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Brooks Wilson's Economics Blog: A Reader Challenges the Premise of The Blind Side

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Reader Challenges the Premise of The Blind Side

A reader, TLC '80, challenged the premise of The Blind Side, that the NCAA placed onerous burdens on poor students.  The writer played a year of college football and has insights that a wannabe athlete with neither physical talent nor skills would not possess.  I did take a tour of USC as part of a baseball camp and learned that the athletics department spends $1 million annually on tutors.  They also send an employee to each class in which a student is enrolled to verify that the student is attending.  This is not proof that the departments or athletes value education but it is proof that compliance is expensive.  TLC '80 writes
I'm not sure I buy this premise. It may be designed to sell more books and promote a movie, rather than reflect reality. I played high school football in Dallas in the 70's, and went on to play at Texas Lutheran (for 1 year - injuries forced me to quit).

I had high school friends who played at the big schools -- A&M, Oklahoma, Texas, etc. These guys got paid by the backers (can you say Barry Switzer?). Some of my friends at the large schools got free cars, cash, and no-show "jobs" that allowed them to stay in school. This was all known and winked at throughout the old Southwest Conference. I'm sure it was just as bad in the other conferences.
We had the same problem then -- we played with middle-class white kids, and poor black kids. TLC (now TLU) won the NAIA Div III national title a few times -- and none of our players went on to the NFL. And I don't think any of them had any expectation that they would.

Now, I'm an old fart, and things have changed in 30 years (SMU death penalty, etc). But one of the problems that the NCAA faces (and some high school teams in TX with UIL do, too) is kids moving from school to school in search of scholarship money -- any money -- just to stay in school. And they'll treat the rules just like we treat taxes -- ("Anyone may arrange his affairs..." -- Learned Hand). Why should we be surprised when family and big-money (typically white) athletic supporters encourage all players to get right up to the line and push the edge of the rules, just as they do in their business and personal lives?

It has always been my position that college players should be paid a stipend (ok, salary) in order to remove some of the incentives to cheat. In my case, I never got any money from boosters (I wasn't very good), but I worked real jobs for real money, and there were no limits to what I could earn. I had a union job in the summer that paid $12 per hour (big money in the 70's) and that paid for my college.

Now in my day, we had no illusions that we would play pro ball. We wanted to earn that National Title ring, and then brag about it until our grand kids were bored of hearing about it.

I'm sure it's changed - there's a lot more money sloshing around - but this line that there are players who are "sustained by the hope" that they'll be pros is a stretch. We have schools who don't require them to show up for class, and the 60's "social promotion" is still going on in college. How in the world can we grant a college degree to someone who is functionally illiterate, and hasn't been to class in a semester or so? This is a problem at the teaching level (and the athletic program bringing in the big bucks). Why in the hell do we have tenured teachers if they won't stand up to the coach and the school and say "no" to giving passing grades to players who don't really pass?

Perhaps if we saw fewer "ganstas" like Michael Irvin sporting 10 carat diamond earrings, and a little better roll-models on the part of white and black players (active pro and retired), along with stipends, we could put a dent in this so-called problem.

But college is about education for life, and the athletics is secondary. THIS is the message that must be the basic premise of college admission counselors, coaches, and backers. I think a stipend for the players will slow down the use of big-name college programs as farm teams for the NFL. Let's get Jerry Jones to put a few of those millions to work at SMU or at Baylor instead of building billion-dollar stadiums.

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