Over a century ago, Harper’s Weekly published a cartoon critical of development of college sports in America. One man leaning across a desk asks another, “How do you spell opshinul, Sam? Come on, I thought you had a college education.” Sam replies, “Did; but it was opshinul whether I took in Greek and Latin or balls and bats, you know.” That cartoon, published April 11, 1885, expresses clearly an issue that never disappeared from American higher education. With athletics now an integral part of the college experience – and often the bottom line of big-name universities – is the notion of a student athlete, as the cartoon insinuates, a misnomer?
Much criticism has been heaped upon what has become the big business of college sports. Just within the last week, the National Basketball Association expressed interest in creating a professional league for younger players similar to those utilized by baseball that would allow them to bypass college on the hopes that those young players would one day make it big. The announcement was widely condemned with some former college basketball players saying that some college experience is better than none at all.
In this era of college basketball and football stars leaving school before earning a diploma in hopes of being drafted, colleges and universities should question the services they provide athletes and the benefits those institutions seek in return. With cheating scams and allegations of special treatment in headlines and widely believed true on many campuses, evidence exists that some athletes use college as a means to enter professional sports.
By no means are all athletes unfairly taking advantage of financial aid money and other benefits as a ticket to the pros rather than as tools to obtain an education. Most athletes labor far from the spotlight attending meets, games and races with barely a mention in the student press much less being featured on network television. But the big business of college athletics deserves a second look.
Those athletes who desire to play basketball or football professionally without obtaining an education should be given that opportunity. They should not be granted financial aid dollars that could be better spent bringing a financially disadvantaged or exceptionally bright student to a top university. If the NBA or the National Football League want to begin their own farm systems like the system Major League Baseball created, colleges and universities should support moves in that direction.
Unlike a century ago, society now views education as a right instead of a privilege, which means the hallowed halls of academe are available to nearly everyone who desires admittance. With more students than ever desiring spots at overflowing colleges and universities, higher education would be better served allowing those seeking the long odds of big money in professional sports to play the numbers somewhere else.
-The writer is Hatchet opinions editor.