013 at 1:08 PM ^

You might want to read this article espousing your main idea.


My information may be out of date, but Michigan does offer some remedial classes. A friend of mine had to take two semesters of math before she was ready for 1st semester calculus. Those are zero credit classes. Offering credit for remedial classes is a very bad idea imo. It waters down the value of a Michigan degree. It's also not something that could only be offered to athletes.

gpsimms not to…

September 28th, 2013 at 4:16 PM ^

Remedial courses for credit is probably a bad idea.  So we can strike that.  I would just like to have a few dedicated courses/groups/whatever to take kids with weak backgrounds and transition them into legit college courses.

Currently, I am sure there are tons of athletes that are just "passed-through" the system, and are really not getting that much out of the degree, since they may not have the baseline skills to reap the benefits of some courses.

Also, thanks for the link.  Glad to know there is some discussion about this idea.


September 28th, 2013 at 1:31 PM ^

There are already majors similar to what you're suggesting, and a great many football players choose them (Kinesiology, sports management, etc.). I do think that a small, competitive program that allowed some players to major or minor in coaching would be a good addition -- a lot of people don't realize how complicated football is, and a good understanding of the intricacies requires as much work as most any other minor. The public perception of such a program might be its biggest obstacle.

Incidentally, this fact explains my near-constant frustration with football fans. Something as simple as a QB's accuracy is a lot harder to judge than most fans think (was the receiver running the wrong route/reading the coverage differently from the QB? You don't know.), and yet many thousands of folks across the internet with not even basic football knowledge confidently shout their opinions at each other every week.

gpsimms not to…

September 28th, 2013 at 4:08 PM ^

You are right these majors exist.  I would like to see them receive course credit for all they are doing to educate themselves in sports, though.  Maybe it shouldn't be a separate school (although I think that model does work well), but maybe all of that lifting they do each semester should be worth 2 credits of kinesiology, or something.


September 28th, 2013 at 9:33 PM ^

I like your general idea of providing a program focus on coaching and the deeper details of the sport.  I think that could easily be part of an expansion of the School of Kinesiology.  I don't think a separate school is needed.

I'm not sure I agree with granting credit for activities related to the sport they participate in.  Getting credit for lifting weights or practicing is a leap too far for me.  Perhaps I'm worried about the slippery slope. 

Fundamental to this discussion is the notion of the student athletes having a true desire to pursue an academic degree.  For those who don't have that intent, then perhaps Michigan is not the place for them.  Creating a "holding pen" for such athletes is not a good idea.

I know you weren't advocating that ... I was just establishing the other end of the discussion spectrum. 


September 29th, 2013 at 2:00 PM ^

There are plenty of schools out there that work extra hard to eliminate any of the expectations of both sides of the 'student-athlete' title for their players... we like to believe Michigan is different, and there is at least some evidence we're jusified in that belief. If a recruit wants something other than the Michigan experience, they've got many options to pick from, and many make that choice.

I do think there is an opportunity to provide a more holistic education for some of our student-athletes who hope for a professional athlete career, but are realistic enough to have a viable 'Plan B' that would still allow them to make a living in professional sports without necessarily being on the field. I'm not sure that would make a diffference in recruiting the 5-star talent we're hoping to attract, but it could make the difference with the 3 and 4-starts that are a good fit for our program and university, filling out our depth charts from the middle instead of just from the top.

gpsimms not to…

September 30th, 2013 at 9:11 AM ^

Also, I'd say it's worth reminding people that kids in the Michigan Marching Band get credit in music for each fall in the band.  Can someone tell me how many credits?

The band kids definitely desrve the credit, but yet I am pretty sure athletes spend even more time on their sport than the band has practice (though I do know the band works very hard, this is true right?  Again someone from the MMB feel free to chime in.)

I think this is my general response to anyone who says all the degrees I've mentioned already exist.  They do, but these kids are learning a lot in those fields  currently without getting credit for it.


October 1st, 2013 at 3:15 PM ^

There are actually very few football players in kinesiology at Michigan. The media guide has 113 players listed. Of these, 6 are in kinesiology that aren't freshmen:

Kenny Allen

Blake Countess

Devin Funchess

Jareth Glanda

Joe Kerridge

Michael Schofield

There are 6 more true freshmen in kinesiology:

Chris Wormley (freshman)

Delano Hill (freshman)

Maurice Hurst (freshman)

Mike McCray (freshman)

Shane Morris (freshman)

Csont’e York (freshman)

If history is a predictor, at least half of these will transfer to LSA before finishing their playing days or graduation (whichever comes first).


gpsimms not to…

October 2nd, 2013 at 8:48 AM ^

interesting point, and emphasizes the fact that these kids are either

(1) not really prepard for an academically rigorous major, and need to be better 'eased in' to the field in which case a school of their own that incorporates some movement science makes a bit of sense.


(2) Football just takes too much time to handle a kinesiology degree.  In which case giving them a few extra credits for all the 'kinesiology lab' they are doing makes a bit of sense.


September 28th, 2013 at 1:34 PM ^

Hi, glad to see someone else has reached the same conclusions - see some of earlier posts of mine.

Rather than a major in football - make it broader and use the term Performance Atheltics much as there are Performance Music majors. Colleges, Universities and other centers of higher education all offer degrees and concentrations in fields which only a tiny fraction achieve success: music, art, and acting. No one will ever claim musicians, artists and actors have easy lives - most do not ever get to use their degrees and only a tiny fraction end up being successful - yet each year thousands of these degree holders are graduated.

Make a core curriculum around performance athletics in general with specialized training in the specific sports. I know that many people who would otherwise defend a music or art degree find it hard to believe how any sport could be deep enough to create a full 4 year course of study - but anyone who has been a regular reader of this blog would attest, sports culture in the USA has effects which can be a deep field of study - the law, economics, culture impact, psychology, anatomy, physiology, nutrition, pharmacology, math-statistics, etc.

Finally, look at the marching band, are all of the members music majors? No ( I don't know all of the recent stats on this, so if I'm wrong, please let me know) but usually it is a only a fraction of the total - so the major teams (FB, BB) will still mostly be of kids who do are not performance athletics majors.

We won't see this idea soon but I hope to see it accepted one day. Any school with a art school, music school or drama school is already part of the way there.


September 28th, 2013 at 5:42 PM ^

The NCAA is primarily motivated by public perception (among other thing$). The average Joe is not going to understand the merits of such a program without someone sitting down with him to explain it, so this would never get off the ground. You have to also keep in mind that such a program would need to fly with non-sports-fans too, let alone the hardcore fans..

Brewers Yost

September 28th, 2013 at 5:43 PM ^

Some examples of this idea would be the Equine Industry Program at University of Louisville or the Race Track Industry Program at Arizona. Both are geared towards individuals interested in careers in horse racing.


September 28th, 2013 at 11:34 PM ^

I say you take "all those billions" being pored into college football and basketball and turn the NCAA from a declawed cat into a dog with some bite. Give them all the resources they need to clean up all the cheating. That is the best use of the supposed "pot of money" I can think of.


September 29th, 2013 at 1:23 PM ^

with real merit in creating the kind of classroom experience that jocks and student athletes would find meaningful while giving credit to players for time actually served in their sport without the bs associated with monitoring whether players are being over-practiced. 

The opportunity to develop a curriculum courseload that incorporated required classes with creatively nuanced classes, such as sports economics and personal finance, could satisfy certain requirements. You could offer a Michigan sports history and tradition class and football coaching class. I mean Jim Tressel used to teach that and he brought in former Ohio coaches to guest lecture. I think this is a good idea. 

And the fact is, if you aren't going to do something like this that reflects what kids on scholarship are actually doing with the majority of their time and lack of opportunity for almost anything else, then you ought to consider relaxing the graduation and eligibility requirments that govern athletes. 

Clearly, every case is different. No two kids are alike. Some players are excellent students and thrive in the classsroom and learning situations, others aren't as advanced. Providing a range of options to complete your education when you are prepared to do so makes a lot of sense instead of trying to funnel everyone through the same system that has become an enforceement and regulatory nightmare without rationality or justification based on current industry practices.