Tuesday, November 12, 2013

"Schooled: The Price of College Sports": should college athletes be paid or share the enormous profits of NCAA sports?

Schooled: The Price of College Sports”, a new documentary by Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin and Jonathan Paley, and narrated by Sam Rockwell (whose voice resembles that of Morgan Spurlock), examines the issue of the “amateurism” doctrine for intercollegiate sports, as enforced by the gatekeeper, the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) in Indianapolis.
The doctrine means that college athletes cannot be paid for playing, while the coaches and universities make big money, while under tax-exempt, non-profit status.  The film starts out at UCLA (memories of a basketball game I attended there in December 1969 before a job interview) and shows the math: students get scholarships that fall a few thousand dollars short a year of what it costs to go to school there, so they still get in the hole.  And the schools own the players.  Does this amount to indentured servitude?  After all, other college students get paid, for working in the bookstore, for grading papers, for becoming assistant instructors.  
There is, right now, a class action lawsuit fighting this out in court.  And none of the schools or the NCAA would comment in the film.
There is also the issue of academic fraud, or at least “looking the other way”.  In some schools, college athletes take “paper” classes where the only requirement is to turn in one paper for a full three credit hours.
The film points out that many college athletes, especially in football, come from low income areas and some grew up in gang cultures.  Some have very poor academic skills when entering college.
I wonder if this was a factor when I was an assistant instructor in mathematics at the University of Kansas from 1966-1968.  Actually, I was “relieved” of my duties after too many students were getting down slips and failing “remedial” algebra at mid term.  Was I being a “bad a—“sending young men to the military draft that I had escaped, or was I stepping on the toes of the athletic system and perhaps threatening it?

On the other hand, it’s wrong to characterize all or most college athletes as academically inferior.  Some are excellent students and go on to other things besides pro football, like medicine.  There are young men (the film did not get into women’s sports, which provides another political issue) with seemingly diverse or almost contradictory talents, capable of playing sports at the professional level (like hockey or baseball) or perhaps singing as a pro.  A few times such men have been gay – another controversy not explored.
There is also the issue of safety.  Malcolm Gladwell (Issues blog, July 21, 2013), remember, has said that college football (and therefore pro football) is morally problematic, because of the concussion risk – a big controversy now in the NFL (as well as dementia in some retired NFL Players).  Recently, a high school player in Arizona died after a hard tackle hit. 

 I remember the one time my parents tried to get me to play football, at around age 9.  It was traumatic.   But was that kind of risking take to be expected of every boy?

The DVD from Strand Releasing appears Nov. 19. The production company was Makuhari Media.  It was also distributed by Epix (site ).  I reviewed the film from a Vimeo screener by Strand. 

Picture, mine, from the University of Kansas, 2006.  

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