Memorial Day was a time to look back and appreciate those brave men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country, and thank all those who continue serving to this day. It takes a special kind of person to volunteer for the armed forces, just as it takes a similarly gifted athlete to compete at the college level.
In my time of reflection during yesterday's celebrations, I found myself comparing these two, disparate groups, noting they had more in common with one another than I first realized. Both soldiers and athletes are revered by certain fanbases, work under a microscope, sacrifice a good deal of time...and have the opportunity to attend college at a free or reduced rate. Military duty inherently comes with certain expectations and requirements, but if college athletes are going to become employees, what standards should they be held to?
Here, I will offer up what it would take for me to be comfortable with collegiate athletes receiving a paycheck. The argument of whether it's right or wrong will be irrelevant - instead, I'll work under the assumption that they will be getting paid, so long as my restrictions are met. This is by no means an exhaustive list either, just what I was able to think of in the past day. If there's something else you'd like to add to this hypothetical list, or some issue that I didn't think of, feel free to share in the comments.
Requirement 1: Attend all classes, practices, team meetings, etc.
This really shouldn't require too much explanation, as these are things that should be expected regardless of a monetary incentive. However, too often the perception is that many of the high profile athletes don't make it to all of their classes, instead opting to accomplish their learning from tutors and skate by on the power of their name. It would be relatively simple for them to check in with their professor/TA before class begin, then have the professor send a weekly summary to the athletic department. Tedious? Yes. But in the context of a working environment, it's just like an employee with a timesheet.
Requirement 2: Maintain a GPA of at least 2.33
Since they're going to be in classes anyway, it makes sense for our compensated athletes to be paying attention, right? Student-athlete does imply that a little bit of learning will be taking place. I wouldn't require them to sit at the front of the classroom, such as Coach Carter did, but setting the bar at a C+ isn't unreasonable, no matter what the major is. Yes, some courses would probably require more work outside of class to maintain our lofty, slightly-above-average goal, but college is as good a time as any to learn time management skills.
Requirement 3: Submit to random drug testing throughout the year, administered by a third-party agency and NOT the school or NCAA, with results available to the public.
Tell me to put on a tin foil hat, but I don't trust the NCAA, especially not when they have a vested interest in making sure their 'product' (i.e. the athletes/teams) is at the highest, most competitive level. There is a clear conflict of interest in the NCAA and the individual schools administering drug tests, and this would help provide transparency to an organization already under intense scrutiny. This isn't really a player requirement, besides peeing in a cup, but the accountability to live drug-free is still there.
Requirement 4: Any charges from law enforcement results in immediate suspension of wages.
This becomes a little more subjective, depending upon the nature of the charge. Should reckless driving result in the same wage punishment as theft? Probably not, but both should carry some punitive penalty as a deterrent to future off-the-court behavior. And to those whose charges are later dropped or reduced, there should be the opportunity to reclaim the lost monies. Fair is fair, after all.
Requirement 5: Participate in a mandatory personal finance course at the beginning of each semester.
We all have heard the startling statistics about professional athletes going broke within a few years of retiring. The goal here would be to develop fiscally responsible practices early on that can be applied to any career down the road. Whether the player in question goes on to a professional level, or ends up using their college degree, personal finance is essential to succeed in life. No, not everyone will end up creating their own budget or absorbing all of the information, but hopefully, through repeated exposure, some of the lessons will sink in.
Again, this isn't a complete, or necessarily well-thought-out listing. It wasn't until writing this up that I realized just how hard this would be to implement. There are too many unforeseen issues around this topic, but to better understand the circumstances around being paid to play, it's important to consider practical limitations like these and start the conversation. After all, these young men and women aren't serving in the way as members of our armed forces, but if we're going to offer them benefits in excess of what our veterans are receiving, we need to see the situation from every angle.