What Happened to the Student Athlete?

By: Matt Mika

A rush of anxiety fills my stomach as I hear my alarm clock pierce the air. Darkness surrounds me, and the morning chill shocks my body. I immediately awaken, as if I was dosed with adrenaline. At this point, excitement flows through my body. I look at my clock — 4am. Grabbing my backpack I plunge into the darkness, towards the stadium.

I went through the same routine every day as a collegiate baseball player. It became a checklist.

Monday — Friday Schedule

  1. Wake up— 4 a.m.
  2. Weight Room/Stadium Stairs — 5 a.m.-7 a.m.
  3. Breakfast
  4. Class — 8 a.m.–3 p.m.
  5. Lunch
  6. Practice — 4 p.m.–6 p.m.
  7. Study Tables — 7 p.m.–8 p.m.
  8. Dinner
  9. Homework

On paper, the tasks seem daunting. However, the chaotic lifestyle is a repercussion when an athlete signs their National Letter of Intent.

It seems more and more collegiate athletes have lost sight of the true meaning of being a student athlete. Student first. Athlete second.

Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones is a larger than life character on campus in Columbus, Ohio. His play in last year’s post-season captured everyone’s attention in the country. It also proved he was not going to be just another player on another college football team.

Jones gained 266 thousand Twitter followers in the span of three weekends. Neverthless, one of his tweets made a lot of people scratch their heads.

“Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS.”

Jones was criticized for the tweet, the grammar in his tweet, and then suspended for one game.

When did collegiate athletics become just as prominent as professional sports? What happened to receiving an education to better yourself after a career in sports? When did collegiate athletics turn into a business?

A perfect example of the growing business behind college athletics is from this off-season. The Michigan Wolverines football program dove into their wallets to grab one of the most sought-out coaches on the market. Ultimately, this stirred the pot, becoming one of the hottest topics in college football’s off-season.

Jim Harbaugh left the NFL to become the head football coach for The University of Michigan. His starting salary is $5 million per year for a contract of seven years. His 10 percent increase after year three and year five is the icing on the cake, since his new contract is more than what he was earning in the NFL as a head coach for the San Fransisco 49ers.

ESPN’s 30 for 30, Pony Excess directed by Thaddeus D. Matula, highlights one of the biggest issues in college football. During the 1987 season Southern Methodist University received what every school fears, the “death penalty”.

ESPN 30 for 30: Pony Excess Directed by Thaddeus D. Matula
“Texas A&M offered me a lot. They showed my mother $50,000 in a brief case” ~ Eric Dickerson

On the flip side — many athletes push the idea of focusing on school before dominating in their respective sport.

September 10th, 2015 — Former Michigan State Spartan and NBA Champion, Draymond Green donated $1 million to the brand new strength and conditioning center at Michigan State, and then contributed another $2.1 million for scholarships.

The $3.1 million donation is the largest gift given to Michigan State Athletics from a former student-athlete.

“Michigan State means everything to me. I grew up in Saginaw and was lucky enough to attend Michigan State University,” Draymond Green said.

Green continued, “Coach Izzo believed in me and gave me the chance to succeed.”

The former National Player of the Year mentioned he would not be the person he is today without his Spartan experience.

“I think a lot of times, especially in basketball, it’s almost looked down on to go to college. I’ll never understand it. The whole college experience helps you grow,” Green said.

Green added, “Going to school was the best thing to ever happen to me.”

It is a debate that can last for days. Are college athletes semi-pros? Are they professionals, who attend class in their spare time?

There is an extraordinary amount of revenue collected by schools from athletics. Meanwhile student athletes receive a free education because of it. An education that will last them a lifetime.