The Corner

Education

The Sports Tail Keeps Wagging the College Dog

College football and basketball can be great spectacles, filling American TV screens with action and color. But as Frederic Bastiat would have advised, we should also think about the unseen — what is not happening because of all those games?

One thing that isn’t happening is much studying by the student-athletes involved. The time demands of practice and travel leave little left for actual learning. That’s the reason why schools find ways of helping the players stay eligible with easy credits that call for little effort.

In today’s Martin Center article, Jenna Robinson examines this problem. She writes,

Time for sports . . . crowds out time for class. The average Division I men’s basketball player missed 2.2 classes per week during basketball season. Twenty-one percent of basketball players missed more than three classes per week during the season. It’s no wonder that the Federal Graduation Rate for Division I men’s basketball players was only 48 percent in 2017. The rate for all students was 66 percent. The increasing number of “one-and-done” players in college basketball is a vivid demonstration of athletics crowding out education. The NBA broke its record for the most freshmen selected in the first round of the draft this year, taking 14 one-and-done players in June.

And then there is the financial cost of the sports mania. It costs a lot of money to fly teams around the country, or sometimes out of the country. A big early-season basketball tournament was just held in the Bahamas.

Most college sports programs are a net revenue drain on school budgets and those that appear to run in the black usually do so only because they get large infusions of student fee money.

What to do? Back in 2012, the NCAA put in place a freeze on the number of sporting events, but that does little to ameliorate the problem.

Robinson points to a recent survey showing that many college athletes think they are overburdened by the demands placed on them.

Many said they wanted more time off after travel and mandatory eight-hour rest periods overnight between required practice or competition activities. (In the existing NCAA rules, travel time can be counted as days off.) They also wanted more athletics-related activities to count towards the 20 hour NCAA maximum, including ‘voluntary’ workouts and practice preparation. In short, student-athletes would like more time to act like students, instead of professional sports stars. More time to visit family, socialize, relax, work, and maybe even hit the books.

Good, but it’s hard to see how their opinions will lead to any change.

George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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