Presenting: An Idea So Stupid, It Could Only Be Formulated With The Combined Efforts Of Two Different Easterbrooks
First of all, in case you haven't noticed, I've added a "Blog Popularity Tracking Meter", courtesy of ballhype.com, on the left sidebar. Ballhype is a monitoring site that serves as a pretty effective barometer for what's readable and sucks among about 3,000 sports blogs. I added their ranking display thingy so that all twelve of you (that's right, we've cracked double digits) can numerically follow FireJay's downward spiral into sub-mediocrity. As you can see we're listed in the mid 600s right now. With your help, I'm confident we can drop below the 1,000 mark by the new year! Everyone chip in. Together, we can make this dream come true. Look out, whoever's in 3,000th place. FireJay means business.
In other news, I love picking on Gregg Easterbrook, also known as the TMQ. So what could be better than picking on an idea that he included in last week's column, but actually originated with his brother Neil? "Yeah, it's me... NEIL." (That's an inside joke for Dan-Bob, Chris W, and anyone else who has seen the best movie ever made.) That's right; I'm about to present to you one person's absolutely atrocious idea, but in the words of another person who is notorious for coming up with equally atrocious ideas. It's a double whammy. This whole two-for-one phenomenon is almost as fun as watching Ryan Leaf's younger brother stink up the joint as Dennis Dixon's replacement at QB for Oregon. I get to laugh at the person who's proposing something dumb, but I also get to laugh at the unquestionably dumb person they're related to who's bringing this proposal to light. So much fun.
I've copied and pasted the whole original segment just so we can all be totally sure just what the Easterbrooks are advocating here. It's a little long but stick with it. It'll pay off, I promise.
Pay Them With Educations: On Nov. 11, Michael Lewis argued on the New York Times op-ed page that since football factory colleges are rolling in money, Division I football players ought to be paid: "In 2005, the 121 Division 1-A football teams generated $1.8 billion for their colleges. If the colleges paid out 65 percent of their revenues to the players [the share paid to NFL players], the annual college football payroll would come to $1.17 billion." Distributed across the 121 Division I schools with 85 football scholarships each, that would come to about $114,000 per season per big-college football player.
That big-college football and men's basketball players should be paid is a perennial contention. TMQ thinks the idea is wrong on these scores: First, the players already receive tuition, room and board, which is hardly an inconsequential form of payment; second, paying college players would ruin college sports, thus killing the golden goose and ending the money flow. The real scandal of big-deal college sports is not that the schools are keeping the revenue, it is that they are keeping the revenue without educating the players. With a few sainted exceptions such as Stanford and Boston College, graduation rates for Division I football and men's basketball are atrocious. Colleges recruit players and exploit them to generate money, but don't make them attend class or ensure that they learn. The players use up their eligibility and come to the rude awakening that no professional career awaits -- fewer than 2 percent of Division I football players ever receive an NFL paycheck. At that point, the players understand they need a college education to succeed in life, but by then the scholarship is exhausted and the university has moved on to taking advantage of the next round of suckers.
Thus Lewis' article gives me an opening to repeat the reform proposal made by Official Brother Neil Easterbrook, a professor at TCU -- for every year a Division I football or men's basketball player performs, he receives an additional year of tuition, room and board at the school. That way, when NCAA eligibility expires and the player realizes no NFL or NBA payday will ever happen, he can buckle down, get serious about studying and obtain the college education that will help him advance in life. Neil's rule would ensure that Division I football and men's basketball players are not used up and tossed away by the sports-factory schools; would create a strong incentive for those schools to be serious about teaching their athletes, so they graduate on time and don't represent extra years of costs; and would create a campus presence of once-star players who didn't make the NFL or NBA and are now at the library studying, radiating the message that you'd better study. How about it, NCAA? Why not use your billions of dollars to set up a system that would allow revenue-sport athletes who have brought you cash and glory on the field to remain in school until their degrees are complete?
Everyone get that? So basically, the Easterbrooks are following this chain of logic:
1) Currently, the NCAA doesn't give colleges adequate incentives to entice them into helping their athletes graduate on time
2) Something should be done!
3) Let's give every athlete that competes for a year an extra year of tuition, room, and board in order to give them the best odds at finishing their degree (even if it takes them 8 years to do so)
Point 1) is fine and definitely true. Many nationally prominent colleges have pathetic athlete graduation rates. Point 2) is therefore obviously true as well. And then... everything falls apart and breaks into a million tiny wrong pieces.
Now, I'm no economist. But Gregg and Neil have proposed an incentives-based plan. And I do happen to understand a thing or two about incentives. You see, sometimes there is more than one party involved in a societal problem. Sometimes an issue that demands action from a ruling body, such as low NCAA addressing low student athlete graduation rates, exists because of more than just one factor. I appreciate what the Easterbrooks are trying to do here. Colleges that don't seem to give a shit about their players are omnipresent in today's sports-oriented college culture. Giving them reason to prod their players through the system instead of just abandoning them once their eligibility runs out makes a little bit of sense. But have you ever considered that maybe, just maybe, those players have just as much to do with low graduation rates as the institutions do?
TMQ regularly bemoans the commercialization of college football and the culture that has been erected around it. It's the primary reason he's such a big NFL fan by comparison. And if you read him regularly, you won't have any trouble agreeing with me when I say he seems to long for the days when players at this level were students first and athletes second. Well, can you imagine a more effective incentive to prevent them from doing nothing more than the absolute bare minimum in the classroom than to tell them: "Hey, it doesn't really matter what you do in school while you're athletically eligible. You'll have an equal number of years after that ends to finish your degree. As long as you don't fail out, who gives a shit what you do in school while you're playing? You can always go back and fix things, at no cost to yourself, later on." What a joke. Sure, since those extra years would end up taking up a chunk of the budget for the schools, they would have a vested interest in keeping athletes from utilizing this plan. But in the end, who's in control of what kinds of grades and credits students earn: the school they attend, or the students themselves?
I concede that this plan would probably increase overall college athlete graduation rates. Were it instituted, a fair number of former football and basketball players in their seventh or eighth year of school would eventually end up with diplomas that otherwise would never have been obtained. But this would take place at a terrible cost, at least in the minds of someone as "old school" as the TMQ: the cost of basically giving student athletes a free pass to do whatever they wanted while playing out their eligibility (as stated, so long as they didn't completely fail out). How he looks past this obvious flaw in Official Brother Neil's plan is beyond me. Maybe he assumes that giving colleges the incentive to graduate athletes on time (lest they have to extend scholarships past eligibility) will somehow magically cause the schools to spur the athletes in question into action and cause them to complete classes at the same pace non-scholarship athletes do. I can guarantee with 100% certainty that this would not happen. I very recently spent four years in college. During those years I met and interacted with hundreds and hundreds of other students, many of whom were on athletic scholarships. I can promise Gregg this: if you give almost any college student the option of doing something productive now, or doing nothing now but with the guaranteed possibility of doing that exact same productive something later at no additional cost, they will take the latter option almost without exception.
Long story short, if all the Easterbrooks care about is raising graduation rates at any cost, I guess this is a somewhat worthwhile plan which would probably experience very limited success. I highly doubt it would be utilized by the vast majority of "failed" revenue sport athletes (those who didn't end up going pro once their eligibility ran out) who didn't already get their degrees on time. But that's just my opinion. More importantly: on the other hand, if, as I strongly suspect, the Easterbrooks care about altering the culture of NCAA student athletics and encouraging players to get in the classroom and behave like everyone else rather than people that are at school to do nothing play sports and party, this is the exact opposite of a good idea. As graduation rate statistics show, many of them already feel they have little incentive to learn. Why remove that incentive entirely?