UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, an about-to-be three-year starter and likely high first round draft pick in next year's NFL draft, talked his way into a bit of hot water last week when he asserted that playing football and getting an education as it's currently constituted are mutually exclusive. His comments reignited a growing debate surrounding paying, exploiting and/or entitling student athletes.
Some side with him, while others scoff at his assertion. Those who agree cite the enormous amounts of money generated by the same athletes getting "little in return," while those at odds with Rosen's perspective point to the value of a free education as adequate return on a football investment.
I fall somewhere in between.
I'm familiar with the time Division I athletes devote to their sport. Gone are the days of a form of training camp, a season worth of games and a month of offseason workouts shoehorned into a six- or seven-month break. College athletes in virtually all sports train year-round. Whether it's lifting weights, conditioning, summer or offseason workouts — or any of a number of "voluntary" activities scattered before or after the season — these people put in the time. So I'm for "more" when it comes to compensation tied to their scholarship, but I'm against some of the nonsensical pay-for-play arguments ill-informed people regularly propose.
I value a college education. And so does everyone else who has or is currently paying down six-figures' worth of student loans. College isn't cheap, and to poo-poo the value of a cost-free degree is an insult to everyone who paid their own way.
Rosen will tell you he has no time for school. "Human beings don't belong in school with our schedules," he's said. "No one in their right mind should have a football player's schedule and go to school." Tell that to one of the countless kids working full-time to put himself or herself through that same academic regimen to pay their tuition, without the tutors and private high-end academic facilities nearly all big-time college programs offer their scholarship athletes.
I do believe schools should do more to emphasize education to their athletes and hold them accountable to a legitimate effort rather than simply enabling their eligibility. That's an institutional failure and one that should be seriously addressed. But for every ill-equipped scholarship athlete who slipped through the cracks, there are a dozen of those same scholarship athletes who did the work, earned their degree and are putting it to use in a field rather than on one.
If you don't want to play, don't. No one's making anyone play college football. But you have to if you want to play in the NFL.
Why? Train on your own. Play semi-professionally and effort an invite to the NFL combine after meeting their minimum age requirement ... like that's possible!
Oh, so I guess the elite-level training, nutritionists, coaching and national stage have value, too?
Give these kids more. I'm for a bigger return on their investment based on the revenue generated from the sports a number of them play. But I'm not buying the "woe is me" argument of a UCLA starting quarterback who — let's get real — has it pretty good. It's an affront to those who really don't.