There is no time in which promises, potentiality, and pleading are more celebrated than during college football recruiting and the upcoming National Football Signing Day. Whether it is the daily phone calls, mountains of letters, or in-home visits, college recruiters will tell top recruits just about anything to get them to sign, and usually the recruiter with the best “mouthpiece” gets the recruit to sign on the dotted line. However, I doubt that at any time during their recruitment are recruits and their parent told that their “free four-year ride” to pay for their college education:
- Is NOT really free;
- Is NOT necessarily guaranteed for four (4) years; and
- Is NOT necessarily for a college education.
First, the four-year scholarship every high school football player dreams about receiving is for most actually a one (1)-year, renewable at the institution’s discretion, financial aid package. Regardless of all the talk about “we are going to treat your son like he is my own” and “we stress education and getting your degree to all of our players” that coaches spew during recruiting, once on campus, if the athlete does not perform to the level that the coach expected, the athlete runs the real risk of having his “full ride scholarship” cancelled after his “subpar” season.
Second, according to a recent ground-breaking research study, the average “full scholarship” Division I athlete actually pays about $3,000.00 annually in school-related expenses. It’s just wrong that while head coaches enjoy guaranteed multi-million-dollar-a-year contracts and six-figure bonuses for championships, and the NCAA and member universities bathe in multi-billion dollar TV deals, the so-called “student-athletes” are not compensated for their labor that generates the billions enjoyed by everyone else associated with the College Sports Entertainment Complex. This is truly and out rightly shameful in and of itself. Yet, for these same athletes actually to have to pay thousands of dollars each year to the same institutions that profit from the athletes’ talents, skills, blood, sweat and tears is absurd and a moral outrage — especially when you consider that 80% the athletes at these institutions are Black kids from poor inner-city communities whose families oftentimes can’t afford even to attend one home game, let alone subsidize their sons’ alleged “full ride scholarships.”
Third, while multi-millionaire coaches receive six-figure bonuses for wins, bowl games, and championships, I am not aware of one coach in the United States who has that type of bonus clause tied to the graduation rate of his athletes. Therefore, it is easy to understand why the top schools athletically oftentimes have the worse graduation rates for their athletes. That’s why I’m in full agreement with former U.S. Education Secretary Arnie Duncan who recommends that the NCAA penalize coaches and universities that don’t graduate their players, in the same manner that the NCAA allows those coaches and universities to benefit when the programs have on-the-field success.
Too many athletes will complete their college eligibility with no degree from their school, no pro career, and highly in debt for their schooling at the college for which they just made millions. Therefore, I call on the NCAA to: 1) immediately prohibit recruiters from telling kids they are offering them “full-ride” four-year scholarships, 2) punish coaches and programs that continue to have dismal graduation rates, and 3) equitably share with student-athletes some of the billions of dollars generated by the student-athletes’ labor and likenesses.
So, as your man child of so goes through the recruitment process and prepares to sign a scholarship in February, please take heed of the five (5) important points that I always counsel my pre-college clients to consider:
1. Understand and accept that — when the hoopla dies down, the rankings become irrelevant, and your son has signed on that dotted line — the coach who recruited your son did so for one reason: to help the Coach keep his lucrative job. In other, your son has been brought to campus because by the coaches believe he can help them win games. Therefore, the program that you are signing with fully intends to get out of your son every ounce of athletic talent and media marketability that he possess. As a result, you and your son has to be prepare to fully exploit every opportunity that arises from his participation as a BMOC!
2. Your son must individually take responsibility for his education and growth as a whole person seriously and seek to maximize fully the academic and life skill opportunities that the university as a whole provides to all students. This means your son must take advantage of every tutor provided, computer and language lab staffed, and networking opportunity available.
3. Your son must have an active role in deciding his major and what classes he takes. Strongly encourage your son to pick a major and classes that interest him and provide him meanifulb opportunities for a viable career/s once his athletic career is over – not just the courses that are easy or convenient to your athletic schedule. Otherwise the athletic program will “cluster” him alongside his teammates in “football friendly”but almost worthless degree programs.
4, If your son does not become the player that everybody thought he would become, he runs the risk of losing his “full ride” scholarship. So, always encourage your son to look for opportunities to excel outside of sports and be noticed for being more than an athlete. This can be accomplished by taking the lead on a class project, applying for academic- or community service-based awards, or simply taking the time to request to have lunch with the president of your university. This will make it more difficult to get “run off” because you will have non-athletic supporters that value you for more than your on-field production, and sets him up for life after football.
5. I know it may sound basic, but you must routinely encourage your son to follow all team and university rules because he doesn’t want to give the coach “cause” not to renew his scholarship with the proverbial “player dismissed for violation of team rules” report, when in fact he committed the same “violation” as your roommate who just happens to be the star running back, but is still on the team.
In closing, please note that I believe having the opportunity to be recruited to play college football (or any sport) is one of the greatest honors one can receive. Further, to be blessed to play major college football was one of the highlights of my life. Despite the above and other negatives that come with being a pawn in the College Sports Entertainment Complex, I believe that – with proper attention and effort — there can be far more positives than negatives in playing major college sports. Playing for my state’s flagship university and one of the greatest football programs in history–University of Oklahhoma–is something that I would sign up for in a heartbeat if given the opportunity (and the knees) to do it again!
***Damario Solomon-Simmons, Esq., M.Ed., is a former D-1 football player at the University of Oklahoma and an attorney at Oklahoma’s premier law firm RiggsAbney. He regularly writes and lectures on issues of race, sports, public policy, and social justice. He can be contacted at @solospeakstruth or firstname.lastname@example.org***