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Student athletes need their degrees

Posted on 02.20.2013

March Madness, the media’s biggest amateur sports event, is almost upon us. Millions of Americans will spend hours watching student athletes from the most prominent universities in the nation compete against one another on the basketball court. It is important that we remember these teams are playing in an effort to represent an academic institution.

If a student is offered a multi-million dollar contract with the stipulation that he or she must forsake his or her textbooks immediately, it should not be considered a simple decision.

Many athletes are faced with this question. They have the opportunity to realize their dream of becoming a professional athlete, or they can continue the tedious work in the classroom. As a student athlete, I am aware that I don’t currently have professional caliber talent. But if by some miracle I were offered a contract to do something I have dreamed about since childhood, I would seriously consider the offer before declining it.

My sport of choice is baseball, and a study by a University of Colorado Boulder research team found that the average career of a Major League Baseball player is 5.6 years.

According to an article published by Bankrate Inc., MLB pensions are supposedly the best in sports. Players obtain full pension benefits after 10 years of service. This qualifies them for $200,000 a year for life at the age of 62.

So if I went pro today and was better than average, I could leave the sport at the age of 31. That would mean that for another 31 years I would need some type of occupation.

The aforementioned article also stated that the NFL’s benefits start as early as age 35, with reduced benefits and a smaller annual sum. However, the plan is designed to begin at age 55.

In a recent conference call with a season-ticket holder, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell dispelled the myth that an NFL player’s average career length is three and one-half years. He said it is actually closer to six.

Those extra two and one-half years are still not enough to obtain a quality retirement pension.

No matter how great the talent, which retirement plan a player chooses or how ideal the player’s 401(k) is, the average professional athlete is going to need either to make intelligent decisions about his or her money, or get a decent job after a short-lived career as a professional athlete.

Sports Illustrated estimated in 2009 that 78 percent of NFL players are bankrupt or facing serious financial stress within two years of ending their playing careers, and 60 percent of NBA players are broke within five years of retiring from the game.

The aforementioned statistics have prompted a rising concern for student athlete graduation rates. Statisticians, coaches and administrators have begun to investigate and rank the success, or lack thereof, of many top schools.

The teams with the most NCAA basketball banners are the University of California Los Angeles, University of Kentucky, Indiana University and the University of  North Carolina. In 2005, the NCAA checked the Federal Graduation Rate for all NCAA teams. FGR measures the percentage of first-time, full-time freshmen who graduate within six years of entering their original four-year institution. UK and UCLA both had an FGR of 54 percent, IU 23 percent and UNC just 14 percent.

The media have made college athletics into something it was not intended to be.  Because of its extremely poor team academics, the University of Connecticut’s basketball team is banned from postseason play in 2013, bringing this problem to light. Administrators are finally taking charge of student athletes’ futures by forcing athletic programs to strive for more than just athletic wins.

UIndy administrators work hard to make academics the No. 1 priority for our student athletes. But even some of the professional athletes who have come out of a small Division II school like UIndy fail to leave with degrees, some who have less than one semester’s worth of credits to complete.

So, unless I want a career at Dick’s Sporting Goods after my short time in the national spotlight, I had better turn down that contract. I’m glad the NCAA is forcing universities to take more initiative in their student athletes’ academics instead of setting them up for failure and financial distress later on in life. College is an academic experience first, not a training ground for professional sports. The teams I root for this March Madness will obtain my praise through their successes on and off the court.

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