Fixing the NCAA and College Sports- The Professional Athlete Major and How to Make it Happen
Here at the Confidential, we like to talk about sports. Any sports really, but specifically ACC sports and our love for our favorite teams. Sometimes though, there are things that transcend what happens on the field. Sometimes, there are things that are more important. In the case of college athletics, it’s the athletes themselves that ultimately matter, not winning or losing, whether the system in place will say this or not. Ultimately, the most value comes from the people involved and the dreams that they have for the future.
Sporting News published an article that proposes a very interesting way to fix the NCAA. Now, there’s no need to debate it- everyone knows that the current system is broken. You’ve probably seen enough articles to that effect to know what’s going on. But the solution has always been, and will always be debated. How can you fix something that values money more than its money makers? What is the balance for providing a higher quality student athlete experience without compromising the financial benefits? Author Mike DeCourcy proposes a bold way to not only save the academic integrity of our universities, but to improve the lives of the players at the same time–
The creation of the professional athlete major (See the link below to read the full story)
It makes sense if you think about it. After all, everyone else goes to college to learn how to do what they’ll do in the future. Doctors. Lawyers. Even other performers like actors and musicians. So why not athletes? If our players truly want to pursue a professional career, is it not in their best interest, and the school’s best interest, to provide them with the means of doing so? Wouldn’t it be better to create a legitimate program where students can learn the ins and outs of the business and be prepared for their career than to continue the delusion that false classes and easy majors are providing them with the best college experience? Don’t schools want their athletes to succeed much in the same way that they want their doctors and lawyers to do? After all, it’s their athletes that are usually the most visible.
This story means a lot to me because of the scandal that’s rocked my alma mater, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the last few years. It means a lot to me, because I proposed the exact same solution in a letter to our former chancellor right when this all began. And it means a lot to me because even after he declined to study this idea further, I continued to believe that it was the right solution. I’m happy to see that there are others out there who believe as I do. Who believe in the student, not just the athlete.
This article isn’t being written to demean, or bash the former chancellor in any way. To his credit, he admitted that the idea was intriguing, but that it would be very difficult to implement with the anticipated backlash from the academic community. But isn’t this the same academic community that prepares its students for future careers in poetry and folklore? Not that those fields are not an important part of the fabric of a university, but the concrete career possibilities are much greater for a star athlete in their field than they are for the poet or folklore historian. Many times, these graduates go on to teach future graduates their field of study. And that’s okay, but isn’t it time to realize that a career isn’t just a 9 to 5 desk job? It’s not just sitting in a cubicle and answering emails. It’s using a skill in a way that earns a living. And while professional athletes play a game, it’s hard to deny the financial reward for doing so and the work that goes into it.
The possibilities for an “athletic arts” major are endless. I’ve laid out my original vision for the program below and will seek to explain how it would not only be for the benefit of the athlete, but the university.
The professional athlete major would be a three-year program. After all, both professional baseball and professional football require players (who are not drafted out of high school in baseball’s case) to complete three years of college, or be three years out of high school. With this program, professional basketball would also find it to be to its benefit to create a three-year rule. A three-year program with an optional fourth year would provide the flexibility for athletes to move on, and the skills for them to be successful in the future.
To be successful, a professional athlete need many skills, primarily in marketing, finance, business and public speaking. They must also have a plan for their post-playing career.
Professional athlete majors would take marketing classes, much like you would find in a typical sports management major (the equivalent of a sports MBA), but from the athlete’s perspective. How can they effectively market their own image? What type of sponsorships can they attain and how can they manage them? This would prepare them to responsibly decide how to effectively leverage their skills outside of the team setting.
It’s important that athletes learn how to manage their finances. Professional sports is a lucrative business and many of these athletes come from a background where they are not used to money. Many of these same athletes receive bad financial advice and make poor investments, finding themselves poorer than they began just years after they retire. With the right financial training, athletes can learn how to save for the future and be taught when it’s okay to spend a little more on something extra that they want. It’s not just about making money in the short-term, but about the player setting their finances up for success long into the future.
Even before their careers are over, many athletes go on to start foundations and other non-profit, or for-profit organizations. Much like an MBA student, it’s important for the athlete to learn what this would look like from a business perspective and learn from the successes and failures of others. Without this type of background, the athlete risks a poor investment and the possibility of not making a difference when their intentions are to do so.
4) Public Speaking
It’s common knowledge that generally the most successful athletes are the ones that are capable of expressing themselves in the best way. Public speaking skills are a big part of this, from the postgame press conference, to other commercial appearances. In order to completely leverage their position and stature, an athlete must learn to master the art of speaking. What to say, what not to say and how to say it. Its importance cannot be overstated.
5) Future Career
While it’s important for athletes to learn how to manage their professional career, even the biggest stars will face the day when their playing careers are over. What then? This component of the curriculum would seek to help athletes figure out what they want to do when they’ve retired for good. For many athletes, this is broadcasting. For others, it’s the normal business world. Even the most frugal athlete will find that despite the fact that they don’t need to do something, that they actually want to, and they need to be prepared for what’s next.
Year-By-Year at a Glance
So now that we’ve discussed what the professional athlete program would entail, how would it look year-to-year? Without listing practice times and games (which would count towards the overall degree), I’ve written out what this curriculum might look like taking into account 9 hours of additional classes per semester-
First Semester- Marketing and Self-Promotion, Introduction to Finance, Public Speaking
Second Semester- Sponsorship and the Athlete, Sports Communications and Public Relations, Sports Law
First Semester- Sports Leadership and Coaching, Social Media Marketing, Accounting and Investments
Second Semester- Business Strategies, Global Marketing, Elective (Athlete’s Choice for Future Career)
First Semester- Sports Ethics, Elective (Athlete’s Choice for Future Career), Relevant Internship
Second Semester- Sports Facility and Event Management, Elective (Athlete’s Choice for Future Career), Relevant Internship
Year Four (Optional)
First and Second Semesters may be spent pursuing the completion of an additional degree for their future career, or in an internship setting related to this interest
This is just an idea of how such a program might be implemented. Certainly, it is not without its flaws, and it could be improved upon as the years go by. But despite its imperfections, it’s a program that athletes would want to take. They want to be as successful as possible, and this would provide them with the practical tools to do so. In the same way, universities and professional sports leagues would like to see their athletes succeed because it improves their overall product as well. By supporting this idea, they would be securing their own future, while at the same time, supporting the futures of their student athletes. As DeCourcy states in his article, the need to pay college athletes decreases exponentially when the value of the education they are receiving is increased.
This is not a perfect solution, but it would go a long way towards improving the lives and futures of the individuals that we claim to value so highly. It’s never too late for a change to be implemented because it’s never too late, nor less important, for the well-being of our athletes to be considered. Last February, we posted the contact information for ACC school presidents and athletic directors, as well as ACC officials. I’ve included a link to that contact information again below. Please consider taking the time to contact the officials at your school to urge them to be on the forefront of change.
We all love the ACC, but for once, let’s do something to help the players who make our conference something to care about-