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Bowl Games And Amateur Sports

(Photo Credit: Doug Benc/Getty Images)

There have been some pretty interesting things happening in Lehigh sports this week - a pretty good showing for the men's and women's basketball teams, most notably - but I wanted to open this new year with a though on the state of college football.

Maybe it's because I was frighteningly sick, but I happened to do something I don't often do this New Year's season - watch some of the bowl games.

My opinion on them really hasn't changed much since when I was a Lehigh student - they're essentially meaningless exhibition games that are only there to provide boatloads of money for conferences and schools.

But this year, I watched some. Most of the reason was for a chuckle - I wanted to see exactly how bad Michigan was after losing to Appalachian State, how bad Navy was who lost to Delaware, and how back Central Michigan was after getting throttled by North Dakota State.

The games themselves, judged on their competitiveness, weren't bad. Navy and Central Michigan didn't win their bowl games, but the games were tight and came down to the 4th quarter. The Florida/Michigan game in particular had some theater and in a roundabout way really gave the Appalachian State upset victory even more historical significance.

The thought, though, that really leapt to mind was the fact that we need a true football minor league in this country.

I watched footage of a pregame scuffle between Florida and Michigan, with one side mocking the other, very aware that they were in front of the TV cameras. The thought that leapt to mind was, Are any of these kids graduating? From 2004-2006, Michigan's average graduation rate for its football team is 57%; Florida's is 55%.

So almost one in two of these players you you see on the field are not graduating - either to prepare for a shot at the NFL or for other reasons. Wouldn't they be better served by joining an NFL minor league when they are sixteen and playing football full-time to develop their skills rather than pretend they are actual scholar-athletes like the types of athletes you see on the field at a Lehigh game?

The athletes that want to develop their football skills can work on their 40 yard dash times and their tackling technique by playing against other athletes. School? They can take classes for high-school equivalence (and college classes, too) if they want to get an education, just like sixteen year olds do in pro soccer or tennis for example.

For the NFL, a minor league would be a way to penetrate into every inch of the American fabric the way minor league baseball has. Imagine if the Eagles had a minor league team in Bethlehem, filled with young up-and-comers who might find themselves in the Eagles' opening day roster in year's time. If Eagles Camp in Bethlehem gets everyday coverage for a month, imagine the coverage a five-game spring football season might engender. It would be the talk of Bethlehem all year.

For the NCAA, it would help clean up amateur sports. Now, rather than paying teachers to look the other way, the kids that want to work on their football careers can join the minor leagues - and get paid for the privilege. It comes with risks, too: injury, cuts, and everything else. What's left would be the kids that are there to compete in football, get championships, and get a top-quality education.

If the NFL and NCAA would ever do this, it would be the best thing ever for pro sports and amateur sports. The NFL would benefit; the NCAA would be able to get back to its supposed goal to have intercollegiate athletics play a "positive role" in society; and the players themselves would be able to earn money and develop their skills better in a sport which has a frighteningly high injury rate.

In a world where Roger Clemens is injecting steroids and NBA referees are paid off to fix games, protecting amateurism and keeping things clean need to be Mission One and Mission One-A for the NCAA. What better way to do that than to re-emphasize what it means to be a true student-athlete instead of the charade that passes as a student-athlete in so many FBS programs?

Unfortunately we're likely to have to live with the hypocrisies for decades to come because money and the status quo have so corrupted everything associated with amateur athletics in general.

Until then, when I watch Michigan and Florida in a meaningless FBS exhibition game, the same old thoughts of greed, football players disguising themselves as students, and FBS schools making money off the backs of semi-pro football players will always infect my thoughts.

Comments

Tom said…
We did a post on the shameful graduation rates at many of the schools that simply appear to use athletes:

http://www.openeducation.net/2007/12/17/at-many-colleges-the-term-student-athlete-simply-does-not-apply/

It may be of interest to your readers.

Tom Hanson
Editor
OpenEducation.net

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