A broken and deeply flawed system

I commend the Northwestern University football players for speaking out. Changing the present system in which college athletes have played under has been discussed for quite some time. The inequities that these athletes face have been well documented and the time is now to do something about them.

College athletes, particularly those who make their universities and the NCAA millions and billions of dollars, have been ill-treated and bullied long enough. I’m not saying that the universities don’t indulge their athletes. In some cases they do, and in some cases it’s to the point of spoiling them. Saying that, I believe college athletes should be given an increased stipend for their efforts. Yes, they are on scholarship, but unlike other students who are on scholarship, they have to spend the majority of their free time physically and emotionally earning their scholarship.

Student athletes have to go to meetings and learn just as they would in their regular classes on campus. They then proceed to go through rigorous practices run by their other faculty, their coaches, who are every bit as demanding as any college professor. This protocol is not only emotionally and mentality challenging, it’s also physically grueling. No one talks about that. People assume that it’s easy stuff. They only see the end product—the games—but have little idea what the cost of preparing for those games truly is.

Being a former college coach, scout and GM, I have seen firsthand the time, pressure and commitment needed to keep a scholarship. And unfortunately, I have seen the physical damage that football has put on the bodies of student athletes.

College sports are great entertainment for millions of people. If the universities and their governing body are making money from it, why shouldn’t they pay the athletes their fans come to see?

Let me say it again: Student athletes earn their scholarships based on the extra work they perform, which is beyond that required for normal students. That being said, why shouldn’t these student athletes get paid? School administrators can talk all they want about their amateur status, but it’s a weak argument. Major football conferences pay head coaches more than college presidents and assistant coaches more than most of the faculty.

Kain ColterKain Colter and the players at Northwestern are trying to change the system.

Why aren’t faculty members screaming about that? Isn’t it unfair? These aren’t dumb people, as they are entrusted to educate the best minds of future generations. Why do they accept it?

Because they know sports are both a business and a lucrative profession that directly benefits anyone employed by the university.

One policy I would implement right away if I were an NCAA governing member would be to establish sites around the country dedicated for the use of second medical opinions for all student athletes. If an athlete wants a second opinion, they should have the ability to go to a designated specialist to get it and have it be taken care of by the NCAA.

For decades, I have heard NFL players complain about their alma maters and about how they don’t trust their school physicians and trainers. Some felt as if their coaches had taken advantage of the situation by exploiting them with the wear and tear they were subjected to during the year.

Certainly, we can all agree that the addition of more games to the schedule increases both revenue and the risk of injuries and the deterioration to the bodies of student athletes. But over the decades as a typical college schedule climbed from 10 games to 13, nobody was speaking for or defending the health risk and time requirement that falls on the athlete.

I would also monitor how much money an institution can invest in its facilities. This is not money well spent. It is money spent for the sole purpose of luring recruits to sign, along with giving the wealthiest alumni regal boxes and club seats to enjoy just 6-8 times per year.

If I were a college president, I would want the lure of my campus to be the academic center and the curriculums the university offers the students to enhance their lives. After all, most of these athletes won’t be moving on to professional sports after their tenure is up at their universities. That’s not to say athletes shouldn’t have state-of-the-art equipment to work with or facilities to work in. It’s the excessiveness that some universities will allow their coaches to have in order for recruits to see their buildings in lieu of what they stand for.

Universities talk often about graduation rate. I certainly agree, but the stat I’d love to see is what those graduates are doing two years after they got their degree. I would add another heading and would call it “Employment After Graduation.” My point here is that a degree is meaningless for a student athlete if they can’t apply it by getting a beneficial job. Many student athletes are encouraged to take meaningless classes for the benefit of staying eligible and having a soft workload. In terms of its worth to a scholar athlete, it’s not worth the paper it’s written on.

I believe universities should look at partnering with technical schools to offer an associate degree in some type of trade. The goal of all institutions is to educate its most precious resources: The students. Education is about coaching, training and guiding their talent to success, regardless of their field.

I feel it’s an injustice to graduate athletes with a meaningless degree, because some have little or nothing to offer based on their capabilities. When I used to ask college football players what they were going to do with their degrees, silence entered the room or the player talked about doing something that is no more practical than the degree itself. So while the NCAA may argue that there is equal value in a degree for play and practice, a vast number of student athletes leave the schools wealthier than when he came in, but the institution left the athlete no better off when he arrived as he exits with a worthless degree.

Isn’t the whole idea education? That people leave better off than when they came in? If you can’t do that, don’t admit them.

Follow Jerry on Twitter: @RealJerryAngelo

Jerry Angelo was the General Manager of the Chicago Bears from 2001 to 2012. Prior to joining the Bears, Angelo spent 14 years overseeing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' scouting department as their Director of Player Personnel. Angelo graduated from Miami University in 1971.

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