College Football’s Biggest 4th and Long

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This time of year is it’s own special holiday for college and pro football fans alike. With so much excitement and anticipation being built around the playoffs, bowl games, and the NFL draft, what isn’t there to love?

Despite the enthusiasm, a wide variety of challenges present themselves for those athletes displaying their talents on Saturday’s rather than on Sunday’s. Beyond the bright stadium lights, the roar of thousands of fans, and the steady pens of NFL scouts, exists a culture that has changed the way student-athletes live. College football is now more popular than ever with record setting numbers of television views and non-stop 24/7 media coverage that resembles that of the pro level. This accompanied by the increased competition to make it to the NFL- the actual rate being around 1.6%– has added a whole new level of glamour and stress to the term student-athlete (New 1). The financial benefits of having a top-tier football program are also becoming increasingly more prevalent year after year. With larger SEC schools like The University of Alabama generating over $110 million dollars annually, it’s not hard to fathom why universities across the country have placed such a large emphasis on athletic success (Mangrum). But what happens when the emphasis on athletics out shadows that of academics?

For more information on the UNC academic fraud, click here for a detailed CNN report.

Academic fraud and scandal have become common trends in the world of college sports. Many Division I football programs promote unethical behavior and the participation in “paper classes,” classes that require little to no attendance or work solely catered to maintaining athletic eligibility. These courses are generally completely fictional and contain little, if any, relevance to the degree the athlete is trying to obtain. For those student-athletes who are in legitimate courses, tutors and a large network of administration ensure their success through any means necessary. At the University of Tennessee, former professor Linda Bensel-Meyers was slandered and exiled for her attempt to bust a large cheating scam conducted by the football team. Despite her bringing to justice a handful of athletes, the results of her actions primarily produced an onslaught of criticisms, threats, and harassment. Some of these threats were so severe that Bensel-Meyers and her family had to go into hiding for several days (Benford). With coaches, administration, fans, and the entire financial sector of these universities backing this sort of behavior, student-athletes lack both a reason and a means to start a reform. But what happens to those college graduates that don’t make an NFL roster?

NFL Network’s Undrafted series, follows the lives of recent college graduates who are still chasing their NFL dreams. For information about the show and a more in-depth look into the lives of these players, visit their website linked above.

To many college football players, fully believing they will one day play in the NFL is as big of a factor as putting the actual work in itself; It is what motivates these players to push themselves as well as shape the foundation for a passionate locker room culture. Molded by increased competition and pressure from the coaching staff, this mentality combined with an administrative support structure that heavily favors athletic over academic success cultivates a fatal mixture for players in their post collegian years. Paper classes and academic scandal not only robs players of a legitimate education, but also places these players at a significant disadvantage when attempting to enter the workforce. Without a meaningful degree, let alone an education at all, former players are left with nothing to show for their time at a university besides a few bruises and bumps. With limited career options, many are forced to work minimum wage jobs or go back to school. The current culture surrounding college football fails to recognize the reality these players face in life after football. By promoting a culture of academic dishonesty, student-athletes are being pulled away from their education and sucked deeper and deeper into a life long chase of their NFL dreams.

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The present culture of college football only instills values that promote athletic performance. Collegian football players are left with only their knowledge of how to play the game; resulting in many graduates refusing to give up on their pro ambitions. NCAA football is a huge part of popular culture and will continue to be regardless of any reform to come. However,  next time commissioner Roger Goodell fails to call out your favorite players name on draft day, reflect on what that truly entails for that player, his family, and his future.

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