Two higher education experts analyze college sports and offer recommendations for reform.
Several scandals have revealed the fault lines in big-time college sports, including those involving former University of Southern California running back Reggie Bush, former University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino, University of Michigan basketball, and University of North Carolina athletics. When grades take a back seat to the playing field, the term “student athlete” can appear to be contradictory. Shropshire (Global Sport/Arizona State; Sport Matters, 2015, etc.) and debut author Williams seek to change this perception, arguing that, while athletics pay off for a select few, education benefits almost everyone. As the national conversation turns to the possibility of compensating student athletes, the authors urge a different priority: providing said athletes with a meaningful education. From this thesis, they discuss how amateur sports have become compromised by an infusion of cash from media-rights deals, creating tension between athletic and academic priorities. They explain why previous reformation attempts failed and lay out their own recommendations. Their novel approach, the “Meaningful Degree Model,” would separate “revenue” sports (such as football, baseball, and men’s basketball) from “nonrevenue” ones. Athletes in the former would receive “lifetime scholarships” that would give them the flexibility to get their degrees as traditional full-time students or to defer it. These scholarships would be available indefinitely. It may sound like a fantasy, but Shropshire and Williams keep it grounded, showing its value to schools as well as to student athletes. As academics, the authors are used to marshaling evidence to support their assertions, and the research they lay out here is impressive. It’s clear that they’re no fans of the present system, yet their discussion is refreshingly free of displays of cynicism and outrage. Although their prose style could be snappier (“Perhaps the Ivy model’s most salient feature is the embodiment of the student-athlete ideal”), they offer substance over hype in this work.
An uncompromising look at America’s college-sports conundrum, offering a controversial solution that just might work.