A Letter to Parents of Athletic Recruits

A true story: He entered a major mid-west, nationally recognized college program. He was successful and placed 4th as a freshman, then he won back-to-back national championships. His senior year he did not place. It is told that he had to study in order to graduate, so he could not spend as much time practicing as he had his first three years. He graduated and last heard of he was a volunteer coach at a small D-1 school.

College coaches are paid well. A D-1 coach of a nationally ranked program easily has a base salary in six figures. Why? He is paid to win games, not to educate except in his sport. He will keep your son or daughter eligible but considering the recent UNC/NCAA episode concerning oversight of academics, there is a probable chance that your child’s courses will not be much. The old joke of a degree in underwater basket weaving seems all to real.

Two recent articles in The Observer highlight the careers of several local athletes. The paper also printed a fine editorial disagreeing with the NCAA for not having the ethics needed  to oversee academics and instead allowed UNC to police itself. All six of the athletes appear to have superior skills in several sports, but all seem to be planning to be recruited for football, a major money maker for many universities, the NCAA, and coaches. The draw of a major sports program with its separate dormitories, special food, training facilities, and fawning attention is glitter that proves difficult for high school athletes and parents to resist.

Parents are responsible for their child or should be. They need to ask deep and probing questions about academics of any coach who visits their living room. They must remember that the recruiting coach is there about their child’s athletic ability, not his or her academic skills. The coach sitting on the sofa is all about winning games,  not what courses an athlete takes. Staying eligible is the goal, and that may mean taking courses that do not demand rigor in the classroom like the rigor required on the field or in the gym. If parents and athletes ignore acquiring a meaningful education, one that gives skills, the athlete will graduate with little to offer an employer. He or she will have little to fall back on in real life when, just as on the field or floor, a difficulty arises. Parents and high school students must withstand the dream of being the “next” Williamson at Duke who leaves after one year for a huge signing bonus. The harsh reality is that there are few Williamsons or Woods or Iversons. And, injury is a constant worry because a serious one can end a career, so an education becomes even more important as something to utilize. The reality for parents and students is: If I lose my athletic marketability, whether by injury, being replaced, or whatever arises, what is my value to Podunk University?

Everything I read in The Observer about Will Shipley, Power Echols, Stephen Sings and Stephan Thompson impresses me. They are talented youngsters, but the NCAA and its universities/colleges want to use them as commodities. Their abilities to run, throw, and catch is a trove of talent to be exploited. Parents and athletes must protect their own interests and make certain that they, before signing, will be allowed and encouraged to obtain a degree of value.

The young man at the beginning of this  article found that he could not compete at the top level of his sport if he wanted to graduate. He made a good choice, but what price did he pay for his first three years of college?

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