First off, apologies for the shitty posting record over the last few weeks. Transitional time, blah blah blah, yada yada yada, excuse excuse excuse. We’ll do our best to be better. At any rate, the two big announcements I talked about should go into effect within the next week.
This news story is fairly old by now, but you may have heard that Brook Lopez, Stanford forward and one half of the Lopez Twins, was declared academically ineligible and then received an indefinite suspension for allegedly missing classes and a practice. Having some inside knowledge of the situation, I know that this particular incident doesn’t need much analysis: Brook simply didn’t try hard enough to do what he needed to do to stay eligible. There’s no lack of institutional control – it’s all about effort.
Frankly, the most interesting part of his ineligibility is that it happened at Stanford. At the risk of sounding like an arrogant alumnus, admissions standards are so high for athletes that all players are supposed to be self-motivated and ready to navigate a school that doesn’t coddle its players as much as other schools tend to. (Wow, that definitely made me sound arrogant.) Brook stopped efforting, and his work suffered for it.
One way of looking at his laziness is to say that Brook Lopez is headed to the NBA at the end of the year and therefore didn’t need to try – if he wanted to get drafted – and that would be exactly right. But it’s also easy to use that piece of information to argue that NCAA players should be paid, and that’s where things get more complicated.
The argument goes something like this: Brook’s situation shows that NCAA players are primarily using college for sports and couldn’t care less about school. At the same time, the schools exploit these players for money, so why not let these young men get paid for their exploits.
Well, for starters, they do get paid, and it’s in the form of a scholarship. Granted, some players don’t use that academics, but I think it’s a mistake to say that the majority use college for nothing more than sports, girls, and drugs. The fact of the matter is that not that many athletes end up playing professionally. Even if they don’t get much out of their education, college still provides them with the connections that could very well guarantee jobs and respect for years.
However, that explanation doesn’t kill the argument that these athletes aren’t using college for the education. Some do, certainly, but no more than a handful of scholarship players could be said to play college athletics for something other than the athletics; on the face of it, they want to play. But if they’re using college for sports, why do we choose to think of athletic programs as schools instead of glorified versions of the IMG Academy? Granted, the schools make a ton of money off of these players, but I’m not sure the players don’t earn back their per capita contribution to that income when they move on.
Whether college athletes use their schools for athletic development or simply for future connections, it would be a gross mistake to say they’re not getting something out of school roughly commensurate to what they give to that school. Paying players may seem like a simple solution to the issue of academically-lazy athletes, but that’s only the case if we insist on pretending that they’re all at school for the education. Many of Brook Lopez’s teammates want to learn, yes, yet there’s also Brook Lopez. And the system already accounts for him in full.