The most important quote from UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen’s controversial interview last week with the Bleacher Report was the most underplayed — that universities have to do more to help student-athletes balance their dueling schedules.
Like most of us, I was disturbed by his initially reported remark that football and school don’t go together. It wasn’t the first time Rosen rose eyebrows with something that fell out of his mouth and I’m not a fan. The image that immediately popped into my head was former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, architecture major, and fullback-linebacker Owen Marecic, medical researcher; and San Diego State quarterback Lon Sheriff, who had medical aspirations and once viewed his own surgery as it was taking place.
Football and school mixed okay for them. It does so for thousands of players every year at the various levels of the NCAA, from Alabama to Harvard and to Slippery Rock. It all depends on the priorities of the school and student-athlete, and that’s where the problem comes down to.
College football as an institution has become a monster as leaders at some of our most prestigious universities chase after the almighty dollar. As a society, we feed the beast, creating a system that encourages athletes to pursue National Football League millions but ignores daunting odds in which too many players finish their college career with no professional hopes and sub-standard schooling.
The Rosen story was a classic case of a headline quote designed to catch the eye, but you had to read the whole article for context. At first I was surprised at how many people were defending the kid but after reading the article I understood. He was having trouble getting the classes he needed to pursue a real major — economics. Players were being kept eligible rather than provided the first class education UCLA delivers to other students. And he had teammates who had no business being on a college campus other than it was their only route to a shot at the National Football League. Not an NFL career, but just a chance.
“It’s not that some players shouldn’t be in school; it’s just that universities should help them more — instead of just finding ways to keep them eligible,” Rosen said.
The system is flawed, it’s that simple, and it took Rosen to tell us. A favorite example of how both players and fans are hurt is allowing television to dictate starting times. You have what’s become a four-hour contest kicking off at 7:30 p.m. or 8 p.m. — or later if the preceding TV game runs long, as it invariably does. To compensate, the time allotted to practice has been greatly reduced. Yes, the one area where the players can best acquire the skills they need to fulfill that generally unrealistic NFL dream.
Two suggestions for change:
— from the outside, before students even get to the college level, we need to do a better job emphasizing the importance of education so that players will have the proper mindset when they arrive on campus; and
— from the inside, the colleges need to provide their players with a true education and, as Rosen said, find ways to provide those crucial upper-division classes to juniors and seniors. Maybe football needs to play less of a dominant role.
These, or course, are broad ideas that will take years to implement and wholesale changes in the way we approach college sports but unless it happens kids will continue to struggle and be left behind.