On paying college athletes: Schools’ obligations under the status quo

Last week, Clay Travis argued, credibly, that all Wonderlic Test scores should be made public. For whatever reason, these scores are the only NFL combine results not made public. Every year, though, someone leaks a few of the scores to the media, and this year was no exception. According to the testing company, a score of ten indicates literacy, while a twenty indicates average intelligence. The three leaked scores were a twelve (Justin Hunter, Tennessee), an eleven (Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee), and a seven (Tavon Austin, West Virginia). Travis explained his larger takeaway point:

So all three of these wide receivers tested borderline literate, and substantially less intelligent than an average security guard would test.

Yet all three receivers have been eligible to play college football for years.

Isn’t this prima facie evidence of academic fraud? I mean, if you can barely read the Wonderlic test, how in the world have you been eligible at a four year college without significant cheating?

Travis goes on to writhe in the muckety muck of “academic fraud . . . one of the great untold stories of major college athletics” and cast  now-common aspersions on the NCAA.

It’s the NCAA that tends to bear the brunt of the building criticism of the college athletics status quo from the likes of Travis and his former employer, Deadspin, and the NCAA probably deserves most of that criticism. On this issue, though, it’s the schools themselves that deserve a critical assessment, not the NCAA.

The boom-bust cycle that is the volume of the discussion over whether college athletes should be paid is in a boom phase at the moment, but the substance of the conversation has not changed much over the years. Those in favor of paying college athletes point to the large revenue streams college athletics produce for schools and the NCAA and argue that it’s wrong that the athletes are not allowed to share in those profits; those opposed argue that the student-athletes are being compensated in the form of a free college education. The two sides actually seem to agree, at least implicitly, on the fundamental premise that college athletes should be compensated, and their disagreement is with the degree to and manner in which the athletes should be compensated: Proponents want new cash payments, perhaps held in trust, for the students, while opponents believe a free education constitutes sufficient compensation.

Test results indicating that students are flirting with illiteracy after three or four years of college are evidence that schools are not even keeping up their bargain to provide student-athletes with an education.


1 thought on “On paying college athletes: Schools’ obligations under the status quo

  1. I bring a more general thought on schools “keeping up their bargain to provide…an education.”

    Regular students pay for an education [out of pocket, student loans, or a scholarship] with money, athletes do with physical prowess that [ideally] brings in ticket sales. If the school has a responsibility to return an education to athletes, then they should have the same obligation to regular students as well. As someone who has recently been on two sides of this equation [student and instructor but not administrator] I can only describe it as super weird. As an instructor I am paid, in essence, by the students. But what they expect for their money [or for someone’s money: parents, scholarship fund, future self in the form of loans] is not usually “knowledge”, “understanding”, “basic literacy”, or whatever it is that universities are supposed to be imparting upon their students [customers?]. More than half of the students I have instructed [whether in physics or writing] including some student athletes [who aren’t as much on the ‘wrong’ side as I would have guessed] only care about the A.

    At this stage lots of people point the finger in ridiculous directions. Administrators are out for money. Teachers don’t care about their students. Students don’t care about learning. Parents put unreal expectations on students. Coaches pressure teaches to give passing grades to athletes. And of course there is blame to be shared in all of these categories.

    Moving back to the main topic, if the school let down those three WRs who [essentially] flunked the wonderlic [and presumably many more NFL prospects each year as well] then the same proportion of athletes who aren’t going pro the NFL would have been similarly let down. And yes, even though there are additional ways in which athletes may not be receiving a proper education [pressure on professors from coaches, missing class due to tournaments, and hectic practice schedules] there are many reasons why their education may fail to take hold that are not athlete specific and apply to all students.

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