Why It’s Time to Redefine the Term “Student Athlete”

Michigan HuddleThe term “student athlete” has been watered down so much in recent years. The idea that colleges truly care whether on not their athletes receive a proper education is ludicrous. Domonique Foxworth, the president of the NFL Players Association, explained in the Netflix documentary, Schooled: The Price of College Sports (if you ever get the chance watch the whole thing) that the motto on his football team at the University of Maryland was “Cs get degrees.” The entire team focused on going to class and doing work not to learn the most information or to get the best grades, but to maintain a 2.0 grade point average and stay eligible to play on Saturdays. The concept that Foxworth is stressing is that a college and its fans would be much happier with an athlete that has a C average, but makes big plays on gameday, than a player with an A average that loses the team a game. The player with a C average that makes a big play allows the university to make more money through merchandise and ticket sales. Bob Costas, explains it perfectly in this clip.

The biggest problem with this system is only one percent of college basketball and football players go on to play at the professional level. Now for the 99% of players that do not go pro, a large number of them are not prepared to go out and find a job. In Schooled, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, one of the top public institutions in the nation, Mary Willingham tutored athletes for many years and found that some of them were at a second or third grade reading level, which for an adult is considered illiterate. Willingham also exposed that coaches at UNC encouraged their athletes to take what became known as “paper classes,” or scam classes in which students did not have to show up to class and only had to write one paper for the entire semester and then received an extremely high grade from an academic advisor.


UNC Chapel Hill has the been at the center of controversy over college athletes who get a degree but don’t really receive an education.

This is an example of a paper written for a UNC paper class by a football player that received a grade of an A-. The paper was a jumble of incoherent, inaccurate sentences that could loosely be considered a paragraph. This was the only assignment turned in the entire semester for this particular student and the student received an A-. If institutions cared about academics over athletics, these classes wouldn’t exist and only players that could perform in the classroom would be allowed to participate on the field. UNC received no sanctions from the NCAA after admitting that these classes existed for a number of years, but were no longer in practice. UNC has one of the smallest admission rates for out-of-state students in the entire nation and prides itself on academic excellence, but how can this academic prowess be taken seriously when these paper classes existed?

Arian Foster

Arian Foster, a former college star explains how college athletes should be paid because, “Employees should be paid for their work.”

If you read through the comments thread on any of the articles about this particular topic, people put the blame on the athletes by saying they’re “thugs” and “cheaters” and just want to do anything to remain eligible to play. The surprise isn’t that these players do anything they can to remain eligible (as a high school athlete myself I did anything I could to be able to pitch in a baseball game), but in the fact that the colleges are allowing and even encouraging this activity. These athletes are the ones being cheated because they are not receiving a proper education and if they are not able to go pro in their respective sport, they are left to go out and try to find a job when they cannot read or write. The NCAA is the feeder program for professional football and basketball, but at these large institutions, it is also becoming the feeder program for illiteracy and future poverty.

If academics came before athletics at universities around the country, then the hack-a-thons for computer science would be done in front of 100,000 people under bright lights and they would be broadcasted on national television, and these kids would receive full academic scholarships, while the athletes would play their sports for what is, as defined by the NCAA, “an extracurricular activity.” There is absolutely nothing wrong with college athletics and they absolutely have their place in the university, but to think of athletes as being on the exact same level as every other student is irrational. They are athletes that happen to be students and not students that happen to be athletes, which is why the term “student athlete” has lost all substance and credibility. Jay Bilas, an ESPN college basketball commentator and one of the biggest proponents for paying college athletes, repeatedly points out that no other student is required to remain an amateur while in school, but athletes are. They follow a different set of rules and principles compared to the rest of students so it is unfair to classify them with the rest of students.



  1. haleyzap · September 22, 2014

    While I find it incredibly unfortunate that schools like the University of Maryland and University of North Carolina are supporting athletes not trying in the classroom, I would like to point out how seriously student-athlete academics are taken here at Michigan. When I first visited Michigan the Athletic Director gave a talk to all of the potential athletes that their policy is that being an athlete and a student is equally prioritized here, meaning they want us to be excelling on and off of the field. To ensure that athletes are working, teams require certain amount of time spent in the Athlete Academic Center, and my team is required to swipe in a minimum of ten hours a week and has mandatory study tip sessions every Sunday for two hours. I am also required to meet with my academic counselor once a week and submit all of the grades I receive back on tests, projects, or papers. Other teams have different ways to keep the athletes in check. For example the football team has a system that puts every athlete on either the red list, medium list, or green list. The red list is not allowed to leave the Academic Center until a counselor has thoroughly checked that their work is completed correctly. I am not sure of the requirements of the medium (they really should have picked a color) or green list since I do not know any athletes on those two, but I can infer that the medium list checks in regularly and the green list is not worried about and maintains good grades. Reading this article made me proud of the athletic department I am a member of and how Michigan holds itself to higher standards than other schools do.


  2. lauraucros · October 2, 2014

    As a proud student-athlete of the University of Michigan, I have to disagree with most of the arguments in your blog. Whereas it might be true that SOME student-athletes in SOME universities do not care about academics and do not put effort into the educational aspect of their college experience, I personally believe it is wrong to assume most student-athletes fall into that category as you are doing it in your post.

    When you say “They follow a different set of rules and principles compared to the rest of students so it is unfair to classify them with the rest of students”, there is a huge misinterpretation of information. I wish I knew what rules and principles you are referring to, because as far as I am concerned, any extra benefit or different treatment in the classroom is a clear violation of NCAA regulations that affect our eligibility. We are students. We need the same class score to have a passing grade as the rest of the non-athlete students. We just devote a lot of our time to practice a sport we love, and we proudly represent the University of Michigan around the country.

    I believe the problem with the building of your arguments comes from the fact that most of the information you are using is non current. The NCAA has changed a lot their regulations in the last couple of years in order to fight against an academic mismatch between some student-athletes and the average of regular students in the universities.

    Another problem I find in your blog is that you are treating an exceptional few as if they were the rule rather than the exception. I am not going to say all of the athletes are in the same academic level as the average of the students at the University of Michigan. But I would dare to say the ones that are not, are a minority, and the Athletic Department strives to lower the gap using resources such as academic counselors and tutors (as haleyzap mentions in the previous comment).

    Here is a link that mentions some of the academic recognitions student-athletes at the University of Michigan earned in the last couple of years. http://www.mgoblue.com/asp/academic-award-honor.html

    http://www.mgoblue.com/asp/ This is the link to the Academic Success Program at the University of Michigan, which explains the efforts of the Athletic Department to ensure we are equally athletes and students of this institution.

    Laura Ucros
    Ross School of Business and Women’s Varsity Tennis Team


  3. Pingback: My Learned Colleague, I Beg to Differ But There Is No Need to Redefine the Term “Student-Athlete” | The Maize Essaize

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