When is a promise not a promise? When it’s a lie.
Bear with me for a second non-football fans. The beginning of February is the perhaps the best month of the year. Obviously there is the Super Bowl, which everyone and their mother will be watching. But for crazed college football fans, February also brings national signing day. National signing day is the first day recruits can officially sign letters of intent to play for the school they choose.
Players may redshirt for a year or warm the bench but these young student athletes pledge their amateur careers to the school of their choice, and in return the schools pledge to house them for the next four or more years.
Ah, but therein lies the lie.
Ask any student-athlete about their scholarship and more than likely they will be under the impression that their scholarship is guaranteed for the time they are on campus, passing grades and playing their sport. Yet, as the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) rulebook states, athletic scholarships are limited to one academic year like most academic scholarships. A player can lose it essentially for any reason including athletic performance. So then how quickly can an athletes walking realization of playing at his dream school turn into a nightmare?
A lot of student athletes can run into this problem when facing a coaching change at their school. The notorious and recently well-documented example of this is John Calipari’s takeover of the Kentucky basketball program. So drastic was the roster turnover that it prompted a report from ESPN’s Outside the Lines show. Six athletes who were on scholarship were forced off the team. Some were told there may not be a scholarship available for them next year, others were told they would not play and some were told both. This essentially forced them to transfer to another school that would offer a scholarship. The only NCAA rule that affected the players is the one that mandated they sit out a year if they transferred to another Division I school.
Allen Sack, author of “College Athletes for Hire” said, “Calipari has done nothing wrong, in fact the rules (of the NCAA) totally support what he’s done.”
Those who still believe that the NCAA puts the student before the athlete and holds academics in the highest esteem should consider the case of Matt Pilgrim. After being forced out by Calipari at Kentucky, Pilgrim chose to go to Oklahoma State. Transferring from an agriculture program at Kentucky he wanted to possibly pursue business at Oklahoma State. Pilgrim’s transcript had a lot of electives and since the NCAA requires progress towards a degree, he could not major in either agriculture or business. In fact, there was not a degree program at Oklahoma State that Pilgrim’s counselor could find that fit for him. He is, as of now, in an “interdisciplinary program” in order to maintain his athletic eligibility.
Pilgrim, however,has it better than his ex-Kentucky teammate A.J. Stewart. Stewart chose to transfer to Texas State. He spent part of his time this past semester back in Kentucky taking care of his infant son who was born with a brain condition. If his athletic scholarship was guaranteed for four years, would there be any doubt about where he’d be at school? I don’t think so.
Dr. Lee Todd Junior, President of the University of Kentucky had this to say, “Sounds like a difficult situation; it’s one that probably happens as you choose to get into the intercollegiate athletics.”
Just so we are sure where Todd’s priorities lie, here is a quote of his universities mission statement:
“The University of Kentucky is a public, research-extensive, land grant university dedicated to improving people’s lives.”
I bet that Todd and Calipari were thinking of their university’s mission statement and not their basketball team’s future ranking when dealing with Stewart and his son.
Enter Californian Democrat Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, the author of bill AB 95, which is currently making its rounds through the state senate. Although the bill would not fix everything that’s wrong with college sports and it would only affect amateur athletes from California, it is a step in the right direction.
If his bill were to pass the following important changes would take affect for any coach or university representative recruiting in the state of California. Within a week of contacting the athlete, a university representative would have to provide the athlete with among other things:
“Each athletic team’s policy concerning the criteria for the renewal or nonrenewal of an athletic scholarship, including circumstances in which a student athlete suffers a temporary or permanent sports-related injury, there is a coaching change, or a student athlete’s athletic performance is deemed to be below expectations … The number and percentage of student athletes on each athletic team whose scholarships were not renewed in each of the previous four years.”
One of the NCAA’s core values is to maintain “the highest levels of integrity and sportsmanship.” How often do you think Pete Carroll went into a kid’s house and told him about how many athletic scholarships he hasn’t renewed because the athlete got injured? Hopefully this bill will pass soon, forcing coaches, in California at least, to reveal their dirty secrets.
Yet I feel we are all too familiar with California and know how fast politics move around here. The NCAA needs to step in an implement these policies nationwide. The NCAA preaches about academia and that “student” comes before the word “athlete” in student-athlete but its actions speak otherwise. Until these student-athletes are given what they deserve, the NCAA will claim to be for the students.
And that is a lie.