Let’s say you’re in college, and you’re offered one million dollars to leave. Would you do it?
That’s the problem faced by hundreds of NCAA athletes today, and it has become the center of much debate.
As a result, the term “student athlete” has become something of an oxymoron in many Division I basketball and Division IA football schools.
Although NBA players must now play one full year of collegiate ball before entering the draft, a player who knows they will be drafted after their first year can still meet the minimum academic requirements to play that entire year, knowing full well that millions of dollars are on the horizon.
This is no clearer than when Stephon Marbury, playing for Georgia Tech at the time, referred to the school as Georgia Tech University.
The actual name of the school is Georgia Institute of Technology.
This slip up by Marbury, who left college after one year to enter the NBA Draft, was an indication of his using Georgia Tech as a springboard to the NBA.
The problem lies in the NCAA’s standards for student athlete eligibility.
A high school student with a 2.5 GPA must only secure an SAT score of 820 or higher.
As the NCAA has a sliding scale for initial academic eligibility, a student with a low GPA of just 2.0 needs to score a mediocre 1010 on the SAT’s to be considered an academically-eligible athlete, according to the NCAA website.
Even while a player is meeting the minimum academic requirements, the possibility of rising professional salaries have athletes looking upward. Over the last 20 years, player salaries across the four major American sports have been increasing exponentially.
For example, former MLB pitcher Ron Darling pitched for 13 years until the early ’90s, averaging an ERA just under 4.0. Current pitcher Mike Hampton has been playing for just as long and has comparable stats, yet is earning a much larger yearly salary. In Hampton’s first 13 seasons, he has averaged just under $6.6 million per season, while Darling averaged under $1.7 for his career.
Tiger Woods is perhaps the best example of how much money can be made in professional sports.
Last year Woods made $9.1 million off the PGA Tour, $54 million from endorsement deals, as well as millions of dollars in worldwide tournaments and entrance fees. It has been estimated by GolfWeek Magazine that if Woods keeps up his torrid winning percentage, $5 billion could be “on the short side” of his earnings by the end of his career.
Even Woods’ stay in college was short lived, as he left Stanford University after only a few years.
The fact is that with money on the horizon, many talented collegiate athletes choose to take the easy road academically. Unfortunately, many don’t realize the difficulty inherent in making it to the top level of athletics in their respective sports, or the risk of injury while playing on the college level.
In 2005 the NCAA released its first report of graduation rates of Division I athletes, measuring data from classes entering college from 1995-98.
Men’s basketball fared far worse than football and baseball, whose graduation rates were at 64 and 65 percent, respectively. Division I basketball schools graduated just 58 percent of its athletes.
Of the more than 5,200 student athletes playing Division I basketball, it is certain that all 42 percent that did not graduate are not part of the NBA, which employs around only 400 players.
The NCAA must make academic eligibility tougher on students. It is the only way to prepare students for life should their dream of playing professionally fall through, and to prepare the lucky few who do make it big for life after their careers are over.