Rosen Comments Should Touch A Nerve

This really is all much ado about nothing. I know we got fired up yesterday on the Crosstown Podcast about Josh Rosen’s Q&A on Bleacher Report but two days as the lead on SportsCenter and every CFB Writer’s article (including this one) is a little much. . . but a collision of a lot of things made Rosen’s comments incendiary:

  1. only being available to the media for odd features a couple times a year,
  2. giving a bullet like “football and school don’t go together” and
  3. saying the word “Alabama”, so here we are…

Still most of what he said is either absolutely true or just the regular babble:

  • How’s the shoulder? – 100%, Sweet!
  • Did you miss the game? – Yeah, I’m a competitor, so it was hard to watch
  • Are you ready to get back? – Hell Yeah! 8 hours sleep per night!
  • Got any hot takes? – Um… It’s hard being a NCAA Athlete and UCLA is harder to get into than Alabama

Pretty much all of that falls into the NO CRAP category. Of course you piss off the South because of the implication, but does that make it any less true? That’s reality: some schools are harder to get into than others. That makes the headlines, but the idea that football and school don’t go together does deserve some thought. There is no denying that major college football makes billions of dollars every year for universities, networks and support companies all across the country, and its pretty clear that the players suiting up at the Power 5 schools across the country are not getting a fair piece of the pie.

The fact is that football and men’s basketball are the programs that pay the bills at most universities. Without the revenues from those sports, the scholarships and prospects for all of the other athletes would be drastically altered. Unfortunately, the structure of college sports makes compensating athletes in the revenue sports a super complicated issue that has yet to be untangled. But that’s really not the focus of Rosen’s comments this time. . .

Rosen almost spontaneously waxes on:

“Look, football and school don’t go together. They just don’t. Trying to do both is like trying to do two full-time jobs. . .”

[the obvious bit about Alabama is next, but he goes on to say:]

“Any time any player puts into school will take away from the time they could put into football. They don’t realize that they’re getting screwed until it’s too late. You have a bunch of people at the universities who are supposed to help you out, and they’re more interested in helping you stay eligible. At some point, universities have to do more to prepare players for university life and help them succeed beyond football. 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. . .

. . . If I wanted to graduate in three years, I’d just get a sociology degree. I want to get my MBA. I want to create my own business. When I’m finished with football, I want a seamless transition to life and work and what I’ve dreamed about doing all my life. I want to own the world. Every young person should be able to have that dream and the ability to access it. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”

Rosen is right, universities should provide whatever resources are necessary for a student athlete to prepare themselves, and NCAA rules have changed over the the last decade to protect players and give them year-round access to services. But does an aspiring NFL player really have it so bad compared to other athletes trying to go pro?

Of the four major sports in the USA (the NFL, NBA, MLB and the NHL), which sport has the best support in place for its athletes?

NBA wannabees have the most similar structure to NCAA football players; the most popular route is still to attend college for a time and then play oneself into getting drafted into the NBA. However, NCAA Basketball players only have to play one year in college (if they choose that route), so there are many stories of 1 and done players barely setting foot in a classroom en route to their appointment on draft day with Adam Silver. Players that aren’t interested in college, go play overseas (like Brandon Jennings’ season in China) or maybe try and make it in the NBA’s D-League (who max out at $25,000 per season and average far less). But at the end of the day, there are only 60 picks in the NBA Draft every year for thousands of players, and let’s not forget that US college players are competing against prospects across the globe. If a player wants to take advantage of a scholarship and stay in school, that’s their choice, but so many of these guys take the long odds and don’t make it. The current relationship between the NBA and NCAA gives them that freedom, but also makes it so much easier for them to crash and burn without the parachute of an education or the years of security they would get on campus.

The MLB has a proper minor league that prospects can make themselves eligible to be drafted into, or they can choose to attend college. The minor league experience can be vastly different depending on how good you are; of course, the talent will rise to the top and be well compensated along the way (I mean, how often does a Clayton Kershaw come around???), but for the other guys (who might be able to play in college but choose not to) it can be a pretty gruelling and humble existence. The ones that choose school don’t necessarily get all the options and privileges that the NCAA football and basketball guys get either. The numbers show that only about a third of NCAA baseball players are on full scholarships. There just isn’t enough money in these programs to support a baseball sized roster, so a lot of these dudes just have to make the best of it.

The NHL has a similar system to baseball in that they draft athletes when they turn 18 and they have a minor league system structured around the American Hockey League. AHL players probably have it better than any of the other minor leagues in that the minimum salary is over $42,000/season and the league average is north of $90,000. The AHL employs over 800 players; that’s a good chunk of guys making a good living playing minor league hockey, but there are thousands of other hopefuls grinding away in far less secure situations.

Do football players really have it that bad compared to the other sports? Across the country there are over over 10,000 scholarships available to Division 1 college football players. At a minimum, that’s a chance to take classes for free and take advantage of the academic support services, plus room and board at whatever university they are attending (obviously the MAC experience will be drastically different from the Big-10). What about the players from the Power-5 schools, the programs generating all that revenue? As I said before, there is definitely some inequity when you talk about the cash that Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen or Deshaun Watson make for their universities, and at some point there has to be some sort of correction. But for an aspiring pro athlete, does anyone really have more resources at their disposal to help them be successful than an NCAA football player in a Power 5 School?

There are people to tell them what to eat, people to help them create a schedule, people that help them workout, tutors to help them with class (in North Carolina, they even had people to take their classes for them). I haven’t even mentioned the facilities that these guys train, eat , study and do everything else in. If an athlete wants to play football long enough to go to the NFL (less than 2% make it), they can major in underwater basket-weaving to stay eligible and get out in 3 years. For the guys that want to play football and get their BA, MA and Doctorate all at the same time, they can do that too. It all about the time that individual wants to put in and how much of that opportunity they want to use or squander. Obviously, these schools should be held to their agreements when a player is hurt or limited by something beyond their control, but until the NCAA figures out the money quandary, what else can universities do to help them succeed?

Playing football is hard, and playing while going to school at the same time is harder. But should we make martyrs out of these guys? The system that exists (as imperfect as it is) provides an opportunity to develop as a player and build a safety net if desired thousands of  young men across the country every year. How much more motivation should they need? On the flip side, earning a degree can be hard, and the degree of difficulty varies drastically based on what route you choose. But should any of us really be entitled to anything more than the opportunity to earn it?

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him study statistics.

Go Bruins

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