I used to listen to Mike and Mike and then Colin Cowherd in the mornings before Cowherd got canned and I stopped having to get up early enough to catch the Mike and Mike show. But on Friday, I was listening to the show and there was another ESPN personality who was on the show talking about how he felt that student-athletes shouldn't get paid for what they do on the field. Now, this personality conveyed this point in such a way that it appeared he was the kind of guy who goes to fancy steakhouses and refuse to tip because the waiter’s already privileged enough to work there.
And that's how I'm going to kick off Tricolor Commentary, DosAguilas.org's dedicated sports blog. I'm going to see how much I like the name, but I'm digging it so far. Both El Tri and the USMNT have a three color scheme in their kits and three is the number of sports I follow the most (football, basketball, soccer) so...yeah. In this space I'm going to talk about goings-on in sports. I still have a dream of one day owning my own sports-and-geekdom magazine, and this allows me to at least take some steps towards that dream. Now, I'm not going to provide up-to-date scores because you have ESPN.com and mediotiempo.com for that, but I do want to provide entertainment and a distraction from the millions of other sports blogs out there.
I got into sports journalism in 2008, when I was promoted to Sports Editor for the UTB Collegian (now the UTRGV Rider) from my previous position as a reporter. After two years of plain reporting and very sporadic feature writing, sportswriting was a whole new world. I had the opportunity to add color to every story instead of following a "lede, score, reaction" dry formula that was too dry. It was an amazing experience and one of the highlights of my college career. And since our school only (then) competed in the NAIA with soccer, golf, baseball, and volleyball, I was able to cover all these sports, at times being my own one-man multimedia crew and capturing my own photos and video. After I left college and opted against following a career in journalism, I ended up in Houston, where casually reading CNN I discovered Peter King. Now, I find it difficult to read his writing, but when I first discovered longform journalism, I devoured everything he wrote. I also saw how a good writer could find success even writing about sports, and Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch is a primer for anyone who's a sports fan.
So, a year after that, I discovered Grantland, SB Nation, and Deadspin. I loved the approach the writers took, managing to make their articles engaging, humorous, and informative. Holly Anderson was excellent for college football, Bill Barnwell and Chris Brown for the NFL, Zach Lowe for the NBA.
And Justin Halpern (Of Sh*t My Dad Says fame)'s piece, "Your Favorite Team Doesn't Give a Damn About You" is still one of the funniest and most relatable things I've ever read.
I gained an entirely new understanding of sports through reading those sites and the fact that Grantland went under (no thanks to the spat between Bill Simmons and ESPN) is a damn shame.
So this is my tribute to my favorite Grantland writers.
Back to the issue at hand.
I was once firmly on the side of "not paying student-athletes" for the longest time. I figured, well, they’re getting full ride scholarships, all this access to facilities, homework help, and of course, being worshipped as gods on campus. And hell, I mean, just the tuition bit bugged me. If I wanted to go to Texas A&M as an undergraduate, I’d be expected to pay $27,272 a year (or around eight times what my own undergraduate education cost) and these people are getting it for free because oh my god they can catch a ball real well!
I was wrong, and it wasn’t until I really started writing about sports, doing my research, and naturally skewing a little bit to the left, that I realized there was a smell of gato encerrado with universities not wanting to pay their athletes. These Presidents and Directors of Athletics clutch their pearls and complain that their precious football supports the university when it tends to not be the case.
So now I’m on the other side. And I can hear the arguments, like the one where schools already provide opportunities for learning and enrichment that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. On paper, this is true. But degrees are always about the work you put in for them, whether you’re going to the University of Texas – Permian Basin or Harvard University, if you don’t put in the work, your degree is useless. To pretend that all these athletes are putting in work that would be worth anything when they left is a bit silly.
Here’s an example.
“My biggest issue was with a gentle giant of a lineman who was new to college, and to reading, and had trouble making it to the morning class. On the few occasions he made it to class (late) and didn't fall dead asleep, his earnest writing, both in style and structure, was that of an elementary school student. He never turned a paper in on time, but when I contacted the handlers to warn them of his status, a pile of final drafts would suddenly materialize, full of fairly complex, organized thoughts and diction—thoughts that hadn't made it into earlier drafts I'd seen. I was bombarded with regular long emails from handlers explaining how I should arrange extra meetings with the player and extend deadlines for him. But he couldn't overcome his absences, and when I informed them through a mentor that he wouldn't pass and it was too late to drop the class, I was asked if I could give him an "incomplete," even though he didn't qualify for one. I said no.
This was a problem: My lineman was already on academic probation for poor performance in his first semester. Should I flunk him, he would lose his eligibility. At the end of the term, when I went online to enter my students' grades, his name didn't appear on the roster. He had been administratively disappeared from the rolls—a medical withdrawal, I heard, though I wondered what malady rendered him unable to attend class but capable of playing 40 or 50 snaps every Saturday.”
I can talk about how we mollycoddle athletes in another post. Or I can point you to articles like this one or this one or this other one.
But that’s not every single collegiate athlete any more than every Christian is a Westboro Baptist Church member or every Muslim supports ISIS. Yes, the culture needs addressing, absolutely.
But you know what else needs addressing and that’s as just as bad? Is the exploitation of collegiate athletes. The NCAA levied some serious charges against Ohio State because some of their athletes were earning money on the side. Some of these athletes are literally starving and who is getting the profits? It’s not them. It’s not the faculty. It’s not the other programs at the university.
Instead of thinking "wow this is truly something one of those LEFTIES would suggest" consider it from the capitalist point of view: If you provide goods and services to someone, you should get money in return.
So if a player or group of players is providing a tangible benefit to your university, pay them. Sure, coaches make the calls, but you don’t see Lou Holtz out there running fly routes. You don’t see John Calipari making free throws. Put 1991 Phil Jackson in charge of the Denver Nuggets in 1991 and he’s not winning the championship. You could have Nick Saban in charge of UTEP and the only way the Miners would get to a national championship is if by buying tickets to the game or by playing NCAA Football ’14.
Stop using a student-athlete’s “education” as an excuse when your university clearly does not give two hoots about it. What’s the value of a University of Texas degree when a student-athlete can’t string three sentences together or when his or her body or brain are so shattered by injuries that they can’t have a normal job? Only six percent of all high school football players make it to a collegiate program, of that six percent, only one percent will make it to the NFL.
So that’s going to leave out a lot of student-athletes. That education they’re supposed to fall back on is meaningless if they never actually went to class. And you know, I’m not entirely convinced that they’re entirely to blame.
I imagine a scenario like the following happens all the time:
Player: Hey coach, I’m going to have to duck out of practice early today, I have a study session for my midterm.
Coach: Don’t worry, I’ll send someone to take the answers for the test for you.
Player: Don’t you mean take notes, coach?
Coach: Oh, right. Take “notes” sure, yes, that’s what they’ll do. <wink>
Player: But I want to go to class.
Coach: Yes, but that means less time for you to practice our new blocking schemes. You missed a tackle last game and our quarterback got sacked.
Player: Sir, we were up by 60 points in the fourth quarter against the St. Mary's State School for the Blind and that was our third string quarterback.
Coach: It doesn’t matter. If we don’t practice as hard as we play, we won’t win a bowl game and I won’t have my multi-million dollar contract extension.
Coach: Oh, I mean, my uh….multi-level spirit cheer something. Go to practice.
Or, alternatively, you could shut down collegiate athletics.
We all know that’s not going to happen. Not when millions (myself included) are paralyzed Saturdays during the fall. But at the very least we can be conscientious about it.