A couple of lines in the contract of the new University of Arizona football coach demonstrates what many in higher education have said for years – and what came out more recently in analysis of the Penn State scandal: College athletics, in particular football, are abusive and dishonest in their very nature. There can be no better evidence of this dishonesty than in the term “scholar-athletes.” If the emphasis was truly on the former, Rich Rodriquez’s contract would not offer a $150,000 bonus for winning a BCS national title game while only offering a mere $5,000 for a team average – not individual, mind you, just average – GPA of 2.6. (See bottom of this article for contract breakdown.)
If the University of Arizona and the Arizona Board of Regents REALLY thought the most important thing for these young men was a college education instead of being pimped out by the university and the board for fan entertainment value, they would offer RichRod $150,000 for a team average GPA of 2.6 and (wait for it) no bonus for winning. Why should he get a bonus for winning? That’s his job and at a base salary of $1.45 million, I’m thinking he’s well-enough paid. The thing that is difficult to do – and the thing that matters in the long run for the vast majority of those football players – is helping them get an education with a GPA that is good enough to help them get a job in the current economic marketplace.
But no, that’s not what the University or the Regents value – at least not by the looks of the contract. Fine by me, but the least they could do is be honest with the public, the professors at the university, and, most of all the players and their parents. Then again, I’m guessing a recruiting pitch that went like this wouldn’t go over too well: “Yes, Mrs. Smith, Johnny will be studying at one of the highest-ranked research universities in the nation. Of course, practice will come first and so he’ll have to pick a major that is flexible as far as when classes are offered and one that isn’t too demanding because he simply won’t have time to study. We know the vast majority of our student-athletes won’t make the pros so we do try to give them a backup plan, but we just have to limit their choices due to their football schedule. Our primary goal, as you can tell by my contract, is using your son to help us win a BSC national title because if we win, I get a bonus of $150,000!! But we really DO care about him so we’ll give him a tuition waiver to attend the classes that he can in his major and a Dean’s Excuse to miss classes on the days we’re traveling for games. It’s a great deal!”
If RichRod was so fabulous – and if the UA administration and Regents really cared about these athletes as students – the coach and regents would flip Rodriguez’s contract around to have the bonuses aimed at academic success not athletic prowess. And for that matter, R-squared would say, “Hey, I don’t need $1.45 million (who needs that much money???). I’ll get by on a pawltry $200,000 plus bonuses and the university – being an academic institution and all – can spend the rest of that money on (shock!) academics.” If neither the university, the coach or the Regents are willing to do any such thing, they need to drop the pretense of “scholar-athletes” and come clean with everyone involved.