In major college sports, the participants range from athletes who are students to students who are athletes. The ideal balance is found smack-dab in the middle, as rare and elusive as coaches who reject better jobs to keep their word to incoming recruits.
Nevermind that only a handful of college players advance to the pro ranks. NCAA Division I football is professional enough in its own right.
Ask UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen if you’re in doubt. In an interview Tuesday with Bleacher Report, he equated being a student and being a player to “trying to do two fulltime jobs.”
Rosen isn’t a stereotypical jock. He grew up rich with Ivy-League parents, a renowned surgeon and a journalist, the latter being a great-great-granddaughter of the founder of the Wharton School at Penn. He has spoken publicly of the advantages he enjoys by coming from an affluent, educated family.
So, Rosen’s take on the subject of major college football – “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” – deserves our attention.
Don’t confuse this with the infamous comment from former Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones in 2012. “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL,” Jones tweeted as a third-stringer before later leading the Buckeyes to a national title. “We ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS.”
Traded last month from the Buffalo Bills to the Los Angeles Chargers, Jones tweeted about Rosen’s interview Tuesday: “Chill bro, play school.”
It’s not a game to Rosen, who’s projected to be a first-round draft pick next year. An economics major with sights set on an MBA, he takes academics seriously. His complaint isn’t that classes are inconsequential but, rather, athletics and academics can be diametrically opposed.
“Football really dents my ability to take some classes that I need,” he told Bleacher Report. “There are a bunch of classes that are only offered one time. There was a class this spring I had to take, but there was a conflict with spring football, so …”
Guess what took precedence?
Rosen was criticized Tuesday for what some deemed a cheap shot toward the Crimson Tide: “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.” That’s no reason for Sabanites to get in their feelings.
Rosen could’ve substituted a number of Power 5 schools. The fact is admission standards for regular students and athletes alike vary widely at institutions of higher education. Getting into schools like, say, Stanford is harder than most, whether you’re a bookworm or a bookend tackle.
But no matter what it takes for admission at a particular school, Rosen has a problem with priorities afterward. He said the goal too often is making sure players remain eligible to compete, not helping them excel in the classroom.
Not surprisingly, officials like Stanford coach David Shaw disagree. “I think you can get a really good education anywhere,” Shaw told reporters Tuesday. “And it’s up to each individual student to play the best football they can, and to walk out of that college with a degree.”
True. But that doesn’t mean football willingly concedes to academic concerns. If the star linebacker has a C, the coach doesn’t ease demands so the player can chase an A. Class schedules and study needs must fit into the team’s best interest.
It might be a stretch to say football works against the student, but the game certainly tugs in the opposite direction.
Another part of Rosen’s assessment is spot-on, related to Jones’ brutally honest point-of-view five years ago. Like it or not, some college players are there only for the sport. Grades and graduation are secondary concerns.
“There are guys who have no business being in school, but they’re here because this is the path to the NFL,” Rosen said. “There’s no other way.”
Bryce Harper earned his GED after his sophomore year in high school, left for a year of junior college and became the No. 1 pick in the 2010 MLB draft. Where was the hue and cry? Why didn’t folks bemoan the valuable education and life experiences he forwent?
The answer is simple: College baseball isn’t a multi-billion dollar industry.
When prep players choose the minors over campus, they’re simply among the 30 percent of U.S. teens who join the workforce following graduation. No shame. No stigma.
But if schools continue to admit athletes who are borderline or don’t fully appreciate education – which I fully support, because they’re worth the effort – at least pour more into the players besides training and nutrition.
“At some point, universities have to do more to prepare players for university life and help them succeed beyond football,” Rosen said. “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.”
On the spectrum between student and athlete, Rosen has both ends covered.
— Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.