DENVER — Junk that scholar-athlete ideology, and face this fact: Big-time college athletics is entertainment first, business second and education third.
Many football players go to class to remain eligible rather than expand the mind; they maintain the minimum grade point average to keep earning money for the university rather than taking advantage of what it has to offer. When that happens, a football factory dressed in sheepskin appears horribly hypocritical.
A football player spends more time in the weight room, before a film projector and on the practice field than he does in class. In the fall, when the season is in full swing, he has to struggle to find time to study.
Let's end the hypocrisy without junking the current system. A professor at the University of Florida, who can see an example of a collegiate football program gone foul by walking out his office door, has offered a solution: An athletics major.
The proposed major would stop the requirement that football players attend autumn classes, instead treating the time as an annual internship. It would also grant football players much more academic credit for participation in their game and special skill, accepting their talents as similar to acting or music students who have performance majors.
Western Athletic Conference football participants, however, aren't so sure it's an idea whose time has come. The Denver Post polled one coach and player from each conference school on the subject.
Fifteen of 18 opposed the notion of players doing nothing but working football in the fall. "I think that's a bunch of baloney," said Hawaii wide receiver Walter Murray.
"All you're doing there is looking for a cop-out," New Mexico Coach Joe Lee Dunn said. "Unless a kid is real dumb, he can play football and go to class at the same time."
Added Air Force Coach Fisher DeBerry: "The common bond an athlete has with his classmates is going to school. And that's very important. This idea would segregate the football player from everybody else."
Besides, added Wyoming Coach Al Kincaid, "I wouldn't want those players with all that free time every morning. They'd just be over there in my office, asking questions. I don't want to see them until 2 o'clock, anyway."
But 50% of those questioned did believe players should receive much more academic credit for playing football. "For all the time the players put in, there's no question they deserve more credit (toward graduation)," San Diego State Coach Doug Scovil said. "With these kids going through interviews and performing in pressure situations before big crowds--things other students don't do--that's an education in itself."
Wyoming safety Pete Benedetti disagreed. Many entering freshmen, kids of 17 or 18, would jump at the chance to major in football. "But they wouldn't really realize the consequences," he said. "I mean there aren't many employers around who want to hear you majored in football. The interview would be over real quick."