Students First, Athletes Second: A Closer Look at the NCAA
by Tommy Delp | published Apr. 27th, 2020
This is a companion piece to “Going for the Goal”, which can be read here.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) does a lot for student athletes. It sets standards, both athletically and academically, that schools must follow. It also works to set up college tournaments and provide athletic scholarships.
For the students who play for the organization though, the NCAA often stigmatizes them with the large amount of negative press it generates. Surprisingly, RIT is able to provide a unique perspective on what it’s like to be part of the NCAA.
In the words of the women’s basketball head coach, Amy Reed, “RIT is multi-divisional, which is rare. Hockey is Division I, but the rest of our teams are scattered.”
Our athletes can give us a better idea of the general experience of working with the NCAA. Hopefully, by hearing from those who play for the organization, students can generate a more informed perspective on the NCAA and its current issues.
A Loose Eye on Academics
One of the various issues the NCAA has faced recently is its low academic standards.
To start playing a Division I sport freshman year, an athlete must have a minimum GPA of 2.3 in high school. For Division II, that requirement is lowered to 2.2 and there’s no requirement at all for Division III.
Once that student begins college, the standards become even lower. A student must only maintain the minimum GPA a school requires to graduate, which in RIT’s case would be a 2.0.
Logan Drackett, the starting goalie for the men’s hockey team, doesn’t look at this requirement as his maximum.
Drackett said, “For us to play, you have to have a 2.0 GPA or over, but I wouldn’t be happy with that mark. Everyone on the team strives for good grades.”
Holland Gillis, a member of the women’s basketball team, thinks the requirement seems fair.
She reasoned, “Athletes could be held to a higher standard, but they’re also under pressure from multiple sides.”
At a school like RIT, even when playing sports, grades remain important. Not every other place of higher education agrees though. Recently, some big football and basketball schools have been caught creating “paper classes” in order to boost student athletes GPA's.
But, why do they need these GPA boosts? Often, student athletes struggle to make time for their studies and these light classes create more opportunities to practice and play.
The women’s basketball team is only Division III, but Reed reasons the team works just as hard as any other division would.
Reed stated, “While the talent levels differ, the time commitment stays mostly the same.”
With the extra pressure from sports added on top of average life and academic pursuits, most student athletes find it hard to even think about their finances, which is where the NCAA’s next issue comes into play.
A Sports-Based Monopoly
Even though hockey is a Division I sport at RIT, Drackett doesn’t believe RIT hockey is in the same league as the big basketball and football schools. Because of this, he personally doesn’t believe he should be making money for playing, but he can see the case for larger sports.
He explained, “If you’re making hundreds of millions of dollars every year off these kids’ hard work, and they can’t get a dime out of it — I think that might not be fair.”
In the NCAA’s semi-annual study, it stated that a fair 78 percent of college athletes say they have enough money to buy the things they need. Surprisingly though, that number is lower for Division I men’s basketball and football players — even though that’s where the NCAA makes a majority of its millions. Only 60 percent of players in those sports feel they have enough money for their own needs.
Reed concurs and also shines a greater light on why this happens.
She stated, “Sports take up a lot of time. These kids are too busy to work, and that’s why they’re broke.”
However, Reed offers a small solution.
She said, “Maybe just pay them a part-time wage? It’d be a small drop in the bucket.”
Gillis also has her own ideas for how to fix the problem.
She mentioned, “An extra scholarship would be helpful, I didn’t get any athletic scholarships for RIT. D-III athletes can’t get scholarships. That could change."
Change on the Horizon
The first step to solve any issue is to put a spotlight on it. While every player is different, the NCAA could make some quick changes and, in turn, show quick improvement.
More financial aid that is spread evenly among the student athletes from the organization’s large pockets would help. It may also help to put more leverage on schools keeping their players academically fit and rigorous.
Sometimes it can be as simple as humanizing those who play with the organization. Recently, the NCAA started referring to its student athletes as just students. This is an important first step in realizing where student’s allegiances lie.
The NCAA has many reasons to start taking its job ever more seriously. The threat of unionization from students and the mental health crises rocking college campuses are great threats to the organization’s grasp on the college sports industry.
Luckily, as student athletes grow and develop later in life, a fair amount come back to the organization in some capacity. Hopefully, these people can create the type of change they hoped to see during their time playing.