Where Does a Degree Figure in College Sports?

If you're one of the select few who play one of America's four major sports at the Division I level, it can be tempting to focus all your energy on athletics instead of school. But does the promise of pro-sports millions overtake the importance of education? Where should the balance between sports and athletics lie?

 

With the 2013/14 school year still fresh and new, the debate over "student-athletes" and Time Magazine's controversial September cover is still raising ire. Should they be more generously compensated? Or are their college years just that—four years in which they should focus on their studies and save the intense interest in athletics until after they graduate?

Critics are divided over this hotbed issue, with one camp saying that colleges are profiting massively off the backs of their athletes and the latter should be compensated better than they already are. The other side says that student-athletes are not being exploited and that the definition of the word has been twisted: black people as slaves were exploited, while college athletes are free to move around where they'd like. Further student-athletes are often given full ride scholarships, something that can cost everyone else $100,000 to $200,000. Athletically-minded students also tend to choose colleges based on sports, and in turn, colleges aggressively recruit athletes even though they may not be as academically inclined as other students.

Although the NCAA states that student athletes are to be students first and athletes second, in practice, that tends to not be the case, and especially not the case the more competitive the sport. Athletes typically have advisors who point them towards easier courses and offer much more tutoring than the average student will get.

At face value, paying student-athletes seems to offer no harm. But digging deeper below the surface, a troubling trend of American anti-intellectualism is seen where athletics occupies the fore and academics takes a big backseat. Instead of generously funding students based on academic merit, debate rages over whether athletes like Johnny Manziel should be paid for what they bring to American culture.

Even more worrying is that with the NFL at roughly the halfway mark, more talk is devoted to who's going to be the first pick in the next draft rather than which American will win a Nobel Prize. It's not a bad thing at all to have several names tossed around in sports draft talks, as it represents the health and athleticism Americans pride themselves on. But when there are dozens of names discussed in sports to every one in academics, something is amiss.

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