Monday, May 12, 2014

I say 'college;' they say 'potato'

Sometimes I write something that adds little-to-no value to a story that already exists. Oops. This is one of those somethings, but you might laugh if you keep reading, have at least a small sense of humor regarding the Carolina scandal, and have not read The Daily Tar Heel in the past month.

The DTH published an article titled "Student-athletes weigh in on balancing academics, big-time college sports." Hearing the voices of student-athletes instead of administrators or journalists on this hot issue sounds refreshing, but sometimes you only get to hear from rehearsed guys like Marcus Paige who can successfully balance rigorous coursework and a sport.

I clicked on the link anyway, hoping that I might find something fresh and encouraging. Former Carolina football players Devon Ramsay and Mike Ingersoll gave me something so fresh that I laughed for the first time since the scandal broke eons ago.
In terms of academic-athletic balance, Ramsay said a football major might be helpful for student-athletes who are sure they want to go to the NFL.
“I think it would be OK for guys who know from the get-go that that’s what they want to do,” he said. “But I’m also nervous that some guys would feel pressured to do that major and really kind of lose the opportunity of a college education.”
Ingersoll also said he thinks there should be a program in college that prepares student-athletes for life in professional leagues.
“Careers in the NBA and NFL are some of the most unique and sought after careers in the world,” he said. “Why don’t you put (athletes) in classes about money earned, invested and owed?”
Ingersoll compared student athletes to students who go to college for other specialties, such as fine arts.
“Drama is a major for students who want to go on Broadway — why can’t I take classes for the NFL as far as managing money, dealing with the lifestyle and dealing with women,” he said.
Technically, I was a guy who knew from the get-go that he wanted to go to the NFL. The only thing I wanted more was to play football for the Tar Heels. Unfortunately, my physician told me that I was moderately underweight for my 73-inch frame at 165 pounds; he recommended milkshakes. Also, I had played football for a season when I was 13, and I sucked at it. Barring putting on a startling freshman hundred in pure muscle and suddenly being willing to get my pants dirty, playing football was something that evidently waited for me in heaven. In this life, I hope to one day earn an advanced Carolina degree just so I can come out of the tunnel at commencement. I would be the one running with a helmet and an American flag.

So I can't honestly say that I wish Carolina had a football major when I was there. I can understand that Carolina football players have always been many steps closer to the League than I was, but even the best of them have to temper their expectations of going pro because of injuries and developmental uncertainty. Besides, I have to state the obvious--do college football players really need more hours of football? They must really like football. One of my majors was mathematics; I could not have imagined putting in 40 extra hours per week for the UNC math team if it even existed. I guess I didn't really like math.

To their credit, these guys did give me an idea for a different new major at UNC: Teach For America Training. I joined TFA after my graduation and could have used a couple years of preparation--perhaps in the School of Education--instead of the five-week TFA summer institute. The TFA-Charlotte corps had five women for every man, so Mike Ingersoll, your lady issues speak to me. At least they did in the beginning. I am married to one of them, so maybe I built that plane while I flew it.

But to extend my extension of their suggestion lays bare the weakness of our arguments. Why not have a Google major at Carolina for students who want to work for Google? And you can't have a Google major without having an Apple major. If one employer like the NFL can influence a course of study at Carolina, maybe they all should. Then Carolina would be a corporate-driven training campus. Where would we put all the light and liberty?

If only Ingersoll knew that he could have enrolled in a number of money management courses at Carolina. Was he unaware that they existed? Did someone discourage him from enrolling in these courses? Were these sections closed to students who were not in the business school? These are hard questions for an unpaid blogger to answer.

Nevertheless, if the Ramsay-Ingersoll recommendations come to their fullest fruition, we would have to amend the football motto by addition: ANSWER THE BELL. LEARN NFL FOOTBALL. DEAL WITH WOMEN. Can you imagine the charm on the DEWW 110 professor?

OK, I'll stop with the sarcasm. I'm not siding with the NCAA cash cow, and I do think that college athletes are exploited. Specifically, I think it is a joke that many athletes gravitate to a couple atypical majors, and I recognize three causes: student-athletes who are unable to academically achieve in higher education regardless of their busy schedule, student-athletes who are willing to sacrifice their education for an easier-than-overtime path to graduation, and academic departments that are unwilling or unable to accommodate student-athletes' schedules. Carolina has put significant effort into fixing the first cause, but the others still need quite a bit of work.

College is college because it gives students the liberty to shed light on personally selected disciplines that will help them contribute to society later in life. Maybe football is one of those disciplines, but playing Division I football is more than enough preparation for whatever football might come after graduation. To his credit, Ramsay seemed to know this when he said those who would choose to major in football might "lose the opportunity of a college education." Ingersoll seemed a bit more lost.

But I have to admit I'm happy that they said what they said and that the DTH was right there to quote them so . . . warmly. It feels good to laugh while reading a story with a headline that includes the words student-athletes, academics and big-time college sports. I thought it might never happen.


  1. Not to gang up on the guy, but I totally agree with you. What is the point of college? I would argue its main point is to give students academic skills. What you then apply those academic skills to is up to you. I don't think the point of college is to give you a degree in a specific job.

    I'm a teacher. I know you can get a 'teacher degree,' but I didn't take that route. I got a history degree so I would know my content and I took art, sociology, psychology, and philosophy courses so I could add value to my classes. No teacher degree here, but I would say I'm a good teacher.

    Asking for a football degree seems to reflect a poor understanding of the point of college.

  2. Does Melissa know you wrote this? You really can't get away from "the sports."