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Give College Athletes a Break

Scholarship restrictions and academic requirements are too demanding

by Jonathan Wilson
November 17, 2000

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Give College Athletes a Break_Jonathan Wilson-Scholarship restrictions and academic requirements are too demanding I have never been athletic. As a choir-member, journalist, and general artsy-intellectual, I hung around people in college who often had very vehement opinions about the culture of collegiate athletics. Depending on the company I kept, I either remained silent, or I picked an argument.

In fact, I love sports: not to play, but to watch, and especially football. I am stirred by the sacrifices that athletes are required to make in order to keep their programs alive. I am also stirred by the enormous pressure that student athletes are under.

Few people are held to more unjust double-standards than college athletes. They are the grist for school glory, for advertising revenue and network ratings, all of which keep collegiate administrators in the fat. But where many view college as a time to test boundaries, athletes must live as puritans or have their names splashed all over ESPN. And although we can distinguish between skills, acknowledging that not everyone is disposed to earning a liberal education, we insist that our athletes be scholars too. In this endless argument between administrators who want to win, and faculty who want graduates, it is the student athletes who lose, held to impossible schedules for practice, study, and rest, all designed around the needs of network air-time.

The theory is that scholarships make up for the hardship. But the insidious rules of the NCAA, while providing for free tuition and boarding, make no provision for student life. Such things as spending money, and minor comforts, are brought under microscopic scrutiny. Basically, players are not allowed to have friends, or the team gets put on probation.

For all the money that is made by colleges and networks, some provision should be made for the student athletes who produce the income. At least give them their lives back. Let them be what they are: not children, but young adults that are still "sophomoric" in every sense of the word, still discovering themselves.

At the very least, work-study stipends that put a little discretionary cash in the pocket, the same as is allowed in academic scholarships, should be permitted.

In the meantime, I will go on cheering Badgers and Huskers, more and more mindful as the years distance me from them, that kids are putting it on the line so I can watch some uniforms on television.

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