The NCAA must enhance Protection of Student-Athletes

The alarming rate of conference realignment of many NCAA Division-I schools is indicative of the professional atmosphere that has existed in collegiate athletics for years. With these changes, can the NCAA amend a few of their regulations concerning the rights of the athletes? The school administrators and Coaches have all the lobbying power. As the schools profit greatly from the athletic departments, the student-athletes do not receive a benefit comparable to the money the schools they play for profit.

Student-athletes should be able to transfer laterally without having to sit-out a year. Additionally, players should have the ability to identify a coach for wrongdoing without fear of retaliation.  Players should have a united voice in the form of a union. Lastly, the NCAA should license coaches.

These young adults are athletes first and students second. Just think about the time spent training for and playing their sport versus how much time they spend in class or having time to study. Some athletes are forced to red-shirt for a yearin order to put on weight and muscle. This is not an attempt to incite the discussion that collegiate students should be paid, but rather to suggest that the students should have better treatment during their tenure.

Too often student-athletes are not advocated for. Awareness of the issues they face go unmentioned. Student-athletes are confronted with over-exhaustion from grueling hours, deal with abusive coaching personalities, and face stress of quality performance under fear of ramifications, while carrying the weight to represent the institution properly. There are a multitude of nuanced issues the athletes face, just like everyone else. For example, an athlete’s love of a sport is stripped away by the business like culture that bombards them upon entering a college campus. These athletes are sacrificing a normal collegiate experience, which is not offset by an unguaranteed four-year “ride” that does not pay the students back with a dream job in the real world. The system needs to evolve to consider the needs of the players more.

No Players’ Union for student-athletes exist, and the NCAA does not address the athletes’ problems adequately given there is no substantial forum for their voice. Yet, the NCAA is a professional-like climate. The coaches and athletic directors have all the lobbying power with the NCAA. Even if a coach elects a student-athlete representative, who knows if that athlete is adequately taking into account the various issues their peers face. Players are on a quick revolving door, and by the time players realize the inequities, they are too preoccupied with their next step or jaded enough not to raise the issues. The culture does not support the players. Maybe the NCAA should make room for such a union that various professional leagues have.

Moreover, four-year scholarships can be taken away for cause or rescinded when players are dismissed at the discretion of a coach or school administrator. Coaches find ways to manipulate the system to have players exit their program to free up available scholarships to get new talent. Other times, athletes are unhappy in their current academic institution—for whatever reason—and decide to leave for the sake of their happiness. If such a student wants to transfer laterally they would have to sit-out a year, which deters a comparable institution from wanting to accept such a player on scholarship because the delayed gratification of that player’s skill on the field or court may not be worth the wait. Why would a coach want an encumbered student athlete, when coaches can easily recruit a high school or Junior College athlete?

Thus, a student who makes a decision to attend a school, which then does not materialize as they imagined to be happy, then has to make another tough decision to leave or stay while taking in personal considerations. Plus, players have a finite amount of time to play in college, which only adds to the complexity that exists procedurally when asserting their rights. Additionally, if a student does assert their rights, it leads to interpersonal strains that adversely affect their immediate future because the rules do not allow students to act autonomously.

The athletes who make the engine run on profitable sports are given the short-end of the stick too often. Reggie Bush should still have his Heisman Trophy, and the Ohio State football players shouldn’t have been investigated and penalized the way they were. Those are just two high-profile examples of how the system is flawed.

Players are also adversely affected as a direct result of coaches who are quickly expendable if they do not win. Schools need to win in order to take home bigger dollars and keep paying fans happy. Thus, coaches are very hard on, and demanding of players—not always a bad thing—but the line is oftentimes blurred. Basically, the rules need to protect the players more from coaches, who have short careers too, who push and tinker with NCAA limits.

America is built on capitalism, and college sports are not exempt—nor should they be. But, there should be regulations in place to protect the student- athletes. These are kids from 17 to 22 years of age, on average, that make a sacrifice that free tuition does not always or adequately cover.

Given the extraordinary amount of attention on athletics during college to play at the highest level possible, players are devoid of other essential skills like being self-sufficient. The system is broken as far as producing well-rounded people. Many student-athletes have their administrative work addressed for them and never learn to take care of themselves until it hits them—hard—after leaving college. Players are coddled until they aren’t; and that rude awakening creates for more than a difficult adjustment. Student-Athletes get blind-sided by reality when they don’t have coaches dictating their schedule and other people catering to their needs.

The student-athletes are the human capital, which the conference commissioners and administrators profit, as well as the individual institutions. Is it too much to ask that the players have the right to transfer to a school without having to sit-out a year to a lateral school? Or, to make sure they will always have an education paid for as long as the player decides to be a member on a school team that will have them once they have signed a letter of intent to a particular institution? How about players having the freedom to chose a particular major like engineering that can enhance their future without being concerned about their class schedule not working with the practice schedule.

Allowing a player to transfer without fear of losing what was promised is tantamount to the Amnesty Clause used in the NBA, which allows a team to rid themselves of a contract (like a scholarship) for salary cap purposes, but that contract is still to be paid by the releasing team once that player is waived. Given the NCAA is very much like a professional league, maybe some of the professional tools should be in effect. There would need to be some conditions set, but these students should be protected, while incentivizing coaches to want to keep players they bring on as freshmen.

Coaches do oust players and lead players to feel like they do not have any recourse. Given the time sensitive nature involved in college athletics and academics, it is very hard to spend meaningful time in a battle when obtaining a degree and finishing one’s athletic eligibility. One problem that currently exists is, once players find out they need to look for and apply to another school, it could be too late given the time-sensitive nature of admissions offices. This would force a player to make yet another concession when finding a new school.

It is also necessary to protect players because student-athletes pick a school based on the recruitment by a coach of that player—not the programs the school offers. Therefore, if and when the relationship takes a turn for the worst, the student should not be greatly disadvantage, while the coach is unconcerned.

Additionally, coaching is a profession that is unregulated by a commission or licensing board, which allows them free reign. Too many coaches need to be monitored and the NCAA doesn’t always do a great job of it. Just think about Pete Carroll and Kelvin Sampson who found solace in the NFL and NBA respectively. They each left a mess behind that resulted in penalizing the programs and ultimately the players. Looking at the Penn State case, the coaches and administrators left that institution in ruins that the next generation now has to suffer with. That does not make sense. The people that are dealing with the Penn State punishment are not those deserving of it. Punish those who did wrong, not the next people that take their place.

Another issue is that players with legitimate gripes are too scared to speak up for fear of backlash. Therefore, there should be whistleblower protection for players like those that are statutorily set in Employment law. Playing a college sport is every much like being employed, with the coach being the employer.

Moreover Coaches need to be licensed by the NCAA just like teachers, doctors, lawyers, truck drivers, and trainers who attend the players by their respective professions. The coaching profession affects young folks just as critically as the aforementioned. So why aren’t coaches licensed? If they were, maybe they would behave better knowing that their accountability is sanctioned. Many of the NCAA regulations are geared towards the coaches, who have a voice with the NCAA and relationships with NCAA representatives, but players are not spoken for, and if they are, they are certainly underrepresented.

When assessing the huge amount of profit made from collegiate athletics based on the human capital of young people who have a naïve perspective, there should be regulatory or statutory change that protects these players better than such are, currently. This is not only for the student-athlete’s future, it’s for the protection of athletic departments and schools that may continue to conduct themselves in a less than proper manner. Initially, those act go undiscovered, but they tend to be revealed later.

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